Cruise, Wagner take reins at UA

Four pics a year planned for reborn 'talent-friendly studio'

In an effort to re-create the glory days of United Artists, parent company MGM said Thursday that the one-time artist-run studio will be reborn under the leadership of Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner (HR 11/3).

Cruise and Wagner, whose longtime production deal at Paramount Pictures ended in August, have taken what is being called a "substantial minority financial stake" in UA, founded more than 85 years ago by movie greats Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. Cruise and Wagner will set the company's production slate. They also will have greenlight authority within an undisclosed range; though the principals declined comment, sources suggest that number is $50 million-$60 million. Wagner will serve as CEO, and Cruise will star in and produce films for UA, though he will remain available to do film projects for other studios.

"You've got the studios accusing talent of driving up the cost of doing business and the talent accusing the studios of being political bureaucracies," MGM chairman and CEO Harry Sloan said. "We think if we can create a talent-friendly studio, owned by artists, then we can come up with a new financial model."

UA will have a production slate of about four films a year, with MGM handling worldwide marketing and distribution. The films will be fully financed by MGM and its partners, including private-equity firms Providence Equity Partners and Texas Pacific Group along with industry partners Comcast Corp. and Sony Corp. of America. Cruise and Wagner will not be the sole suppliers of material at UA but will bring in other creative talent.

MGM hopes that once the studio's initial films are announced and UA's business model becomes clear, UA will be able to attract outside funding from Wall Street. "We're going to fund it to begin with, but we want to create a scenario where UA stands on its own, with its own credit lines, (its) own investors, so that it can grow into a studio that can produce more than four movies a year," Sloan said.

The parties involved said the deal came together during the past few months, as Sloan and MGM chief operating officer Rick Sands were deciding what to do with the UA brand. C/W Prods. had just left Paramount, where its long-term production deal wasn't renewed.
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