Aurelio De Laurentiis Announces 20-Film Pact With Universal, Pledges to Invest $100 Mil in New Projects

The producer announces his first foray into TV and explains why he believes that Italy's prime minister doesn't like movies.

ROME -- Italian film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis announced a dramatic and ambitious $100 million expansion strategy for his Filmauro production house Thursday, while opining on a variety of topics including a new strategy for film distribution, criticism of Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti’s alleged disinterest in film and an end to Filmauro’s highly profitable Christmas film franchise.

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De Laurentiis, 63, nephew of the late famed producer Dino De Laurentiis, also predicted that comedic actor and Filmauro regular Christian De Sica, the son of iconic Italian director Vittorio De Sica, would increasingly try his hand at directing in the future.

The expansion plans, involving Universal Pictures International Italy, were the centerpiece of the gregarious De Laurentiis’ meandering 80-minute monologue at Universal’s Rome headquarters, with Universal Italy president Richard Borg and De Laurentiis’ son, Luigi De Laurentiis, sitting next to him, mostly silent.

The elder De Laurentiis said he would distribute and promote at least 20 Universal films, including some international titles. Among them: the Steve Jobs biopic Jobs: Get Inspired, which Filmauro will distribute in Italy, Germany, and the U.K. De Laurentiis also announced plans for yet-unnamed project he said would be based on a Truman Capote story and would star Leonardo DiCaprio and Ryan Gosling.

The Italian productions he said are in the works include Colpi di fulmine (Lightning Strike), the latest comedy from Neri Parenti, a comedy he said would be called Mr. Love, another featuring popular comic Carlo Verdone called Sei personaggi in cerca d'amore (Six Characters in Search of Love) and three films from young director Alberto Ferrari, including one that De Laurentiis said Oscar-winning actor and director Roberto Benigni wanted but that De Laurentiis snatched away from him.

“If Benigni wants to act in it, fine, but he can’t direct is because Ferrari will direct it,” De Laurentiis said. “If he doesn’t want to act in it, that’s fine too. We’ll find someone else.”

De Laurentiis also said he would make his first foray into television next year, with a project of six 100-minute episodes taken from a book by best-selling author Giorgio Faletti.

He also said he soon will travel to Los Angeles to meet with Universal brass to discuss a still wider agreement with the company, covering territories other than Italy.

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All told, he estimated that his total investments in the new initiatives and projects would be more than $100 million.

De Laurentiis said film distribution companies should focus more on home sales, noting that his 91-year-old mother is too frail to travel to the cinema but would like to watch films and home and explaining that many parts of countries like Italy have too few cinema screens available.

“The first week a film comes out, if you charge €5 ($6.35) to watch it in the cinema, charge €20 ($25.40) to watch it at home,” he said. “The second week, it’s €15 ($19.05) to watch it at home, then €10 ($12.70), and then the same as the cinema. That still gives an economic advantage to the cinema, but it gives people a choice.”

Regarding Monti, who took over as Italy’s prime minister after billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi stepped down in November amid scandal and fears related to the European debt crisis, De Laurentiis said the economist and former European commissioner does not love film.

“We can’t count on support from the government because Monti doesn’t care about cinema,” De Laurentiis said. “You saw that he doesn’t even like soccer [Monti appeared to only reluctantly embrace the Italian national soccer team’s surprising run to the finals of the just-completed European soccer championships]. If he doesn’t like soccer, how can he like film?”

De Laurentiis owns the Naples professional soccer team and has recently said he wants to buy another team outside Italy.

De Laurentiis said Filmauro would not make another installation of its moneymaking Cine Panettone series this year, named for the panettone sweet bread popular around the holiday. The films, which carry titles starting with Christmas in ... followed by a new local every year -- New York, India, on the Nile, on a Cruise -- usually star De Sica, a pinup-girl actress and a motley crew of comics bumbling around that year’s location. Although they have never made an impact abroad, they are successful in Italy, usually finishing the year among the top-grossing Italian films.

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But De Laurentiis said that spot on the calendar will be filled this year by Colpi di fulmine.

De Laurentiis said he considers De Sica “an extremely close friend.” The two reportedly have known each other since their youth, when De Laurentiis’ uncle, Dino, and De Sica’s father, Vittorio, worked together. De Laurentiis said that the younger De Sica might follow in his father’s footsteps and start to focus on his work as a director. The 61-year-old actor already has directed seven films, the best known of which is the 1996 comedy Uomini uomini uomini (Men Men Men), which was panned by critics.