UA finds money on Street

Merrill Lynch pact spans five years

NEW YORK -- Completing a long-gestating deal, United Artists has secured $500 million in financing through Merrill Lynch to produce 15-18 films over the next five years.

The fund will be used to finance films UA develops alone, projects co-produced or co-financed with other studios or partners as well as acquisitions of negative pickups or other distribution agreements. Formed as a partnership among Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner -- who serves as CEO -- and MGM in November, the new UA will have greenlight authority over the planned slate of four to six films a year. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

A UA spokeswoman said two features in production starring Cruise -- Robert Redford's political drama "Lions for Lambs," due in theaters Nov. 9, and Bryan Singer's Nazi hero biopic "Valkyrie" -- fall under the new financing.

"We are pleased that this new financing supports the MGM model, providing a solid foundation for its production while also creating a pipeline of high-quality films for worldwide distribution by MGM," MGM chairman and CEO Harry Sloan said. "We are also pleased to see such strong support from Wall Street for Tom and Paula and their team, which has enabled us to close this significant transaction within nine months of launching a new UA."

Added Wagner: "The closing of this financing is an important milestone for the new United Artists. It leaves us perfectly poised to realize our vision of making movies that are both important and commercial."