Late Friday, the White House announced a new deal with China that would allow for more foreign films to be released in the nation’s movie theaters — and more money in the pockets of U.S. studios to boot. After the news broke, Mark Damon, whose Foresight Unlimited sold out on the European Film Market’s hottest title, 2 Guns, told me: “I have a feeling what just happened was already perceived by the Chinese. Buyers were out in full force and paying big numbers for theatrical releases — numbers you couldn’t afford if you were just going to video or TV.” Buyers, Damon noted, were also willing to give up censorship clauses during the EFM, which ran alongside the just-ended Berlin International Film Festival. “Up until now they would do a two-tier deal: X if a movie went theatrical and Y if it didn’t and Y would be substantially less. This time, they weren’t insisting on those.” The new agreement allows foreign studios a 25% share of box office as opposed to the traditional 13% and provides for 14 additional titles outside the 20-film quota. Chinese box office is projected to hit $5 billion from a potential 16,000 screens in 2015. There are currently about 6,200 screens. Talk about a need for product. One European exec tells me they’ve heard that on pictures where you’d normally expect to get, say, $50,000, the Chinese will now pay as much as $500,000.
EXCLUSIVE: While several studios are in the mix on the Steven Soderbergh-directed Magic Mike, I’m told that Warner Bros has emerged as the frontrunner to acquire domestic distribution rights and that a deal could be done by next week. The film, which is wrapping this week, stars Alex Pettyfer and Channing Tatum in a Saturday Night Fever-type coming-of-age drama about a young exotic dancer who is schooled by a veteran of the trade. The picture’s budget was ponied up by Soderbergh and Tatum, with Glen Basner at FilmNation making offshore sales. Script was written by Reid Carolin. He’s Tatum’s production partner and they are producing the film with Nick Wechsler and Gregory Jacobs.
The film’s based on Tatum’s own experiences when he became an exotic dancer before breaking into acting. The film has drawn an ab-centric cast that includes Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer and Joe Manganiello. Warner Bros seems a good fit for the material. The studio just distributed Soderbergh’s hit Contagion, and Warner Bros will make his next film, The Man From UNCLE, which is in the process of getting a new title character after George Clooney exited the project because he’s having some surgery.
EXCLUSIVE: In competitive bidding, FilmNation Entertainment has acquired In the Event of a Moon Disaster, a Mike Jones spec script that re-imagines the first moon mission. In this version, disaster strikes and the astronauts find themselves up against insurmountable odds. Jones, a former colleague of mine at Variety, turned his attention to screenwriting and has been working steadily. Most recently, he has been collaborating with Henry Selick on an untitled Pixar project, and Jones also scripted a reboot of Popeye for Sony Pictures. FilmNation’s Aaron Ryder will produce the space mission film, and Glen Basner will handle international sales. It will be the largest-budget film so far for FilmNation, which has aggressively put together its slate of projects.
FilmNation is in talks with Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon to star in Mud, the next film by Jeff Nichols, with whom FilmNation worked on Take Shelter. It also is fully financing Paranormal Activity helmer Oren Peli’s next untitled project, and recently completed the Jennifer Lawrence-starrer House at the End of the Street and The Raven, which stars John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe; Relativity Media releases that James McTeigue-directed film early next year. FilmNation will be bringing to Toronto Take Shelter; Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In; the Hugh Laurie-starrer The Oranges; and Midnight’s Children, an adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s novel. Jones is repped by CAA and The Gotham Group.
EXCLUSIVE: Echo Lake Entertainment president Doug Mankoff and Blue Ice Entertainment’s Steven Silver and Neil Tabatznik have unveiled Blue Lake Entertainment, a fund to finance films with budget $10 million and higher. The 8-figure fund is backed by private investors in the US and Canada and will invest in up to four films per year. The emphasis is on commercial fare with bankable directors and casts. Blue Lake will have a non-exclusive relationship with Glen Basner’s FilmNation, which will handle foreign sales on select titles. Blue Lake’s first investment is La Piel Que Habito, the Pedro Almodovar-directed film which just wrapped and has Sony Pictures Classics aboard for domestic distribution. FilmNation is selling foreign on that film.
“The relationship with FilmNation is critical in helping Blue Lake identify and sensibly invest in commercially viable films,” Echo Lake president Doug Mankoff said. “While our first picture is a high-end specialty film, we fully intend to invest in genre and cast driven films.” Targets will be comparable to Echo Lake’s last two films, the upcoming John Carpenter’s The Ward, and the Demi Moore-David Duchovny-starrer The Joneses. Echo Lake’s other films include the Sarah Polley-directed Away From Her and Gavin Hood’s Tsotsi. Echo Lake’s management division, headed by Mike Marcus and Amotz Zakai, reps Carpenter, Walter Hill, Deepa Mehta, Michael Caton-Jones and Fred Schepisi. Blue Ice is a division of the Blue Ice Capital Group, which in 2009 sold off its film/TV production company …
The flood of AFM project packages has started (how many of them actually happen is a question for another day), and FilmNation has announced it will handle international sales for the Jonathan Glazer-directed Under the Skin. Scarlett Johansson has been attached to star in the science fiction film scripted by Walter Campbell and Glazer, the latter of whom directed Sexy Beast. She plays an alien on earth, disguised as a mesmerizing woman who uses her voracious sexuality to scour remote highways and desolate scenery to snare human prey. It’s based on a Michel Faber novel. Said FilmNation CEO Glen Basner: “We’re so excited to be working on this arrestingly original movie. How could we pass up the chance to work with a visionary director like Jonathan, especially when combined with the intriguing notion of Scarlett Johansson as a ruthless alien seductress?” Nick Wechsler is producing with James Wilson and Film4′s Tessa Ross is exec producing and the UK Film Council and Scottish Screen are also involved.
Message From The King, a thriller that once had Will Smith and Michael Mann circling before it languished when Warner Independent Pictures folded, is generating some new heat. Glen Basner’s FilmNation Entertainment has come aboard to produce the action thriller and package it for spring 2011 production start. FilmNation’s Aaron Ryder will produce alongside Ash Shah. The script by Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell focuses on Jacob King, a mysterious outsider who comes to L.A. to bring those responsible for his younger sister’s disappearance to justice. Cornwell and Butcher wrote Unknown White Male, the upcoming Warner Bros thriller that stars Liam Neeson and January Jones.
Cornwell and Butcher’s new production company, White Hare, is also getting a producing credit and the shingle bears watching. Cornwell’s the son of The Constant Gardener author John Le Carre, and part of the company’s mandate is to package his father’s works into movies. That includes an adaptation of A Most Wanted Man, as well as the upcoming Our Kind of Traitor, the latter of which is being adapted by Hossein Amini.