Three Amigos befriend Uni, Focus in 5-pic pact

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CANNES -- Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu are teaming for Cha Cha Cha, a $100 million, five-feature production partnership with financing, distribution and international sales handled by Universal Pictures and Focus Features International.

The package will include one new feature directed by each of the Oscar-nominated "Three Amigos" -- Cuaron ("Children of Men"), del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") and Inarritu ("Babel") -- plus two more to be written and directed by Colombian helmer Rodrigo Garcia ("Nine Lives") and Carlos Cuaron, co-screenwriter of brother Alfonso Cuaron's "Y Tu Mama Tambien."

The one announced project in the deal is Carlos Cuaron's soccer comedy/drama "Rudo y Cursi," which will reunite "Tambien" leads Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. FFI is handling presales on the film. The deal was a rare collaboration between three top agencies: WMA (which reps Cuaron), CAA (Inarritu) and Endeavor (del Toro). The independent divisions of WMA and Endeavor were heavily involved in the dealmaking.

Universal will share ownership of all five films with the three directors. FFI will handle all non-North American distribution and sales of each project, with domestic distribution to be assigned to Universal or Focus on a film-by-film basis.

The three directors are longtime friends, all of who have experienced recent crossover success in the U.S. They devised the partnership idea on their own and shopped the $100 million-range package to several studios, including Paramount Vantage and Warner Bros.

The slate will feature at least two Spanish-language films, including "Rudo y Cursi." The other three projects, under wraps by Universal and set to be announced within the next few months, will include English-language and possibly Spanish-language films.

The filmmakers will have full creative control over their features, all developed by each director. At least two will begin shooting this year.

"I'm ecstatic to be involved with all of them for the next couple of years," said Universal co-chairman David Linde, who announced the deal with Universal chairman Marc Shmuger and Focus CEO James Schamus. Universal has been in talks with the trio for the past two months, and official negotiations among the parties began a month ago.

All three films are relatively low budget, according to a Universal source, and each will need to fulfill certain criteria to be greenlighted for production. When asked whether the filmmakers, Universal executives or both had final approval to greenlight each project, Linde had no comment.

Several factors were said to have given Universal and its FFI subsidiary an edge, including the studio's international sales arm. Existing relationships were another factor: Del Toro is in production on "Hellboy 2" for Universal, Inarritu's "21 Grams" was released by Focus, and Cuaron's "Tambien" was picked up for international sales in 2000 by the Linde and Schamus-owned Good Machine International. Universal's interest in becoming involved with foreign filmmakers in a big-budget deal also may be attributable to its aggressive expansion into the international marketplace.

Borys Kit in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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