The word 'maverick' is bandied about a lot when Michael Cerenzie's name is mentioned, and it is not hard to see why. The heavily tattooed former New York stage actor and theatre impresario is determined to do things his way in the film industry.
Cerenzie brought G-String Divas - regarded by some as the first reality TV series - to Chris Albrecht at HBO before moving to the West Coast in 2001 to set up Unity Productions. Unity's first project was Deuces Wild with United Artists, when Cerenzie raised 65% of the $10m budget and realised he had found the route to creative autonomy.
Since then he has raised more than $1bn, mostly from international investors. He signed a deal with Capitol Films to handle worldwide rights on eight films, including a two-picture deal and an option for a third with Sidney Lumet that spawned last year's acclaimed heist film Before The Devil Knows You're Dead. Cerenzie and Lumet are preparing the follow-up, prison-set drama Getting Out. US and India-based producers Funky Buddha Group are also collaborating on the Lumet films.
Cerenzie recently teamed up with studio producer Christine Peters (How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days) to launch CP Productions, which has a first-look deal with Paramount and specialises in graphic novel and video-game adaptations. Peters has been heavily involved in adapting the Midway Games hit Area 51, which Paramount has positioned as a summer 2009 tentpole release.
"The skillset of a producer on the lot has had to adapt," Cerenzie says. "There's a strong focus now on intellectual properties and developing and bringing in a writer with a strong vision. We're doing a lot more of the legwork on a film before we bring it to a studio. When we walk through the door - be it with a Sidney Lumet film or something like Area 51 - we want it to be the best it can be."
He recently completed the crime drama Black Water Transit by Tony Kaye in Louisiana under his eight-film deal with Capitol, and the coming-of-age tale My Sexiest Year, which ThinkFilm will release in North America. Titles in development include the Saudi Arabia-set thriller First Stone and Black Mass, a crime drama based on the life of the Boston Irish mobster James 'Whitey' Bulger.
CP Productions' slate includes The Friday Night Knitting Club from a screenplay by Mike Binder, which will star Julia Roberts and is set up at Universal. Zen In The Art Of Slaying Vampires is an action project; the drama Chaos will star Harvey Keitel and Alison Lohman; and Joust is adapted from a 1980s video game about medieval combat tournaments. No studio has boarded Joust yet and Cerenzie says he may finance it himself.
"I would never touch domestic distribution. It's such a risky proposition," he says. However he admits he is "thinking about" setting up an international distribution network.
Cerenzie and Peters recently launched umbrella company CP Global and a genre label backed by a Mississippi fund headed by Ghostrider Entertainment's Wes Benton. Recent hires include the marketing and distribution veteran Wayne Duband, head of physical production William S Gilmore, development chief Graham Kay, vice-president Grace Ledding and genre specialist Eric Thompson.