Signing Scorsese to deal is of Paramount concern


In a bid to foster a talent-friendly studio reminiscent of its '70s glory days, Paramount Pictures has signed a four-year, first-look deal with filmmaker Martin Scorsese, Paramount chairman and CEO Brad Grey said Tuesday.

The studio will supply Scorsese, who will continue to be based out of his New York offices, with $2.5 million a year in overhead for four years, equivalent to the studio's deal with Brad Pitt's Plan B Prods.

Scorsese has contracted to give Paramount and its specialty division Paramount Vantage -- which is run by the director's former agent, John Lesher -- first crack at all projects he directs and produces in all media, including features, made-for-DVD films, documentaries, digital content and television.

Grey has nurtured a close relationship with the filmmaker. Along with Pitt and Graham King, Grey produced "The Departed," the biggest-grossing film of Scorsese's career. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, the Boston-set gangster film has grossed more than $150 million worldwide in its first five weekends of release.

Grey cited his "great experience" working with Scorsese on "Departed," the documentary "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan" and Scorsese's currently filming Rolling Stones documentary, which is set for Paramount release next year.

"I was eager to create a home here for Marty, who is one of the greatest filmmakers in the world," Grey said. "I'm trying to turn a studio around, and Marty is a magnet for the greatest writers, actors and producers the business has to offer. It's all toward making the place a creative hub again."

According to Grey, the filmmaker will be able to set up projects at Paramount, DreamWorks or Vantage, where the director would have the option to "make some films at a lower price point," Grey said. "He knows I want to be supportive of what he wants to do creatively."

Scorsese said recently that he is interested in directing lower-budget films.

Vantage's new co-president, Nick Meyer, will be involved in selling Scorsese titles overseas. Lesher already is developing projects with the filmmaker, and Scorsese is pushing hard for a green light on his 15-year passion project "Silence," a period film adapted by Jay Cocks from the Shusaku Endo novel set in the warring states of 16th century Japan. The budget, which has been estimated to be as high as $65 million, would exceed Vantage's budget caps. Graham King would produce.

While Scorsese's studio deal is not exclusive, for the next four years Paramount retains the right to co-finance and co-distribute any film the director sets up with another studio. Grey said the studio has a similar arrangement with DreamWorks co-chairman Steven Spielberg. The only other director with a Paramount first-look deal is Cameron Crowe.

The deal, which begins immediately, marks Scorsese's first overall pact in several years. In the past, He had an exclusive production pact with Universal Pictures, which yielded 1995's "Casino," followed by a first-look deal with the Walt Disney Co., which delivered "Kundun," the Paramount co-production "Bringing Out the Dead" and the Miramax releases "Gangs of New York" and "My Voyage to Italy," a documentary about Italian cinema. Miramax Films' Harvey Weinstein announced a first-look deal with the filmmaker in 2001, after "Gangs," but that deal was never consummated.

In a statement, Scorsese cited his "great personal relationship" with Grey and said, "I am looking forward to working with him at Paramount, a studio rich in cinematic history and responsible for making some of my favorite films: 'Sunset Boulevard,' 'Shane' and 'The Heiress,' among others."

Scorsese received his fifth directing Oscar nomination for the Howard Hughes biopic "The Aviator." He also has received writing nominations for "GoodFellas" and "The Age of Innocence." He has directed more than 40 films, including "The Last Temptation of Christ," "Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver."

Scorsese was represented in the deal by Endeavor, manager Rick Yorn of the Firm and attorney Jake Bloom of Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal & LaViolette Llp.

Borys Kit contributed to this report.