Hollywood Partners (HP), the Munich-based private film fund, has committed to co-financing and co-producing Walter Hill's Undisputed, starring Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames and Peter Falk, in return for all foreign rights and certain income rights in the US and Canada.
The film, which began shooting at a maximum security prison just outside Las Vegas two weeks ago, is being co-produced with Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort's Nu Image/Millennium Films alongside Brad Krevoy's MPCA. Nu Image will handle worldwide sales on behalf of HP including German-speaking territories.
Undisputed, which was written by Hill and Alien's David Giler, tells the story of two imprisoned athletes - one a world-famous heavyweight champ (Rhames), the other an unknown underdog (Snipes) - who are pitted against each other in a secretive, man-to-man gladiatorial battle masterminded by a manipulative mob boss (Falk). The film reflects HP's stated mission to involve itself in high-profile theatrical features and TV movies with US distribution guarantees already in place.
Last year, HP partnered up with Fox Searchlight in co-financing Philip Kaufman's Quills, which has been selected for an out-of-competition special screening slot at this year's Berlin Film Festival. Already named best picture of the year by the National Board of Review, Quills is seen having a real shot at Oscar consideration, especially in the best actor category for Geoffrey Rush's performance as the infamous Marquis de Sade.
New York-based Sandra Schulberg, who serves as HP's executive producer charged with securing quality projects that have strong commercial prospects for the fund's investors, sees no contradiction in supporting films spanning both art-house patrons and action enthusiasts. "Undisputed is the polar opposite of Quills," she happily concedes, "but it has the same elements: a strong script, a first-class director, the perfect cast, and a really smart budget."
Indeed, HP, whose earlier investments include Roger Michel's Titanic Town, Carlos Saura's Tango, Bill Bennett's In A Savage Land, Peter Duncan's Passion, Ben Hopkins' Simon Magus and Adrienne Shelley's I'll Take You There, is already involved in other properties geared at mainstream audiences. Among them is a high-budget action movie, based on Richard Steinberg's novel The Gemini Man, currently in development with Haft Entertainment.
HP also co-financed Crystal Sky's She's In Love, starring Edward James Olmos and Maria Conchita Alonso, which was sold to the Showtime pay-TV network as a cable original premiere.
HP, which made its first film investments in 1996, was founded by Rudolph Wiesmeier, who runs one of Germany's most creative advertising agencies, R.G. Wiesmeier Agentur, based in Munich. "I am only interested in making quality films," explained Wiesmeier in a statement, "but we also have a responsibility to our investors to make successful films. No one knows what will be a hit with the public; but no film can be successful without proper marketing support. In the area of sales and marketing, I would say that Avi Lerner and Danny Dimbort are the 'undisputed' champions."
Both Wiesmeier and Schulberg are active as executive producers on Undisputed, along with Lerner, Dimbort and Trevor Short. The fund, which has its own website (www.hollywoodpartners.de) for those seeking more information, is represented by Joseph Dapello of New York's Schreck Rose & Dapello, who was also involved in negotiating the Undisputed deal.