×

Studios Re-Rack Production Pacts

Big Six split from some names but overall numbers hold

With the first-look deal becoming less and less popular, even big-name pic producers are finding studio love harder to hold onto amid a rockier Hollywood landscape.

Universal is emblematic of the trend. Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman are without a deal for their Playtone banner at their longtime home, as are Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey and their Film 44 shingle.

Playtone has a long list of pics in development at Universal, including an adaptation of “In the Garden of the Beasts,” which U bought for Playtone in 2011, and Neil Gaiman novel “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” for Focus. Goetzman tells Variety that the Playtone deal no longer worked in the current environment.

“It was a decision that Playtone and Universal came to mutually,” he says. “We love working together, and are continuing to do so, but to have a long-term commitment didn’t make sense for either of us at this time. We will now have the opportunity to find the perfect home for each of our projects individually.”

Berg’s departure comes in the wake of his directing and producing U’s box office disappointment “Battleship” and the upcoming Mark Wahlberg starrer “Lone Survivor.”

Besides the deals expiring for Playtone and Film 44 — which still has a TV deal with Universal — Marc Abraham-Eric Newman’s Strike Entertainment’s first-look at U ended when the production company decided to dissolve. During the past decade, Strike was an active supplier, averaging a title per year, including “Dawn of the Dead” and “The Thing.”

Universal’s distribution pact with Morgan Creek has expired. Universal still has 31 deals, including heavyweights such as Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine, Chris Meledandri’s Illumination and Scott Stuber’s Bluegrass. Additionally, the studio has signed fresh distribution pacts with Michael Eisner’s Tornante and Joel Silver, who reached a settlement with Warner Bros. last year to end his long-time relationship there.

Sony has lopped off half a dozen deals — Aardman Animations, Peter Baynham, Clifford Werber’s Fluent Entertainment, Graham King’s GK Films, Sid Ganis’ Out of the Blue and Sam Raimi’s Stars Road — while adding Michael Costigan.

The first-look deal is not yet an endangered species; studios still find it worthwhile to pay overhead in exchange for first crack at coming on to projects.

Fox has added a trio of new deals: Paul Feig, Carlos Saldanha and the Wyck Godfrey-Marty Bowen partnership, while ending its pact with John Moore’s Point Road.

Still, deals at the six Hollywood majors have remained stable in recent years, with the total number of first-looks in the 140-150 range, according to Variety ’s Facts on Pacts compilation. The current number is 145, a 3% drop from the 150 in Variety ’s October survey.

Still, that’s half what was on the books in 2002. And it’s a longterm trend that will probably continue, with studios betting more and more of their resources on tentpoles and franchises.

“I think the thinking is that the corporations need fewer producers,” notes Marshall Herskovitz, who served as president of the Producers Guild of America between 2006 and 2010.

Click here for the latest Facts on Pacts

Herskovitz and longtime producing partner Ed Zwick had a first-look pact through their Bedford Falls shingle with Warner Bros. that expired in 2008, after delivering “Blood Diamond.” Since then, the pair has produced “Love and Other Drugs” and has continued to develop TV projects, including one set in the Weimar Republic of Germany during the 1920s.

“The studios believe that if a producer is motivated, he or she will find a way,” Herskovitz notes. “An unintended consequence is that it’s become more difficult for an independent producer to make a living in Hollywood.”

Relativity has gotten out of the first-look biz entirely. Its pacts with Iron Horse Entertainment (Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin), and Red Om (Julia Roberts, Lisa Roberts Gillan and Phil Rose) — have expired.

Paramount ended its co-financing pact with Montecito Picture Co., but it has maintained 14 other deals, including Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Bad Robot (J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk), David Ellison’s Skydance and Brad Pitt’s Plan B.

Disney — which now owns Pixar, Marvel and LucasFilm — still has 14 pacts, most notably with Jerry Bruckheimer, Andrew Panay’s Panay Films, David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman’s Mandeville and Mark Gordon, while letting its deal with Debra Martin Chase expire.

Warner Bros. remains home to the largest number of deals at 37 (including New Line’s), adding pacts with Guy Ritchie and Lionel Wigram; Adam Shankman’s deal with New Line expires at the end of April. A key question is whether Warner’s co-financing pact with Legendary Entertainment — which covers “Pacific Rim,” “Godzilla,” “42,” “Man of Steel” and “Jack the Giant Slayer” — will be extended.

In one sign of how tough the producing environment is, Legendary and Warner-based producers Dan Lin and Roy Lee are in a legal battle over their removal from “Godzilla.” Lin, Lee and Doug Davison have alleged breach of contract over screen credit and fixed and backend compensation.

More Biz

  • Alan Horn Bill Tanner

    Alan Horn to Keynote Variety Business Managers Elite Breakfast, Bill Tanner to Be Honored

    Bill Tanner will be recognized with Variety’s 2019 Business Managers Elite Award at the annual Business Managers Elite Breakfast presented by City National Bank, which takes place in Beverly Hills on Nov. 13. Co-chairman and chief creative officer of The Walt Disney Studios Alan Horn will be the keynote speaker in conversation with Variety editor-in-chief, [...]

  • Smoke haze covers the Sydney Harbour

    Australia's Seven West to Merge With Affiliate Prime Media

    Australia’s Seven West Media has agreed a deal to acquire regional broadcast group Prime Media. The move is a further step in the consolidation of Australia’s traditional media industry. The two companies announced on Friday that Seven will make the acquisition entirely through the issue of new shares to the owners of Prime. Both companies [...]

  • Ron Meyer

    Ron Meyer Files $10 Million Suit Over Forged Rothko

    NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer has filed a $10 million suit against two art dealers, claiming they sold him a forged Mark Rothko painting in 2001. Meyer accuses Susan Seidel and Jaime Frankfort of duping him into buying the work. According to the suit, he was told that it would be included in an official [...]

  • Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein (L)

    Harvey Weinstein Seeks to Call Expert on 'Recovered' Memories at Rape Trial

    Harvey Weinstein’s attorneys are seeking to call an expert on “recovered memories” at his trial on rape and sexual assault charges. The defense has filed a motion asking to call Deborah Davis, a psychologist and professor at the University of Nevada at Reno. Davis is a frequent defense witness. She co-authored an article in 2006 [...]

  • Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime

    Tekashi 6ix9ine Docuseries Coming From Showtime and Rolling Stone

    Showtime Documentary Films today announced a new limited docuseries profiling controversial rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine. Titled “SuperVillain” and inspired by the Rolling Stone feature written by Stephen Witt, the three-part series will trace how a New York City deli clerk named Daniel Hernandez became superstar rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine — who racked up 2.6 billion streams and [...]

  • Fader Label Logo

    Fader Label Signs Two New Acts, Boosts Staff

    The Fader Label, home to Clairo, Matt and Kim and others, announced two new signings today along with three new hires on its staff. Charlie Burg and Zachary Knowles have joined the label’s talent roster, while Carson Oberg has come aboard as general manager, Yasmine Panah as project manager and Josh Hymowitz as label coordinator. They [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content