Chris Columbus' 1492 Pictures Signs 5-Year Deal With Rise Entertainment

 Byron Purvis/Admedia/Newscom

Chris Columbus' 1492 Pictures has signed a five-year deal with Michael Witherill's Rise Entertainment to develop and finance films including an adaptation of Anne Rice's Christ the Lord.

For Columbus, whose hugely successful movies have included Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Night at the Museum, Home Alone  and Mrs. Doubtfire, it is an opportunity to sidestep the studio system and make movies he wants to make when he wants to make them.

“I get very impatient,” says Columbus, whose company is based in San Francisco. “As I get older, it’s not that I want to relax; I want to do more films, and I do get impatient at the snail's pace that Hollywood tends to move. It’s something that’s been frustrating throughout my career.”

While he won’t say how much Rise has committed to invest in his movies, Columbus tells The Hollywood Reporter it does help him break that logjam. “This deal enables us to actually greenlight a lot of pictures and make films we’ve been dying to make for the last couple years,” he says. “It really is a dream come true.”

Columbus says the deal positions his company as “a mini-studio -- and hopefully not so mini in a few years.”

There is no domestic or international distribution set up on any of some two dozen pictures 1492 has in various stages of development and preproduction. Columbus says the company will seek studio partners as it makes the pictures. That could be traditional deals in which 1492 partners with a studio or a rent-a-distributor deal where it pays lower fees and the studio takes less risk.

“We want to make a big impact in terms of the amount of movies we make a year,” says Columbus. “The first films we’ve listed are only the tip of the iceberg.”

The first three films to be financed by Rise that he announced are:

* Christ The Lord, based on Anne Rice’s best-seller about Jesus Christ as a 7-year-old. It is described as “a sweeping tale of faith and fear, danger and discovery as the boy Jesus and his family return to the war-torn Holy Land.” Betsy and Cyrus Nowrasteh wrote the script, and Cyrus Nowrasteh (“The Stoning of Soraya M.”) will direct. 1492 will produce with Rise and CJ E&M. Principal photography begins in March in Rome and Matera, Italy. Columbus says it won’t necessarily require the casting of big stars, and the company hopes to make it on a fairly reasonable budget.

* Home Front, which Columbus will direct as his next project and for which he has written a screen adaptation is based on the best-selling book by Kristin Hannah. Scheduled to shoot in the summer, it is described as a “profoundly honest look at modern marriage and a dramatic exploration of the price of war on an ordinary American family.” Columbus says there are great roles for the lead actress and actor, for which 1492 will seek stars. The period piece, which includes scenes in Iraq, also will have a reasonable but not small budget.

* House of Secrets is the first of what Columbus envisions as a movie trilogy based on a series of three novels he is writing with Ned Vizzini. The first novel is finished, and he is working on the screenplay. He said they will start the second novel in a few weeks. Columbus will direct from his screenplay. The book sold pre-emptively to HarperCollins and will be published in the spring. It is an adventure story about three kids lost in a fantasy world trying to find their way home. Principal photography begins in January 2014. 

For Columbus the book harks back to one of his earliest and most admired films, 1985's The Goonies. Columbus says he always is surprised that most people he meets tell him their favorite of his films is not Home Alone or Harry Potter but Goonies. They always ask if he is going to do a sequel. “I don’t know if there is a sequel, but I do know that world and that particular genre and terrain really well,” says Columbus.

He says that House of Secrets will have “the feeling, the flavor and the spirit of Goonies. So that really is the point of doing these books. That was the inspiration behind these books.”

Columbus says he met Rise’s Witherill only a few months ago. He says Rise has significant money to fund the slate, none of which comes from a hedge fund or foreign investors.

Witherill is partners in Rise Entertainment with William Andrew, Tracy K. Price, Alex Witherill and Guy Inzalaco. Movies they have financed include Law Abiding Citizen and The Stoning of Soraya M. Earlier in November, Rise began production on Frontera, produced by Rise and starring Ed Harris, Michael Pena, Amy Madigan and Eva Longoria.

“Clearly, films directed by Chris and produced by 1492 Pictures have a track record that speaks for itself,” says Witherill, who is based in Arizona. “We view ourselves as the supporting cast to fuel the unparalleled creative talent of the guys at 1492.”

Columbus -- whose most recent studio deal was at Warner Bros., followed by a deal with South Korea's CJ Entertainment -- adds that he is thrilled with this new pact. “It gives us a tremendous amount of independence,” says Columbus, “and the ability to say yes to movies that sometimes would take two or three years to make.”

Columbus and 1492 Pictures were represented by WME.

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