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‘Head of the Class’ in Deals Financing : Company Town

If this year’s Cannes International Film Festival produced remarkably few memorable business deals, one small exception was the $8.5-million sale of George Harrison’s Handmade Films to Paragon Entertainment Corp. of Toronto.

The sale brought an end to the former Beatle’s movie-making career and gave expansion-minded Paragon the rights to a modest but desirable film library that includes “Time Bandits,” “Life of Brian” and “Mona Lisa.”

Brokering the deal was Intermedia/FilmEquities, an investment banking firm that’s making its own waves in international entertainment financing.

Intermedia’s Joseph N. Cohen, Malcolm Reeve and Nigel Sinclair advised Polygram International on the formation of its Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

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They also consult with Bertelsmann Music Group and, along with Creative Artists Agency’s John Ptak, helped assemble an independent financing package with a potential value of $140 million for directors Ridley and Tony Scott.

“We like to think we can throw as many bodies at these deals as a major Wall Street (brokerage) house, even though we’re a boutique,” Cohen said.

Industry sources call Cohen the primary strategist at the aggressive Beverly Hills firm. He has extensive industry experience but is probably best known for helping to create Largo Entertainment, the Japanese-backed production company that fell short of its lofty goals under producer Larry Gordon.

Reeve spent 10 years at NHI Nelson Entertainment International Limited. Sinclair is a veteran Hollywood lawyer who co-founded Sinclair Tenenbaum & Co. Inc. The firm is in the same office as Intermedia, which has 10 employees.

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“Our different worlds can work together quite well,” Reeve said. “Our best moments have come during brainstorming, think-tank sessions.”

Intermedia’s specialties are media investment banking and movie and TV packaging. In the packaging area, the company claims to have raised more than $500 million to support some 60 movie and TV projects with its partners.

Producer Richard Lewis, who received the firm’s help in lining up foreign backing for Trilogy Entertainment Group, says Intermedia is “at the head of the class when it comes to the very complicated financing arrangements.”

Cohen, Reeve and Sinclair see their next challenge in conquering the world of new media. “Joint ventures are ever more attractive,” Sinclair said.

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While Walt Disney Studios already has a partner called Cinergi, the best example of synergy may be coming from another subsidiary, Miramax Films.

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After selling nearly 70,000 copies of a book containing the screenplay and pictures from “The Piano” through Disney’s Hyperion publishing division, Miramax plans to aggressively expand its output to as many as 12 books a year.

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The company inaugurated the division with a party at L.A.'s trendy Monkey Bar on Saturday for people attending the American Booksellers convention. “I’m passionate about it,” Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein said. “We feel we can do well in this field. Ultimately, we’ll live and die by our taste.”

Upcoming books include a full novel inspired by “The Piano;” author David Rabe’s novelization of “The Crossing Guard,” based on a Miramax film from Sean Penn, and “You So Crazy,” taken from the Martin Lawrence movie.

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Weinstein plans to apply the same tenacious marketing approach that he and his brother, Bob, used on films such as “The Crying Game” and “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down,” to sell their books. “The Piano” screenplay was augmented by personal observations from the participants and museum-quality stills from the film. An Academy Awards-night video of director/writer Jane Campion discussing “The Piano” will accompany the arrival of the novel in stores.

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“The Crossing Guard” book arrives shortly before the movie starring Jack Nicholson, in what Weinstein sees as cross-promotional paradise. Inspired by its recent hit movie, “Like Water for Chocolate,” Miramax has also commissioned a Mexican cookbook called “An Appetite for Passion.”

Weinstein credits much of the book division’s marketing success to Donna Daniels, vice president of communications. He says upcoming projects include a novel from Paul Auster and the autobiography of boxer Sugar Ray Leonard.

Weinstein met Leonard at the infamous Friar’s Club Roast for Whoopie Goldberg last year. An avid boxing fan, he eventually persuaded Leonard to co-author his life story for Miramax. “We also told him he could star in our next seven movies,” said Weinstein, adding: “Not really. If we did that and he found out it wasn’t true, it wouldn’t be pretty.”

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Talk about gone but not forgotten. Wyatt Earp’s story has already been retold once this year in Cinergi’s “Tombstone.” Next, it’s retold again in next month’s “Wyatt Earp” from Warner Bros. Now comes word that Orion Home Video plans to release an Earp special starring Hugh O’Brien, reprising his early TV role as the lawman in “Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone.”

Produced by Rob Word in association with CST Entertainment Imaging, this Earp includes colorized scenes from the original 226 TV episodes. By summer’s end, it’ll either be Earp-o-mania or a serious case of Earp overkill.


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