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The State of the Studio Deals: Who's Doing What Where

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Overstuffed studio stables mostly perished in the WGA-strike housecleaning. Now, surviving producers fight for stingier deals and fewer film slots in an environment of belt-tightening and cold creative calculation.

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DISNEY
Active producer deals 2011: 18 
Active producer deals 2003: 24

Disney has been through some uncomfortable contortions lately. Even long-standing powerhouse producer Jerry Bruckheimer has faced challenges as the company has made executive changes, brought in Marvel Studios and locked in a distribution deal with DreamWorks. Meanwhile, the studio's roster, which includes Debra Martin Chase's Martin Chase Productions and Andrew Panay's Panay Films, is fighting over a handful of live-action movie slots. David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman's Mandeville Films provides a grab bag of pictures, including this fall's Muppets rebirth. But Miles Millar and Alfred Gough's Millar Gough Ink hasn't seen a Disney green light since 2009's Hannah Montana: The Movie. New blood comes in the form of ABC Studios supplier Mark Gordon's Mark Gordon Co., which cut a first-look film deal in April.

Highlights:

Mandeville Films: David Hoberman & Todd Lieberman
In 2009, Mandeville supplied Disney with the impressive $317 million worldwide gross of The Proposal and the middling performance of Surrogates. After The Muppets in November, the duo has projects filming for Summit and Relativity and Here There Be Monsters set up at Warner Bros. but nothing approaching the runway at their home studio.

Junction Entertainment: Jon Turteltaub
Director Turteltaub delivered hits with the National Treasure films in 2004 and 2007, but The Sorcerer's Apprentice turned out less than magical last year. He now has Last Vegas casting for CBS Films, but only one Disney project -- a potential third National Treasure film -- napping in development.

Jerry Bruckheimer FIlms: Jerry Bruckheimer
The fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film triumphed, but the run-up to it -- Confessions of a ShopaholicG-ForcePrince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Apprentice -- failed to reach blockbuster status, forcing the mega-producer into an atypical public wrestling match with the studio to get The Lone Ranger greenlighted.

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DREAMWORKS
Active producer deals 2011: 5 
Active producer deals 2003: 22

Just before it left Paramount three years ago, DreamWorks still had a dozen deals in place that included pacts with Ira GlassEddie Murphy and Ben Stiller's Red Hour Films. Since rebuilding as an independent, the studio's deals are few but targeted: director John Hamburg for comedy, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci's K/O Paper Products for action/sci-fi tentpoles and screenwriter Steven Zaillian's Film Rites for smaller dramas. But because DW makes so few movies, many in its stable go elsewhere (Zaillian has Moneyball and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at Sony). Steven Spielberg favorites Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall's Kennedy/Marshall Co., which is producing the director's War Horse and Lincoln for DW, just nabbed a first-look deal.

Highlights:

MacDonald/Parkes Productions: Laurie MacDonald & Walter F. Parkes
The longtime DreamWorks producers (The RingCatch Me If You Can) lined up $10 million in financing from Imagenation Abu Dhabi two years ago and have been using it to buy and develop their own projects. Dinner for Schmucks underperformed in 2010, and films such as Motorcade and The Trial of the Chicago 7 have been gestating at the studio for years without forward movement. But the awards-bait drama Flight, which Robert Zemeckis is directing with Denzel Washington in the lead role, has just gone before cameras.

K/O Paper Products: Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci
The writer-producers are frequent Spielberg collaborators who had a rare stumble with Cowboys & Aliens this summer. They go small for the first time with Kurtzman's directorial debut, Welcome to People, which is wrapped but awaiting a release date. After that, the pair has half a dozen big-budget projects -- including Racing DreamsDeep Sea Cowboys and The Defenders -- at the studio waiting for the go-ahead from CEO Stacey Snider, but their deal is up at the end of the year.

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20TH CENTURY FOX
Active producer deals 2011: 20 
Active producer deals 2003: 26

The quantity of deals hasn't changed much at Fox since the heyday of first-look pacts a decade ago. But the studio -- which includes Fox 2000, Fox Searchlight and Fox Animation -- has consummated two key deals in the past two years, with Peter Chernin's Chernin Entertainment and screenwriter Simon Kinberg's Genre Films. James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment and its Avatar juggernaut are more important to the studio than ever, director Shawn Levy's 21 Laps Entertainment continues to grow in its sixth year, and Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free Productions provides a mix of fare. Walden Media and Davis Entertainment are healthy mainstays, and New Regency remains a major co-financing partner. Searchlight's deals with Danny Boyle's Decibel Films and Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor's Ad Hominem Enterprises provide potential awards-season fodder. 

Highlights:

Chernin Entertainment: Peter Chernin
The former News Corp. COO came out of the gate strong this summer with franchise reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes and its $438 million worldwide gross after segueing into his producer position in 2009. His Billy Crystal comedy Parental Guidance is next for Fox, but Chernin also is producing the big-budget Joseph Kosinski-directed sci-fi epic Horizons for Universal.

Lightstorm Entertainment: James Cameron
Avatar contributed $2.78 billion in gross revenue to Fox's coffers in 2009 and 2010; it was the first picture the company had delivered to the studio since Solaris in 2002. And while Lightstorm has other projects in the works, including a big-budget remake of Fantastic Voyage, the forthcoming Avatar sequels are what really matter.

21 Laps Entertainment: Shawn Levy
Levy's outfit has been a hit machine for the studio (minus The Rocker) since Night at the Museum in 2006, with more than $1.3 billion in global grosses generated so far. The ensemble sci-fi comedy Neighborhood Watch is filming for a summer release, and the Museum franchise could always be extended.

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PARAMOUNT
Active producer deals 2011: 12 
Active producer deals 2003: 22

In the past decade, Paramount has shed producers like it's on a crash diet. But if anything, its stable is stronger. Such heavy hitters as Cruise/Wagner Productions and Gary Sanchez Productions were let go along the way, but the studio now boasts a mix of such old-school mainstays as Lorenzo di Bonaventura's Di Bonaventura Pictures and Lorne Michaels and John Goldwyn's Michaels Goldwyn Co. and newer reliables such as J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk's Bad Robot, Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes and Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock's Montecito Picture Co. With Mary Parent's Disruption Entertainment and Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage's Fake Empire recently added to the roster, the studio looks well situated to cover its bases with filmmaker deals and traditional producers. But really, is there a reason Robert Evans still has a deal here?

Highlights:

Bad Robot: J.J. Abrams & Bryan Burk
Abrams and company joined the studio in 2006, and Paramount CEO Brad Grey made the easiest decision of his career by re-upping the shingle's deal through 2013. Aside from the underwhelming performance of Morning Glory in 2010, Bad Robot has turned out successes Cloverfield, the Star Trek reboot and Super 8, totaling $875 million in worldwide grosses. Next are Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol and a Trek sequel.

Skydance Productions: David Ellison
Ellison brought $350 million to the table last year to co-finance films as part of his four-year deal with the studio, which is up in late 2013, and he's putting it to good use: The tentpoles M:I -- Ghost ProtocolWorld War Z and G.I. Joe 2 are making their way to theaters.

Plan B Entertainment: Brad Pitt
Since coming over from Warner Bros. in 2005, Pitt has barely made a film for the studio where he has an overall deal (A Mighty Heart was last produced for Paramount Vantage in 2007). Among a dozen projects set up there, only World War Z is in front of cameras.

 

 

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SONY PICTURES
Active producer deals 2011: 27
Active producer deals 2003: 32

Sony's stable is wide and deep, with a clutch of strong producers but significant overlap given that the studio will only release 14 films this year. Talent deals with George Clooney's Smoke House, Tobey Maguire's Maguire Entertainment and Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street don't often bear fruit, and James Brooks' Gracie Films hasn't provided a hit since As Good as It Gets and Jerry Maguire in the '90s. Stepping up have been Michael De Luca's Michael De Luca Productions (Moneyball), writer-director Will Gluck's Olive Bridge Entertainment (Friends With Benefits) and Neal Moritz's Original Film, now in production on Total Recall and 21 Jump StreetWill Smith's Overbrook Entertainment and Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions reliably continue their heavy lifting. Sony's palette also includes deals with Laura Ziskin and the late John Calley, which will run their terms.

Highlights:

Happy Madison Productions: Adam Sandler
Sandler has made most of his starring and producing projects at the studio during the past decade, including two of his biggest hits (Grown UpsPaul Blart: Mall Cop). Jack and Jill opens in November and I Hate You, Dad in June, both with Sandler starring, and the multihyphenate is teed up to provide Sony with two comedies a year for the foreseeable future.

Overbrook Entertainment: Will Smith
Overbrook, a Sony pillar since 2001, has brought the studio four giant hits, including the 2008 superhero flick Hancock and 2010's The Karate Kid remake with Smith's son Jaden starring. Its current contract runs through 2013, with a remake of Annie, an adaptation of the Hasbro game Risk and a Hancock sequel in the works.

Scott Rudin Productions: Scott Rudin
After stints at Paramount and Disney, Rudin jumped to Sony this summer for a three-year, first-look deal that formalized a relationship that already has produced The Social NetworkMoneyball and the soon-to-be-released The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. More Oscar bait will follow, including a potential Cleopatra project.

Matt Tolmach Prodctions: Matt Tolmach

In less than a year since transitioning from president of Columbia Pictures to a hot producer on the lot, Tolmach has been developing a range of projects for film and television. He's producing next summer's The Amazing Spider-Man and is prepping Moonwalking With Einsyein, based on Joshua Foer's book; Jonah Hill's directorial debut The Kitchen Sink;  The Slackfi Project written by Howard Overman; and a contemporary version of Frankenstein. For television, he is developing Sleepers for CBS.

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UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Active producer deals 2011: 27 
Active producer deals 2003: 27

Of all the studios, Universal is the onlyone that has recently expanded its portfolio of first-look deals. Among the six new shingles are Robert Zemeckis' ImageMovers and former Universal co-chairman David Linde's Lava Bear Films. A new three-year distribution and financing pact with Cross Creek Pictures brings another potential big player to the table. While still the home of one of the town's priciest pacts -- Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment -- Universal has bolstered its ranks with three players behind its biggest hit of 2011, Fast Five: director Justin Lin, writer Chris Morgan and star Vin Diesel. Rising star Illumination Entertainment is set to keep it in the animation game, and Peter Berg's Film 44, while not prolific, has the studio's priciest movie in history, Battleship, coming next summer.

Highllights:

Apatow Productions: Judd Apatow
Apatow broke ground again by helping Bridesmaids become a surprise smash this summer (it surpassed the gross of his own Knocked Up for the studio in 2007). And the comedy continues: WanderlustThe Five-Year Engagement and This Is Forty -- which he also wrote and directed -- hit theaters in 2012.

Illumination Entertainment: Chris Meledandri
Meledandri's operation has putUniversal solidly on the animation map with the 2010 hit Despicable Me and this year's live-action hybrid Hop. Its March release of the Dr. Seuss adaptation The Lorax will precede a Despicable Me sequel scheduled for summer 2013. A host of brand-friendly adaptations (The Addams FamilyCurious GeorgeWhere's Waldo?) stock its development slate.

Imagine Entertainment: Ron Howard & Brian Grazer
Howard and Grazer have been the boy wonders at Universal for decades, but they're in the midst of a cold streak. The Dilemma and Cowboys & Aliens fizzled, and The Dark Tower had its plug pulled. The ensemble action comedy Tower Heist hits theaters Nov. 4, with the Howard-directed Niki Lauda biopic Rush moving into production.

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WARNER BROS.
Active producer deals 2011: 31
Active producer deals 2003: 32

No other studio can boast its level of A-list talent-based shingles: Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way, Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Downey's Team Downey and Clint Eastwood's Malpaso Productions, which annually shows up with a prestige picture. Zack Snyder's Cruel and Unusual Films provides action and fantasy, and Todd Phillips' Green Hat Films brings the laughs. Financing/producing partners Village Roadshow Pictures and Legendary Pictures (The Dark Knight Rises) share deep pockets and credibility. Alcon Entertainment has proved a reservoir of surprise hits (Dolphin Tale), and Dan Lin's Lin Pictures and Kevin McCormick's Langley Park Productions are run by former studio execs with an eye for good material. Several New Line pacts, including Adam Shankman's Offspring Entertainment (Rock of Ages), remain after the company was folded into WB proper.

Highlights:

Green Hat Films: Todd Phillips
Phillips has turned The Hangover into the biggest comedy franchise of all time while turning himself into a major brand. He is a producer on the low-budget WB comedy Project X, which opens in March, but the writer-director takes his time and his slate remains on the thin side.

Appian Way: Leonardo DiCaprio
His first film for Warners, Red Riding Hood, stumbled, but DiCaprio is a magnet for material -- though much of it sits idle while he remains highly selective with regard to what he pushes. High-profile projects making headway include a long-in-the-works English adaptation of Akira, which just got a green light, and a Twilight Zone movie.

Pearl Street Films: Ben Affleck & Matt Damon
The studio can't get enough of Affleck, whose growing directing career (he's now filming Argo) has him looking like Clint Eastwood's heir. And Damon is clearly prepared to follow: The studio has grabbed several scripts for him to direct, including a drama screenplay the actor co-wrote. The duo also has the Whitey Bulger story in the works.

This article originally appeared with Producers and Executives at Odds as the Sweet Studio Deal Dies.