Judd Apatow inks three-film deal at Universal

'Funny People' director also can produce outside projects

On the eve of the release of his latest movie, "Funny People," Judd Apatow has signed with Universal to write and direct three films.

The deal, which came together over the past two months, shows the studio's considerable faith in the filmmaker.

Universal gave Apatow considerable leeway in making "Funny People," his most personal and serious film, including final cut on the nearly 2 1/2-hour, $75 million movie starring Adam Sandler and Jonah Hill. Reviews have been mixed, though the film is expected to open strongly.  The deal allows Apatow to produce projects elsewhere. He has produced six movies at Columbia, including "Superbad," "Pineapple Express" and the recent "Year One." His producing output at Universal has consisted of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Get Him to the Greek," which is currently shooting.

The deal came together over the past couple of months. "It was a true mutual enthusiasm to really cement a relationship," said Universal Pictures chairman David Linde. No projects, which will also be written by Apatow, have been set.

While a longtime writer and producer, Apatow has only directed three films, all of them for Universal.

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin," released in 2005, helped make Steve Carell a star, grossing $177 million worldwide ($109 million domestic). The film was the first example of what has become Apatow's trademark comedic style -- male-centric, nerdy, sometimes juvenile and always heartfelt -- which has been frequently imitated by other filmmakers in the last few years.

Two years later, he gave birth to "Knocked Up," which earned critical raves, turned Seth Rogen into a star and made more than $219 million worldwide ($148.7 million domestic).

Apatow has also helped bring attention to funnymen such as Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Hill and Michael Cera.

Counting "Funny People," Apatow has directed a film every two years. If he maintains that pace, he'll be busy at Universal through 2015.

"He has become a cornerstone for what this company prides itself on, which is excellence in comedies," Linde said. While "Funny People" is a more ambitious production than Apatow's more modestly budgeted movies, Linde called the him "one of the most responsible filmmakers that this company works with. He is always on budget, he is always on time."

While comedies traditionally gross more domestically than internationally, Apatow has done quite well exporting his brand of funny.

"I'll take those international numbers any day," said Linde. "I would argue that makes him a filmmaker who speaks to a global audience."