Nov 1, 2008

Entertainment - 2 rivals in talks to finance 'Tintin' films

Michael Cieply

LOS ANGELES: Is Hollywood's next big adventure: "Tintin in Culver City"?

After months of deal-making turmoil, the elaborate, two-film "Tintin" series planned by the directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson may find its financiers in a partnership being forged by Sony Pictures Entertainment and Paramount Pictures.

Sony, the Culver City, California-based parent of Columbia Pictures, is in advanced negotiations toward a deal to co-finance the films with Paramount, its Hollywood-based rival. The talks were described by people who were briefed on them, and who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid conflict among the parties.

Kathleen Kennedy, a producer of Spielberg's project, did not respond to a query. Peter Nelson, a lawyer for Jackson, declined to comment, as did a Sony Pictures spokesman, Steve Elzer. A spokeswoman for Paramount could not immediately be reached.

The negotiations began after Universal Pictures last month backed away from an arrangement under which it would have shared the project, based on the long-running Belgian comic strip about a globetrotting young reporter, with Paramount.

Spielberg has been eager to begin shooting the first movie as early as this year. Using motion capture technology that combines live actors with computer animation, he has already filmed parts of the picture. But Universal, which had an option to become involved because Spielberg started the project there 25 years ago, shocked many in Hollywood by declaring it too risky, despite the participation of Spielberg, who has kept his offices on Universal's lot for decades.

The first film's budget of about $130 million is not exceptionally large by contemporary standards. But Spielberg and Jackson, as two of the industry's most prestigious directors, were demanding nearly a third of the movie's gross receipts — terms that proved difficult at a time when studios were tightening belts.

Paramount later offered to make the movie on terms it found more favorable, but the directors' representatives pressed for alternatives. Sony offered to take the movie under a deal more to the filmmakers' liking, but Paramount was reluctant to let go entirely and began discussing a partnership, according to one of the people briefed on the discussions.

Under the deal now being discussed, Paramount would distribute the "Tintin" movies in North America and some English-speaking territories, while Sony would distribute the picture in various foreign territories, including Europe and Latin America, according to a person briefed on the talks.. In recent years, studios have routinely split some of their more expensive movies, usually by leaving one studio with foreign distribution rights, and another with domestic.

Thus, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a coming film directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt, will be distributed by Paramount in the United States and by Warner Brothers abroad.

For Sony, a deal would be the first time Spielberg has worked with the studio as a director since 1991, when he made "Hook" for the company's TriStar Pictures unit. In 1977, Spielberg made "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," one of his biggest hits, for Columbia, long before the studio was acquired by Sony.

The first "Tintin" movie is expected to be ready for release in 2010. Jackson's installment would come some time after, but does not yet have a completed script.

For Paramount, a deal would be one more step in the readjustment of its relations with Spielberg and his new DreamWorks company. The studio had acquired DreamWorks in 2006, but Spielberg and his associates left to form a new venture under the same name last month.

Spielberg is expected to remain involved with a number of Paramount projects in coming months. He has a producing role, for instance, on "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," a sequel set for release in June.

Meanwhile, his new company remains entangled with Paramount through their mutual interest in dozens of development projects that are owned by the big studio, but may be produced and distributed through collaborative arrangements between them over the coming years

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