Mike Fleming

key_art_mrc_studiosEXCLUSIVE: Media Rights Capital and Universal Pictures closed a deal that will put up to 20 MRC-generated films through the studio distribution pipeline over a five-year period. The pact begins in 2011.

While MRC partners Modi Wiczyk and Asif Satchu have done repeat business at Universal, this is a new wrinkle in their formula of  assembling and funding film packages with big stars and directors, and then licensing distribution to studios on a case by case basis. Those deals were structured to give creative freedom and maximum upside to stars and directors, and eventual ownership stakes in the films when copyrights revert back to MRC years down the line.

AY32505021_440x500The Universal deal is a rent-a-system deal in which the studio will supply its marketing and distribution expertise for a distribution fee. Universal doesn’t have first look at MRC projects, and MRC can pre-sell films domestically and in foreign territories. Universal can possibly opt in as an investor in these films. or not. What the deal gives MRC is a guaranteed major studio distribution outlet, to entice artists as it tries to expand its filmmaking program.

The deal doesn’t impact Universal’s homegrown film slate.

Universal has been involved in MRC’s highest profile movie packages. The relationship began with the Sacha Baron Cohen-starrer Bruno, which Universal acquired for North American and some offshore territories for $42.5 million, just as buzz was growing on Borat. The film grossed $60 million domestic and $139 million worldwide. Universal then acquired The Adjustment Bureau, the George Nolfi-directed scifi pic that stars Matt Damon and Emily Blunt. and will be released September 17, and the M. Night Shyamalan-produced thriller, Devil. The studio most recently acquired Ted, a $65 million budget R-rated comedy that will mark the feature directorial debut of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. MRC’s other prolific studio relationship has been Warner Bros, which distributed the Robert Rodriguez-directed Shorts, the Ricky Gervais comedy Invention of Lying (Universal released the film overseas) and the Cameron Diaz-starrer The Box. MRC pacted with Sony on 30 Minutes or Less, the comedy directed by Zombieland‘s Ruben Fleischer.

Backed by Goldman Sachs and AT&T with JP Morgan and Comerica its credit facilities, MRC plans to expand its film output. The track record so far has been mixed, and MRC has yet to score a real breakout hit. MRC is currently prepping the next film by District 9 director Neill Blomkamp, but hasn’t yet figured out which studio to place it with.

Universal and MRC confirmed the deals and issued statements.

“We’ve been continually impressed with the quality of talent that MRC brings to the table,” said Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson. “By leveraging our strong marketing and distribution operations we can augment our own slate and expand our relationship with MRC, bringing more value to Universal.”

Said MRC’s Wiczyk: “MRC has always had the ability to greenlight and fully finance our films. With this deal, we now have another powerful tool for our artist partners, providing them with automatic access to the marketing and distribution expertise of a major studio.”

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