Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: In a move that continues the longest standing production deal Universal Pictures has ever had in its 100-year history, the studio has extended its deal with Brian Grazer and Ron Howard through 2016. These mega-producer deals have been getting trimmed all over town, though, and the Imagine deal has shifted from an exclusive to a first-look deal. Going forward, Howard will be able to direct more films elsewhere, and Grazer can produce at other studios. He is now producing the upcoming Academy Awards with Don Mischer. The Imagine extension was just finalized by Universal chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley.

The last deal Grazer and Howard made with the studio was set to expire in 2013. Imagine has made around 50 films since the partners first were brought into the Universal in 1986 by Ron Meyer, at the time Grazer’s former agent at CAA and had just transitioned to the top job at Universal. Like every producer-studio relationship, the Universal and Imagine arrangement has been tested in the past few years. The studio said no to The Dark Tower, a feature trilogy and two limited-run TV series adapted from the Stephen King novel series that Howard was to direct, with Javier Bardem starring and Grazer producing with Akiva Goldsman and King. The filmmakers continue to develop the project and expect to make it elsewhere. Universal and Imagine also mutually decided to not go forward with Cartel, a drama that Asger Leth was going to direct.

Still, the filmmakers and studio have a long relationship that includes such films as A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, American Gangster, The Nutty Professor, Liar, Liar and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. When I interviewed Grazer and Howard to commemorate their 25th year at Universal last June, they said they hadn’t started negotiations on an extension but didn’t seem of a mind to change their address. While the Imagine partners had an “exclusive” arrangement, they’ve made numerous films elsewhere. Howard directed and Grazer produced with John Calley The Da Vinci Code and its sequel Angels & Demons at Sony Pictures, and they are producing the third installment that Mark Romanek is expected to direct; Howard directed and Grazer produced The Missing for Revolution Studios, and Ransom at Disney. Grazer is mobilizing 24, the movie transfer of the hit Imagine-produced TV series. Kiefer Sutherland will reprise his Jack Bauer role for a film that will be made this year for 20th Century Fox, which broadcast the long-running series. Imagine also produced the Clint Eastwood-directed J. Edgar for Warner Bros.

At Universal, Imagine last produced Tower Heist and Howard just directed Rush, the Formula One racing film that Universal will release under its new overall arrangement with Cross Creek Pictures, which funded the film with Exclusive Media Group. Grazer is a producer on the film. They’ve got numerous other projects percolating at the studio, including the David Guggenheim-scripted 364; the science fiction film Amnesty, based on a Max Landis idea; a remake of the 1970 Universal science fiction film Colossus; the adult comedy Sick Day; and an adaptation of the Robert Ludlum thriller The Parsifal Mosaic.

“Ron and Brian have not only been our dear friends over the many years we’ve been at Universal, they’ve also been great partners,” Fogelson and Langley said in a statement. “Together, our companies have enjoyed making some of the most popular titles of the past two decades. This pact will allow us to continue to foster this invaluable relationship and build upon our shared history of success.”

Said Grazer and Howard: “The studio has been our home for decades. We are proud of our history with Universal and really look forward to making successful and memorable movies with our long time partners.”

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