Michael Jackson’s Neverland Entertainment has invested $15 million-$20 million in Mark Damon’s production and distribution company MDP Worldwide, making Jackson and his new producing partner Raju Patel major shareholders in the company. As part of the deal, MDP will operate a new division, Neverland Pictures, headed by Jackson and Patel along with key executive Lawrence Mortoff. The company plans to produce a range of projects with a focus on family films and reimaginations of classics, some of which might be directed by and/or star Jackson.
The venture was announced Sunday night during a private dinner reception at Damon’s hillside Benedict Canyon home, attended by 250 guests. Making a rare appearance, Jackson showed up along with longtime friend Elizabeth Taylor and “Rush Hour” director Brett Ratner to tout the deal.
Until his arrival, it was not clear whether Jackson would show up at the event, but suddenly he appeared from a nearby dining room and entered the dinner tent to a standing ovation, arm in arm with Taylor. After making it to their thronelike chairs onstage, Jackson took to the microphone and explained his decision to invest in MDP and enter the indie film business.
“I dream great dreams,” Jackson said. “Everything I’ve achieved started with a dream, and of all the dreams, this is the one I am most passionate about. The painter paints, the sculptor sculpts, but they just capture a glimpse of life — of the subject. And film, this medium, you live with the protagonist, you suffer with the protagonist, you laugh with the protagonist, you despair with the protagonist. It’s the most artistic, influential medium of all. I am very proud of what we’re doing, and I promise you wonderful and fantastical things to come.”
After his onstage appearance, the notoriously shy King of Pop elaborated in an interview about his plans for Neverland Pictures. He said he will be involved in all aspects of the company, such as reading scripts, plucking talent and directing. “I have a lot to express in film,” Jackson said, revealing that his favorite movie is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “I’ll be doing the whole thing, behind and in front [of the camera]. I love it.”
Another movie Jackson is fond of is 1994’s “The Jungle Book,” which Patel produced and Damon executive produced, marking the duo’s first collaboration. After seeing the movie, Jackson called Patel, who also produced “The Adventures of Pinocchio” and “The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo,” to compliment him on his work, and the two became friends.
That brought Jackson and Patel to Damon’s MDP. Patel said he and Jackson chose to invest in MDP and launch Neverland under their banner to gain creative freedom outside the studio system. “Michael wants control, and that’s hard to get at a studio level,” he said. “He wants to be able to go straight from an idea into the marketing.”
Neverland already has a slate of projects, with three of them expected to be announced shortly. Whether any of those include Jackson-directed projects is unclear, but if he’s not willing to hop behind the camera so soon, his close friend Taylor is.
“I wanted to direct for quite a while,” Taylor said in an interview. “I’ve observed and picked up so much from other directors and other actors and learned just by osmosis. I’d like to take the knowledge I’ve learned from them and have a go at it.”
Jackson has had several previous forays into film production, more notable for their ambitious announcements than their actual output: in 1991, he signed a nonexclusive first-look deal with Columbia Pictures through his Nation Films banner. In 1993, he announced a second feature film company, Michael Jackson Productions Inc., promising to deliver movies with positive and uplifting themes.