Michael Jackson is gettinginto film production through an unlikely alliance with international salesveteran Mark Damon. The pop superstar's Neverland Entertainment willinvest between $15m and $20m in Damon's production, financing and salesoutfit MDP Worldwide Entertainment Inc which is publicly traded on the TorontoStock Exchange.
The agreement will seeNeverland become a major shareholder in MDP and will encompass all ofMDP's film production. MDP's production arm will be calledNeverland Pictures and all MDP features will henceforth carry that banner. Theclosing of the deal, which has been in negotiations for two months, is subjectto customary regulatory and other approvals.
The connecting individualbetween Jackson and Damon is Raju Shared Patel, the Indian producer who runsNeverland Entertainment with Jackson and whose 1994 film RudyardKipling's The Jungle Book wasco-financed and sold by Damon. Patel also produced The Adventures OfPinocchio for New Line and AugustEntertainment in 1996 and Tom Hanks' breakthrough movie Bachelor Party in 1984.
The alliance was announcedat a lavish mid-AFM dinner party for buyers at Damon's Beverly Hillshouse last night (Sunday) which Jackson attended with Elizabeth Taylor. Jacksontold Screendaily that he planned to be closely involved in all the projectswhich Neverland Pictures would produce including the development and castingprocess. He added that he would star in and direct some of the films. Citing ToKill A Mockingbird as his favouritefilm, he said that film was the ultimate art form.
'Both Raju and I lovethe way classic stories can be reinvented for the screen,' he said in astatement. 'My favourite movies such as Raju's Jungle Book andPinocchio were reimagined as major features, and were produced outside thetraditional studio system. Films have always been a passion for me as a fan andas an artist and there is nothing in the world like the magic captured foreverin a time capsule like motion picture images. Raju and I are very excited to bejoining together with MDP Worldwide and producer Mark Damon, who has a verysuccessful track record as an independent producer and distributor.'
Jackson is a pioneer of themusic video form, working with such directors as Martin Scorsese on Bad and John Landis on Thriller and Black And White. While he has never made or starred in afull-fledged fictional feature, his 1988 film Moonwalker combined concert footage with a thin fantasystoryline in which he was the lead character, he starred in a 17-minute 3-Dshort Captain EO directed byFrancis Ford Coppola which is an attraction at Disney theme parks and he wasdirected by effects maestro Stan Winston in the extended 38-minute music video Ghosts which played out of competition at the 1997 CannesFilm Festival.
Also offering potentialsynergies for the movie production company is the fact that Jackson andNeverland own a large music copyright catalogue, including the copyright tosome 250 songs by The Beatles, which Jackson bought in 1985 for over $50m.
MDP meanwhile is inaggressive form after a couple of quiet years. Last week, it reported itshighest ever financial results for the year ending Sept 30, 2001 - a netprofit of $3.6m on operating revenues of $53.6m, a rise of 427% from theprevious fiscal year.
MDP took control of itsformer owner Montreal-based Behaviour Communications in March 2000 byconverting $5.7m owed him by Behaviour into shares representing a 60% stake.
MDP enjoyed a hit last yearwith Universal's domestic release of The Musketeer which grossed $27.1m last September and has highhopes for two other releases - The Extremists, released through Paramount domestically, and Fear.com, released through Franchise Pictures/Warner Bros- this year.
MDP recently boarded threenew projects - The United States Of Leland produced by Kevin Spacey's Trigger StreetProductions and starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Klein, Don Cheadle, Jena Malone,Lena Olin and Spacey himself; Havoc,a provocative screenplay by TrafficOscar winner Stephen Gaghan which has Scarlett Johanssen in talks to star and TheI Inside, a time travel thrillerbeing written by Michael Cooney from his play Point Of Death.
The deal was negotiated onNeverland's behalf by Lawrence Mortorff, entertainment attorney BruceVann of Kelly, Lytton & Vann and for MDP by Michael Eliasberg of Kaye,Scholer.