The UK's Winchester Entertainment, which unveiled pre-tax profits up a record 205% yesterday (June 27), has struck first-look deals with entertainment impresario Merv Griffin and Bette Midler and Bonnie Bruckheimer's All Girl Productions.
The UK film and TV concern will act as overseas sales agents on films from the two production outfits budgeted between $15m and $70m. Winchester chief executive Gary Smith aims for Winchester to handle four pictures a year from the two companies.
Griffin, whose interests span film and TV production, advertising and hotels, is the creator of TV shows Wheel Of Fortune and Jeopardy! All Girl, formed in 1985, has credits including For The Boys.
Winchester and Griffin were introduced by Anthony Esposito of Leading Pictures in the US. The pacts follow Winchester's appointment as sales agent for a host of US producers including Chuck Gordon's Daybreak Pictures, for which Winchester arranged a $500m credit line in October.
The moves comes as Winchester, which is listed on the Alternative Investment Market, made record profits before tax of more than $2.25m (£1.5m) for the year ending March 31, compared with $756,000 (£505,000) the previous year. Turnover was up 33% from 1999's $5.5m (£3.7m) to $7.3m (£4.9m).
Smith said that Winchester's profit surge did not include any of the US projects it is handling apart from small-budget titles such as Palmer's Pick-Up. "The profits were split 50-50 between TV and film," he said.
Winchester's next phase is to move into big-budget US productions. The company increasingly aims to secure ownership positions in US films and recently acquired international rights in perpetuity to MGM's Heartbreakers.
Winchester is to pay $21.5m on delivery of the $53m production, which stars Sigourney Weaver and Gene Hackman. The company has commitments worth more than $19m from distributors in Spain, Germany, the UK, France and Benelux, with further sales expected in key markets such as Japan, Australia, Scandinavia and Italy.
Winchester is now talking with other Los Angeles-based producers to meet the company's aim of handling around six US major films a year. Hadeel Reda, Winchester's point person in Los Angeles, joined the board of the company in May.
Other developments on the film front included unveiling UK distribution arm Winchester Film Distribution at Cannes. Another Life will be one of the first titles to go through the distribution arm, which is headed by Mick Southworth. The debut projects from Chuck Gordon may also go through the division, although this depends on bids from other UK distributors.
TV activities saw Jellabies sold to 23 countries. The children's series has a prime slot on Super RTL in Germany.
"These record profits for Winchester are the result of our clearly focused strategy of owning and controlling international rights to feature films and children's TV series," said Smith.