Of the films he produced in the decade after leaving his job as president of production at Universal Pictures in 1996, Hal Lieberman is most closely associated with two super-expensive, independently financed megapictures - Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines and Around The World In 80 Days. These days, however, Lieberman and his two-year-old The Hal Lieberman Company, are happier occupying a more modestly-budgeted niche.
"I enjoyed making those films but thought that making smaller budgeted films that don't rely on huge stars and can be made in the $20m range would be a better business for me," Lieberman says, from his offices on the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City where he works with two executives and an assistant. Lieberman signed a three-year, first-look production deal with Sony in October 2004, breaking ties with Universal for the first time in 17 years.
The first fruit of the new studio collaboration is the modestly budgeted Vacancy, which Lieberman produced for Sony and which opens through Screen Gems on April 20. Hungarian director Nimrod Antal follows up his acclaimed 2003 thriller Kontroll with the story of a couple, played by Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson, who check into a motel and realise they have been lured to be the stars of a snuff film.
"The projects I do have to have some moral basis to them," he says. "Vacancy is a tough movie about something that could happen. Ultimately good comes out of it. It's not a slasher movie: it's an old-fashioned thriller with a new-fashioned director behind it. We found a writer called Mark L Smith who we liked. He did a great job on it and we sold it to the studio that weekend. We wanted to make something in the style of Hitchcock and the audience will be the judge of that."
Ironically, Lieberman has just enjoyed a hit not at Sony, but at Disney with Bridge To Terabithia, a movie which reunited him with Walden Media for which he produced Around The World In 80 Days. The family movie has so far taken in some $80m at the domestic box office. "By and large my loyalty lies with Sony, who have been like a family," Lieberman smiles.
Forthcoming from Lieberman is comedy Big Man On Campus which has been set up at Sony and is scheduled to shoot this summer from a script by Lieberman's old friend Gina Wendkos, who wrote the screenplay for The Princess Diaries. The first-look deal has also spawned the narcissism comedy Moi written by Josh Lobis and Darin Moiselle.
Meanwhile he has set up The Secret Lives Of Road Crews, a "raucous action comedy in the vein of Men In Black" at DreamWorks.
Title: Founder, Hal Lieberman Company
Career: Began his career as a screenwriter. Joined Universal Pictures in 1987 as a production executive, eventually rising to president of production in 1994. Universal credits include Apollo 13, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, Billy Madison, and Happy Gilmore. Co-founded Mostow/Lieberman Productions and produced Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines and Around The World In 80 Days. Set up first-look deal at Sony for Hal Lieberman Company.