After months of speculation about where he would land, Bill Mechanic's independent production company Pandemonium has signed an exclusive five-year co-financing, production and distribution deal with The Walt Disney Studios. Under the terms of the deal, Disney has domestic distribution rights (excluding free TV) to Pandemonium films as well as all international rights except Spain, Japan and Italian television.

Mechanic told Screen yesterday that he has the financing in place to make 20 movies over the next five years through a combination of bank lending, the Disney deal and limited distribution pre-sales in Spain, Japan and Italy (TV only). He said that Disney is pitching in a small percentage of the budget. "It's a low risk deal for Disney and the upside is greater for me. Going into this company, the thing for me was to preserve the upside. Selling off rights is a way to protect the downside and I never believed in it at Disney or at Fox."

"The way to do it," he said, "is to ask less from people. If you are doing that with lower fees, and then bundle together the greatest amount of rights with one company so that they too can make money, your upside potential is much greater."

He said that the three international partners were already in place but he would not be announcing them until the new year. A domestic free TV deal has yet to be closed, although there would obviously be natural synergy with Disney's ABC.

The Pandemonium structure most closely resembles that put together by Joe Roth's Revolution Studios which is partnered with Columbia Pictures. Roth sold 25% of Revolution for $250m and kept the remaining 75% for him and his executives, while raising pre-sales finance for a slate of 36 films from Columbia, Fox Broadcasting (US broadcast, cable and domestic TV syndication rights), Starz Encore Group (domestic pay-TV rights), Toho-Towa and Pony Canyon (Japan theatrical and home video respectively) and Senator Films (Germany). The difference with Mechanic is that he has not sold any equity in his company; he said he was as yet unable to disclose the details of the bank with which he has struck a financing deal.

Mechanic formed Pandemonium in 2000 after he was ousted from his position as chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment. He held that position for seven years, overseeing production of worldwide hits such as Titanic, Independence Day, Cast Away, Planet Of The Apes, Moulin Rouge, Fight Club and The Full Monty.

The deal marks a return for Mechanic to Disney; prior to his job at Fox, he was president of international distribution and worldwide video at the studio and was responsible for building up home video units in the US and overseas as well as setting up Buena Vista International (BVI). He joined Disney in 1984. "The Disney organisation is still largely intact," he said. "BVI hasn't changed a lot since I founded it. The only real change has been people moving from one territory to another."

Mechanic has been busily raising the finance for his new company since his departure from Fox, all the while buying scripts and projects which are now in development. Two pictures are set to go into pre-production in early 2002: Men Of Destiny to be directed by John Woo, and Moon And The Sun to be produced with The Henson Company and Michael London, with James Schamus currently working on the script and Nathalie Portman attached to star.

He has other films in development with film-makers including Tony Scott, Peter & Bobby Farrelly, Henry Selick, George Tillman and Andy Tennant, many of whom made pictures for Mechanic at Fox.

"The fun thing for me after all my corporate experience has been keeping Pandemonium small," added Mechanic in a statement. "I've had amazing partners in building our slate in Ashley Kramer and Kerry Foster, and in building the company with Matthew Velkes, but it'll be a relief to pick up the manpower of a studio structure in order to make our films better. We expect to join ourselves at the hips with Nina Jacobson [president of Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group] and her talented executive team."