Tomorrow at Cannes, France, executives of Circle Films Inc. will announce a motion picture production agreement with Joel and Ethan Coen, who made the highly acclaimed "Blood Simple." It is the first such agreement for the Washington-based company since its formation in the fall of 1983.
The agreement calls for the Coens to make their next four movies in association with Circle. Jim Jacks, director of production development for Circle, will serve as executive producer.
According to local industry sources, the arrangement represents the most extensive commitment to date by a Washington-based company to a single team of film makers, and one of the largest film production financing deals in the city's history.
"We're very excited about it," said Circle President Ted Pedas. "We believed in them, and they believed in us -- it's a sort of marriage we've put together. Everything's been done with a handshake all along, and they stuck right by us."
Under the agreement, Circle will secure financing for the four movies, each tentatively budgeted in the $5 million to $10 million range. Circle will also arrange for the distribution of the movies in conjunction with one of the major studios.
The deal provides the Coens with complete artistic control, including final cut. Other specifics were not released, but Jacks confirmed that it follows the typical pattern of independent production, in which the artists sacrifice large "up-front" fees for a greater piece of the "back end," or profits.
After the critical acclaim for "Blood Simple" (distributed by Circle Releasing Corp.), the Coens became one of the hottest young film-making teams in the business. The deal thus represents a significant coup for Circle, the production arm of the local Circle Theaters chain.
Typically, a successful, independently produced first feature has been used by film makers as a way to gain entry to Hollywood. The Coens, however, join a growing number of film makers who are rejecting the bigger budgets and monetary rewards of Hollywood in return for greater artistic control and profit participation.
"People like Jonathan Demme ("Stop Making Sense") and Alan Rudolph ("Choose Me"), and a number of other directors who we're speaking to, are really sick of the system," Russell Schwartz, vice president of marketing and distribution for Island Alive, another independent, has said.
Having been offered several movie deals by the major studios, Jim Jarmusch, writer/director of "Stranger Than Paradise," named Best Picture of 1984 by the National Society of Film Critics, has announced that he will continue to make independent movies with his German producer, Otto Grokenberger.
"For me, the issue is control," Jarmusch said at the time. "I think people are thinking twice before getting some studio to back their film. If you can make the same film for the same money, it's only the producers who take the extra money, and the agents and the lawyers and all those people," Jarmusch said.
The Coens' arrangement with Circle began with an oral agreement to produce their next movie, made after Jacks saw "Blood Simple" at the Filmex Festival in Los Angeles. "The movie came out and they became very hot, and there was never anything signed," Jacks said. "But I was hopeful that they would stand by their agreement, and they did. In fact, they came to me and said, 'Since we've got all this heat, why don't we make the deal for four pictures?' "
"They've been offered several major projects at very substantial fees," Jacks added. "But the studios have the attitude that they would like you to make the movie that they want you to make -- they don't necessarily want to make the movie you want to make. What we're telling the Coens is, 'You guys decide what you want to make. And within reason, we will make it.' "
The first movie, "Raising Arizona," with a tentative release date of August 1986, will be cowritten by the brothers, directed by Joel Coen and produced by Ethan Coen. Jacks described it as "a screwball comedy about the latent desire to be a parent." The next scheduled project, "The Hudsucker Proxy," will be cowritten by the brothers and Sam Raimi, director of "The Evil Dead," who collaborated with the Coens in writing his upcoming "The XYZ Murders." "It's basically a comedy about big business where everyone talks fast and dresses sharp," said Jacks. Again, Joel Coen will direct and Ethan Coen will produce.
Details concerning the remaining movies are as yet undetermined.