Rapidly establishing itself as a "must know" rights owner, Germany's VCL has bought international rights to the next three comedies by Woody Allen.

VCL is to co-produce and co-finance the trio and will take world rights for 40 years. A deal for North America was signed with DreamWorks SKG in April (Screendaily, April 12).

The package has been shopped around for some months by Allen's agents John Burnham and Cassian Elwes of The William Morris Agency. They attempted to piece together a network of foreign distributors which would pre-finance the three films. But with budgets understood to be in the $25m region and some $19m per film required from international markets, the package was too rich for many. Companies understood to have backed away include Bac Films of France, Renaissance in the UK and Miramax International.

VCL president and COO Stefan Radtke declined any specifics on the budget but said: "We've done our numbers and they make perfect sense to me. There can be few other artists so easy to market as Woody Allen. [The pictures] are very easy to finance and we will have a steady flow of customers." Radtke said that all three will be comedies and the films may have greater audience potential than most Allen films.

For VCL, which is seeking to leave behind its roots as a domestic German video operator and re-establish itself as a pan-European player in video, DVD and video-on-demand, the package makes a powerful calling card. In March it bagged two other headline-grabbing films when it agreed to co-finance the next two films in the Terminator franchise, currently being prepared by Mario Kassar's C2 with Japan's Toho Towa.

The agreements with VCL and DreamWorks follow the ending of Allen's association with producer Jean Doumanian and her Sweetland Films. Sweetland sold off domestic and foreign rights separately to the last seven Allen films. "These are precisely the kind of films we need to be successful in the long-term in TV distribution and video," said Radtke.

VCL said that it expects to earn revenues exceeding Euros100m from the three pictures and hinted that sales to France, Spain and Italy are at an advanced stage.