August 2, 2010 / 5:40 AM / 7 years ago

Miramax sale includes gnome cartoon, Aniston comedy

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Elton John-produced cartoon "Gnomeo & Juliet" and three other completed pictures are included in Disney's sale of Miramax Films, and actor Rob Lowe is part of the buying group.

Those were among the details emerging in the wake of the agreement late Thursday to sell the Miramax name and film library for $660 million to a group led by construction executive Ronald Tutor and investment firm Colony Capital.

The buyers also include Jerome Swartz, an engineer who invented the laser scanner that allows for bar coding for products. Swartz founded, ran and sold Symbol Technologies and now is a college professor and philanthropist. Sources say he is putting in $50 million, while Tutor and Colony Capital's Tom Barrack each will invest $100 million in equity.

That will leave about $300 million that must be raised as debt. There is also cash held by Miramax and receivables due over the next five years that helps reduce the effective acquisition cost to about $600 million.

Lowe is involved through a media investment fund he recently created with Barrack. The actor, newly confirmed as a regular on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," said Friday that this is the first investment by the fund.

"The acquisition of a classic brand like Miramax is an exciting first step in my partnership with Tom Barrack and Colony Capital," he said. "This represents an exciting new chapter for me. And Tom and I could not have a better partner on our first deal together than Ron Tutor."

The investors do not include Hollywood producer James Robinson of Morgan Creek, apparently because of a last-minute dispute over how large his role would be in the new company. He could return later.

The movies in the deal will be distributed by Disney under an agreement to handle distribution in all media for the new company for at least a year. That is intended to give Miramax time to hire an executive team, staff up and create an infrastructure to handle its own distribution and production.

The first pictures from the new Miramax will be:

-- "Gnomeo & Juliet," set for a wide release February 11: There was a question about whether this family film about warring indoor and outdoor gnomes would be included because Disney was so high on it. Now in postproduction, it was produced by Elton John's Rocket Pictures. It was financed by Miramax and made under contract at the Starz Animation studio in Toronto. The voice cast includes James McAvoy (as Gnomeo), Emily Blunt (as Juliet), Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and Patrick Stewart.

-- "The Switch" (wide release August 20): Known during production as "The Turkey Baster," this comedy stars Jennifer Aniston as an unmarried 40-year-old woman who uses a turkey baster to be artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant. Seven years later, she discovers that her best friend replaced the sperm she had specially chosen with his own. It also stars Jason Bateman, Juliette Lewis and Jeff Goldblum.

-- "The Debt" (opens December 29 on more than 1,000 screens before expanding): Helen Mirren stars in this drama directed by John Madden about an Israeli agent who is killed on a secret mission to find a doctor who is a Nazi war criminal. The doctor resurfaces 30 years later. The cast includes Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Chastain.

-- "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" (wide release January 21): The subject of a panel discussion at Comic-Con, the horror film is produced by Guillermo del Toro and stars Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce.

"The Tempest," directed by Julie Taymor and originally made for Miramax, is being kept by Disney. It will screen at the Venice and New York film festivals before getting a December 10 platform release.

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