In Team Ambani, a Pretty Woman

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By AARTI DUA in Mumbai
  • Published 6.02.09

Mumbai, Feb. 6: Anil Ambani will now tango with Pretty Woman Julia Roberts.

Or rather, the companies they own will.

After signing a clutch of development deals with the companies owned by Hollywood celebrities like Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and George Clooney, Ambani’s media and entertainment flagship, Reliance Big Entertainment, is making a splash once again.

The company has just signed two more deals: one with Julia Roberts’s production house Red Om Films and the other with Brett Ratner’s Rat Entertainment. Ratner has directed films like X-Men: The Last Stand and the Rush Hour movies that featured Jackie Chang.

The deals are Ambani’s baby steps on the long road to movie making with Hollywood celebrities.

Under the deals, the two production houses will create “independent development silos”, which will then start developing scripts that might culminate in actual film projects.

“Once the projects are developed, then depending on how to go ahead with them, we will have the option to co-finance the film and then talk to major studios for distribution,” Amit Khanna, chairman of Reliance Big Entertainment, told The Telegraph over the phone from Berlin.

“The deals are in the same mould as the ones we had sealed at Cannes last year.”

Last May, the company had formed similar development silos with seven production houses top-lined by big Hollywood names: Nicholas Cage’s Saturn Productions, Jim Carrey’s JC 23 Entertainment, George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions, Chris Columbus’s 1492 Pictures, Tom Hanks’s Playtone Productions, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, and Jay Roach’s Everyman Pictures.

Khanna refused to say how much money Reliance Big Entertainment would fork out under the two new deals, or even how much it had committed to the seven earlier silos.

“There is no fixed fee. It depends on the project,” he said.

All the production houses have existing first-look deals with the Hollywood studios that have the right to produce the projects first.

Rajesh Sawhney, president of Reliance Big Entertainment, said in a press release: “These creative partnerships will lead to Reliance co-financing with the majority of the major US studios as we are totally respectful of the existing first-look deals that each of our partners enjoys. From the conversations to date, we know that the respective studios will welcome our development silos and our subsequent co-financing ability.”

Khanna said there were 14 to 15 scripts under development under the seven earlier silos. “Two of these are likely to go into production and we should be ready to announce them at Cannes,” he said. The Cannes film festival gets underway on May 13.

Reliance Big Entertainment’s partnership with Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks 2.0 is “on track”, Khanna added. The company has just acquired 17 projects from Paramount Pictures that DreamWorks had developed under the studio before it split from it.

DreamWorks reportedly paid $27 million to Paramount for the projects. Khanna refused to comment on the numbers. “We expect two of these projects to go under production by the middle of the year,” he added.

Reliance Big Entertainment has a debt-equity deal with DreamWorks under which it had reportedly committed to bring in up to $550 million of equity for a 50 per cent stake in the company after Spielberg was able to raise a matching sum in debt financing.

Given the tough credit conditions, Spielberg is reportedly having a tough time raising money. His bankers — JPMorgan Chase — are expected to help him raise $325 million by end-March. It is only after this that Reliance is expected to stump up its contribution.