The irrepressible Elie Samaha has formed a new financing, production and distribution venture Dante Entertainment with Paris-based Tarak Ben Ammar and his Quinta Communications. The deal will see Quinta bankrolling Dante - which plans to produce four films a year - to the tune of between $200m and $300m.
Although separate from Samaha's existing moniker Franchise Pictures, Dante films will be sold internationally by Franchise distribution president Lisa Wilson. The first film to go under the deal will be romantic comedy Avenging Angelo which is currently in production starring Sylvester Stallone, Madeleine Stowe and Anthony Quinn. Others include A Sound Of Thunder directed by Renny Harlin and starring Pierce Brosnan, Ecks Vs Sever starring Antonio Banderas, Psychic with Cuba Gooding Jr and Zigzag with Wesley Snipes.
Meanwhile Franchise's legal dispute with beleagured German rights-trader Intertainment AG looks to be coming to a close in Samaha's favour. Imperial Bank took possession of Intertainment's rights on the Franchise film Get Carter after Intertainment failed to pay the balance of its letter of credit on the film, according to Samaha. Imperial has now appointed Franchise to re-sell certain rights to the film in Europe, although Warner will handle theatrical distibution per its relationship with Samaha. Other Franchise films locked in the dispute are also imminently due for payment.
In a statement released to the Neuer Markt in Germany on Friday, Intertainment CEO Rudiger "Barry" Baeres said that the worst case scenario would be that he "would have to" take delivery of the Franchise films "at the higher budgets, which would result in a loss of DM29m. Then we would have to live with the loss." Baeres even suggested that he would be prepared to continue a business relationship with Franchise. "In our industry, you can never say never," he said. Samaha refuted the suggestion, in no uncertain terms.
Ben Ammar first become involved with Samaha when he brokered a deal between Germany's Kirch Group and Italy's Mediaset to buy a slate of Franchise films for their European distribution group Epsilon. Quinta is the French component of Epsilon and will release Franchise and Dante movies through its sub-distribution deal with UGC Ph.
Epsilon has continental rights to Franchise' s City By The Sea with Robert De Niro, and Dante's A Sound Of Thunder, Ecks Vs Sever and Zigzag as well as German and French rights to Avenging Angelo. Meanwhile Wilson has already sold Avenging Angelo to Manga in Spain and CDI in Italy.
Two new films are being developed by Dante - desert-set epic The Great Thirst from the novel by Hans Ruesch (whose Eskimo novel Top Of The World was filmed by Nicholas Ray as The Savage Innocents in 1959) which is being developed as directing vehicle for Paul Verhoeven and a dramatic thriller set in the world of runway modelling The Face which will be directed by John Herzfeld (15 Minutes, Two Days in The Valley).
Meanwhile Ben Ammar's own production Boys On The Run, a coming-of-age action-adventure directed by Pol Cruchten and starring Ron Perlman, will be sold by Dante; and Femme Fatale, the Brian DePalma-directed thriller which is currently shooting, is likely to be released domestically by Franchise through its four year distribution deal with Warner Bros. Summit Entertainment has sold international rights to Femme Fatale which stars Antonio Banderas, Jean Reno and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos.
Franchise's drama The Pledge starring Jack Nicholson screens in competition on Tuesday May 15; it has also been accepted into Moscow - where it is the opening night film - and Deauville film festivals.