Variety (US), April 5, 2009

Morgan Creek enters Nicita era

Company sets trio into production

by Tatiana Siegel

After seven months on the job, Rick Nicita is about to give Hollywood a glimpse of the new Morgan Creek.

The 21-year-old company, which has a long history of success but had grown stagnant in recent years, is poised to put three films into production over the next few months, signaling the direction Morgan Creek will take in the Nicita era.

The company, whose basic structure is to fully finance negative costs and P&A, is in the enviable position of being cash-flush and having a domestic output deal with Universal.

The former CAA co-chairman and partner joined auto distributorship industry billionaire and Morgan Creek co-founder James G. Robinson in August and immediately began assessing the projects in development, quietly fast-tracking the most promising titles. The three projects that emerged as the best bets involve such top talent as Keanu Reeves, Jim Sheridan and Antoine Fuqua -- not surprisingly, all CAA clients, though Nicita jokes he didn’t receive any CAA discount.

The three pics nearing the greenlight:

- The Sheridan-helmed psychological thriller “Dream House” is about a family that moves to a small town in Connecticut and learns that a mother and her two young children had been killed in their home. The killings were believed to be at the hands of the husband, who survived and may now be a threat to the new residents.

David Loucka penned the screenplay, and Robinson is producing alongside Daniel Bobker and Ehren Kruger.

- The Reeves starrer “Passengers” is a sci-fi/romance pic that takes place in the future, as a spacecraft is transporting people to colonize a distant planet. Because of a malfunction, a single passenger (Reeves) is awakened 90 years before anyone else. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, he awakens a beautiful woman.

The Jon Spaihts-penned script had been developed by producers Reeves and Stephen Hamel. Robinson is also producing.

- The Fuqua helming vehicle “Scarpa” is based on the true story of Greg Scarpa Sr., a capo in Brooklyn’s Columbo crime family who was also the highest-level mob informant ever developed by the FBI.

Steve Shagan wrote the screenplay. Robinson is producing the crime drama alongside Irwin Winkler.

“They are quite representative of what I’m thinking of,” Nicita said of the projects. “They are all star-oriented films, even though two of the three don’t have stars attached yet. Those two offer great male leading roles. I’m star-oriented. I was an agent too long.”

The pics also are a throwback to the types of movies that dominated the box office in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s -- Morgan Creek’s heyday -- when the company boasted such films as “True Romance,” “Pacific Heights,” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” “Young Guns,” “Major League” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”

And right behind “Dream House,” “Passengers” and “Scarpa” are three more pics nearing the tarmac.

Over the past three years, Morgan Creek has produced less than a handful of pics -- including a production-marred “Georgia Rule” that prompted Robinson to deliver a stern public smackdown of star Lindsay Lohan. All the recent offerings, including the star-driven “The Good Shepherd,” faded quickly from multiplexes. Morgan Creek’s most recent release, the 2007 Amanda Bynes starrer “Sydney White,” barely made a blip on the radar.

“It didn’t make sense over the past five to seven years to make a lot of movies,” Robinson said, referring to the glut of films in the marketplace. “But things are back like they were in ‘87-’89, where there’s a lot less money floating around. This is a time we have been anticipating. I’m sorry that these economic times are upon the country. But we believe there is more money to be made (in movies).”

Robinson, whose family fortune funds the company, has been one of the few to eschew outside private equity financing.

“We never really drank the Kool-Aid,” he said. “We never took hedge fund money or (money from) outside investors. Believe me, we were tempted. But I didn’t like the responsibility that came with it. At the end of the day, it’s a family biz. And we have more of a personal stake in the outcome of the movies. This entire business was founded by people who used their own money and built the studios with their own money. Frankly, I’d like to see more (of a return to that).”

Though Nicita wouldn’t talk budgets on the three pics, he said he is not constrained by them.

The films “will all be made for what they need to be made for,” he added.

He also didn’t want to pigeonhole the company by stating the number of pics it will make annually, though he said the staff -- which remains the same since before he joined Morgan Creek -- can handle three to six titles a year.

“We want to thrive in this current down market by making commercial mainstream films,” Nicita said. “Tentpoles are better left to the studios; we are basically producers with money.”

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