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Richard Branson’s Virgin Produced Boards Will Smith’s ‘After Earth’

Virgin, Overbrook team up on 'After Earth' sequel, other projects through non-exclusive partnership.

Even before “After Earth” crash lands into theaters at the end of the month, Sony’s sci-fi epic, starring Will Smith and his son Jaden, already has a big fan: Richard Branson.

The British mogul’s entertainment shingle Virgin Produced has paired with Overbrook Entertainment to co-produce, co-finance and co-market a sequel to “After Earth,” should the film strike a chord with moviegoers when the film, directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is released by Columbia Pictures on May 31.

Through the non-exclusive deal, Virgin Produced and Overbook, Will Smith’s production company run by longtime partner James Lassiter, also have plans to develop film and TV properties together, which Virgin will promote through Branson’s various business, including airlines, retail, mobile, radio, health clubs and upcoming hotel chain

Overbrook is expected to be the first of several deals with talent-owned production companies Virgin Produced has planned, said the shingle’s CEO and co-founder Jason Felts, as it looks to grow the brand.

Founded in 2010, Virgin Produced has co-produced a half-dozen films, including “21 and Over,” “Machine Gun Preacher,” “Immortals” and “Limitless” through its former overall deal with Relativity Media.

Virgin was attracted to “After Earth,” given the pic’s “focus on the future that awaits the human race if it continues on its destructive environmental path and raises important questions about the present state of the planet, the future, and the environment,” the company said.

In “After Earth,” a crash landing leaves a teenager and his legendary father stranded on Earth 1,000 years after cataclysmic events forced humanity’s escape. With his father critically injured, his son must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help, facing uncharted terrain, evolved animal species that now rule the planet, and an unstoppable alien creature that escaped during the crash.

As a philanthropist, Branson has put considerable resources behind charitable causes that tackle social and environmental issues through his Virgin Unite nonprofit foundation. He also is a big promoter of space travel through his Virgin Galactic division.

“This deal makes perfect sense for us, both in a thematic sense and as a company,” Felts said. “At Virgin, we believe it’s important to give mankind a heightened awareness of the nature and vulnerability of our planet. For example, we have to travel to space to look down and see how fragile the earth is; certainly, the film takes that message to heart in both literal and figurative ways. As a company, we saw the opportunity to team up with one of the industry’s leading film and television production companies that also embraces this mission.  That’s why we’re excited to partner with Overbrook on future films.”

Overbrook’s Lassiter added, “We believe they share our ultimate goal: to create entertainment that also uplifts and educates.  Simply, we both believe that entertainment can be a force for good in the world – and we think both companies are leaders in that aspect. That’s why this deal is a natural fit.”

Gary Whitta and Shyamalan penned the script for “After Earth,” from a story by Will Smith. Caleeb Pinkett, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Lassiter and Shyamalan produced the film.

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