Deal of the Week: How Fox Got 'Avatar' Sequels

20th Century Fox

On a rainy Friday last month, Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chairman Jim Gianopulos made haste to James Cameron’s Santa Monica office to deliver the pitch that would keep the Avatar director in the studio fold for several years.

Cameron was seriously flirting with Sony to helm a lavish 3D Cleopatra with Angelina Jolie. So Gianopulos fashioned a pitch for two Avatar sequels that stressed the environmental awareness raised by the first film and its importance beyond big box office.

The Cleopatra deal could have represented a nice payday for CAA, which signed Cameron when he was finishing Avatar but only commissions projects it brings to him. CAA didn’t find Avatar, so Cameron’s decision was not the best news for his agents. (CAA continues to look for deals for the camera technology Cameron developed.)

Fox, which almost lost the original Avatar to Disney, obviously didn’t want to see the director move to another project. And naturally, the studio has every reason to turn Avatar, which has grossed $2.8 billion worldwide, into a franchise. Gianopulos baited the hook with a rich financial proposal — terms undisclosed — and an agreement to co-fund the Avatar Foundation, dedicated to environmental issues. The nonprofit will be seeded partly from money provided by Cameron and partly from a dedicated stream of profits from the future Avatar films.

The idea of doing good and doing well clearly appealed to Cameron and helps answer fans who might be disappointed that he’s chosen to make Avatar sequels rather than inventing new worlds. He is expected to begin production on the first sequel late next year. The pictures aren’t dated but are expected to be in theaters in December 2014 and 2015.

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