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Fox Signs Cameron to $500-Million Deal : Movies: The studio commits to distributing 12 films made by the ‘Terminator 2’ director’s production company.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Director James Cameron has become Hollywood’s $500-million man.

Cameron, who wrote, directed and produced last year’s top-grossing movie “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” which has so far grossed about $500 million worldwide, has signed a deal to produce 12 movies for 20th Century Fox over the next five years--an arrangement that the studio values at $500 million.

The announcement of the deal on Tuesday raised eyebrows in even jaded quarters of the film industry, where hot directors and stars often sign agreements with particular studios. No deal in recent memory has approached either the dollar amount or Fox’s commitment to distribute all 12 movies made by Cameron’s production company as well as pay an undisclosed percentage of their production budgets.

Under the deal, explained Fox Chairman Joe Roth, Cameron will direct at least three of the films and produce or write the other nine for the studio.

The deal doesn’t necessarily mean another “Terminator” will come along soon.

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In an interview Tuesday, Cameron said a “Terminator” sequel will probably not be part of the five-year deal with Fox. His company does not control the rights to “Terminator,” and he noted that there were seven years between the original film and last summer’s sequel. Cameron co-wrote 1984’s original “The Terminator” with his former wife and co-producer, Gale Ann Hurd.

He added, however, that a co-production wasn’t out of the question.

“Seven years seems to be the right amount of time for sequels,” he said, noting that it has been seven years between the film “Aliens,” which he wrote and directed, and this summer’s “Alien 3,” which Fox will distribute. Cameron is not involved in “Alien 3.”

Cameron, who also directed the underwater adventure “The Abyss,” a costly Fox flop in 1989, said that not all of the films he makes under the deal will be science fiction or action, “though those are two areas I have been interested in. And will continue to be interested in,” he said.

His next film, “The Crowded Room,” is a psychological drama for Fox that is not a part of the 12-picture deal. It stars John Cusack and begins production in August. Cameron has one more commitment to Carolco Pictures, the financially troubled studio that produced “Terminator 2.” Cameron would not comment about whether the Carolco project would be a film adaptation of the comic book character “Spider-Man,” as some reports have stated.

“We certainly will not be in the quirky, art-film business,” said Larry Kasanoff, Cameron’s partner in Lightstorm Entertainment.

“Jim Jarmusch need not apply,” added Cameron, a reference to the director of several specialty films.

Cameron and Kasanoff would not comment on reports that a portion of the Lightstorm films for Fox will be financed by Japanese investors. They said they expect to reveal financing arrangements and some production plans soon.

With Lightstorm retaining negative ownership of all films and the overseas distribution rights, Kasanoff said part of the production capital will come from Lightstorm’s licensing of foreign territories and “equity sources that will be announced shortly.”

Fox will put up a portion of the production costs and marketing tab after the films are delivered to the studio.

Roth was clearly elated by the deal, which he called “a coup” for the studio. He said he is hoping for “high-octane” films from Cameron: “It’s clear that he will make the kinds of films that we were familiar with in the past.”

What would happen if Fox is presented with production plans for a film the studio isn’t interested in? “I don’t ever expect to get into a situation where we get a surprise,” Roth said.

He called the deal a “partnership,” which in his view distinguishes it from the kinds of pacts that Fox and other studios have with other producers.

Roth said that in addition to the North American distribution rights, Fox will also get income from the ancillary video and TV markets on all the films.

At least one entertainment securities analyst gave a mild approval of the deal from the financial perspective. “The dollar figure is high, but Cameron is high profile,” said entertainment securities analyst Steven Hill of Sutro & Co. in San Francisco.

Hill noted that a lot of independent companies and producers have distribution arrangements with studios, such as Castle Rock with Columbia Pictures, Imagine Films with Universal Pictures and Morgan Creek and producer Arnon Milchan with Warner Bros. “This deal is a little bit unusual . . . but you’re going to make a lot of money potentially as well.”

Even Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, which is located on the Universal Pictures lot, does not have an exclusive distribution deal with that studio. The company’s most recent film, “‘Hook,” was distributed by TriStar.

Agent Jeff Berg, chairman of the ICM agency, represented Cameron and Lightstorm in the negotiations with Fox. He said the deal “has extraordinary significance” for the film industry, suggesting that other businesses may benefit from a similar “economic structure” that Lightstorm now has with Fox.

The deal was a long time in the works, and was completed only on Sunday, Cameron said. He and Kasanoff said they have been working for a year to create a business plan, which they envision will eventually lead to Lightstorm to become a global distribution firm.

In a statement, they said the deal “immediately achieves our objectives of turning Lightstorm into a self-contained motion picture/entertainment company.”


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