Grass grows to Uni int'l prod'n pres

Move beefs up studio's o'seas presence

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CANNES -- Universal Pictures has named 20th Century Fox International executive Christian Grass president of the studio's new production arm at Universal Pictures International. The move, which takes effect in October, punctuates Universal's efforts to beef up its overseas presence.

The studio also has inked a deal with Russian filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov and his Moscow-based production and visual effects company, Bazelevs Prods., to produce and direct Russian- and English-language films for the local and global marketplace. Bekmambetov most recently directed the fantasy action series and Russian boxoffice smashes "Night Watch" and "Day Watch."

The deal marks Universal's second local production pact following its agreement with Fernando Mereilles and his 02 Filmes to develop and produce local Brazilian and Latin American films.

Universal and Bekmambetov also have created a Moscow-based theatrical marketing and releasing label, Bekmambetov Pictures, to handle the Russian marketing of the films covered by the deal. The first release under the new partnership will be the Bekmambetov-helmed action film "Wanted," which stars James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. Other projects include Shane Acker's animated film "9" and an untitled 3-D animated ballet feature.

Meanwhile, Mereilles has selected the first film to be produced under his 02-Universaldeal: the coming-of-age story "Adrift," which is scheduled to enter production in Brazil in the fall. Heitor Dhalia will direct from his own screenplay.

"All this activity is a simple reflection of our absolute commitment to the global marketplace, both as a producer and distributor," Universal chairman Marc Shmuger and co-chairman David Linde said in a joint statement. "We are proud that Universal has been able to respond with an initiative that will support individual territories and link them together within a powerful and unique infrastructure."

UPI's new production arm will expand on UPI's worldwide acquisitions and local production operations by funding a slate of foreign-based stories and local-language films. The new production arm is expected to supply films for UPI's distribution pipeline and will focus its efforts outside North America and the U.K. It also will hone in on spotting emerging talent and trends for the production groups at Universal Pictures, Focus Features and Rogue Pictures, all of with which Grass will work closely. He will report to Linde and to Universal executive vp Michael Joe.

UPI president David Kosse hailed the moves, which he said have been in the works for a long time. "This is very much about building relationships with local filmmakers," he said. "There's more and more of these foreign films that are traveling well and succeeding outside of their country of origin."

Grass will join Universal from 20th Century Fox International, where he is executive vp Europe, Middle East and Africa. Before Fox, he was vp international marketing at Miramax International and vp worldwide marketing and distribution at Munich-based CineVox Entertainment.
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