Imagine Entertainment, supplier of some of MCA Inc.'s biggest movie hits of recent years, including "Apollo 13" and "Parenthood," agreed to a new six-year deal that closely ties director and Imagine partner Ron Howard to the studio over that time.
According to the unusual arrangement of the deal, Howard will be virtually exclusive to MCA's Universal Pictures unit. He has the option of directing one film at another studio during the six years if he chooses.
That film is in addition to Howard's current Walt Disney Co. project, "Ransom," starring Mel Gibson, said Casey Silver, chairman of MCA Motion Picture Group.
Under the deal, producer Brian Grazer, who founded Imagine with Howard, will continue to give MCA first shot at his projects.
As one of Hollywood's most prolific producers, Imagine has always been an important film supplier to Universal, making 19 films for the studio in the last decade. "Apollo 13" was MCA's biggest picture this year, grossing $328 million worldwide.
The company has become even more important to MCA in the wake of Steven Spielberg's decision to form DreamWorks SKG with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Spielberg, who directed such huge Universal hits as "Jurassic Park" and "E.T.: The Extraterrestrial," will maintain ties to MCA, including directing "The Lost World," the sequel to "Jurassic Park." But his efforts are increasingly expected to be devoted to DreamWorks projects over the next few years.
Even though Imagine had three years left on its existing deal, MCA President Ron Meyer and Silver approached the company with a proposal to tear up the old deal for a new six-year contract, Grazer said.
Imagine has five films scheduled for release by Universal next year, including "Sgt. Bilko," starring Steve Martin; "Fear," with Mark Wahlberg; "The Nutty Professor," with Eddie Murphy; "Liar, Liar," with Jim Carrey; and "The Chamber," with Gene Hackman and Chris O'Donnell.