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July 28, 1999
Hoberman Leaves Mouseland To Join Hands With Amritraj
Arthur J Pais in Los Angeles
David Hoberman, long associated with Disney and its recent hits George of the Jungle and The Other Sister, is ditching the mouse to embrace former tennis champ Ashok Amritraj, who has floated a new production company, Hyde Park Entertainment.
The two will be co-chairmen of the firm that will produce at least four films a year, ranging in budget from $ 40 million to $ 80 million. The cost of an average Hollywood film is $ 70 million.
Amritraj, who has executive-produced over 50 films includingDouble Impact, the first big hit for Jean Claude Van Damme, started film production about 18 years ago thanks to the encouragement he received from actor Charlton Heston.
For many years, Amritraj's slate included erotic films (some of them directed by fellow Indian, Jagmohan Mundhra), teen comedies and the inspirational films such as a bio of crusader Albert Schweizer known worldwide for his work with indigent leprosy patients.
Last year, Amritraj joined hands with Hollywood businessman Eli Samaha to launch Franchise Pictures, a showcase for medium budget film projects rejected by bigger movie studios for not being sufficiently promising at the box-office.
"There is hardly an independent studio around anymore," Amritraj had said last year. "Miramax has become a part of Disney, and Fine Line belongs to Warner Bros, and Universal has bought October Films. We want to fill that gap."
The Franchise Pictures movies were to cost between $ 25 million and $ 40 million. They starred the likes of Alec Baldwin and Ben Kingsley.
But Amritraj began growing restive, Hollywood insiders say.
Amritraj said he left Franchise because he wanted to go in another direction. Sources say Amritraj wanted to make bigger budget movies. The new production outfit will raise money from private sources. Hoberman and Amritraj are negotiating with several major banks for a $ 450 million revolving credit, as per sources
"He has been around for nearly two decades and surely he wants to move into the big league," said a source asking for anonymity. "But to do so, he needed someone who has done more than rubbing shoulders with the Hollywood nabobs. He wanted someone who knew deeply how the Hollywood big budget scene works. So when a mutual friend introduced him to Hoberman a few weeks ago, Amritraj seized the moment."
Getting his name attached to big budget movies is not entirely new to Amritraj.
There are several big budget films pending release that carry Amritraj's name as executive producer. These include Battlefield Earth starring John Travolta, and The Third Miracle with Ed Harris. For each of these pictures, Amritraj reportedly received a producer's fee of $ 1.2 million.
But as partner of Hyde Park Entertainment, he will share the profits.
Industry sources say that Amritraj and Hoberman are assets to each other. The former knows the ropes of selling the movies in foreign territories. Amritraj seldom misses film festivals such as the one at Cannes. And Hoberman knows the Hollywood ropes better than Amritraj.
"This is a very smart town," Amritraj has said. "People are very friendly here but when it comes down to actual business, you will find barriers everywhere."
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