UPDATE, MARCH 2015: Seems apparent that this has severely dented WT's ambitions; they'll now have to be smarter and try to create hits (it seems) with sub-$20m budgets, a long way from the tentpole level of Green Zone: About Time ($15m), Theory of Everything ($12m) - the Oscar bait strategy of the latter (with top class production values) has worked well.I might later consolidate several past posts on this, but for now: WT has an ongoing production deal with Universal running to 2015 (the arrangement was due to end in 2013). Signed in April 2012, the new deal sees a significant change which gives WT back some of the freedom they lost when initially hooking up with Hollywood majors back in 1992 (Polygram, who sold out to Universal in 1999), but means they're not so sure of getting distribution for WT productions in future:
Universal Pictures has re-upped Working Title Films partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner through 2015. This comes after the studio re-upped Imagine Entertainment in January, keeping the studio’s most tenured production companies in the fold. Like Universal chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley did with Imagine, Working Title’s deal has been scaled back; instead of exclusive, it is now a first-look deal. The Working Title pact was due to expire next year. Working Title’s films at the studio have grossed $4.25 billion since they began with Universal in 1999, and Bevan and Fellner bring a British sensibility and a supply of prestige to the studio. [emphasis added]
The above comes from an April 2012 deadline.com report; you can find further useful reports on WT on this site at deadline.com/tag/working-title-films/. Until now WT had the considerable advantage over its UK rivals of having virtually guaranteed distribution through its NBC-Universal link: they paid around $700m over 6-year deals for WT to produce movies that they could then distribute and even exhibit (as a vertically integrated company). Now NBC-Universal have first refusal (they can choose to take on any WT production, but if they decide not to WT are free to market it around other competing distributors). Here's how the relevant Wiki puts it:
In the film industry, it is an agreement between a writer and an independent producer (production company) or an independent producer and a film studio in which the potential buyer (producer or studio) of a not-yet-written script or in-development movie or television project pays a development fee to the writer or producer for the right to have the first look at the new material before others in the industry get to see it, and at that time make an offer to purchase or distribute or adhere to purchase or distribution terms already stated in the agreement.Its speculation, but might this mean that WT become more risk averse and try to play it safe with even more heritage/costume dramas (such as Les Miserables), book/play adaptations (Les Mis, Atonement, BJD), and the standard globally recognised white, upper/middle-class Southern England (rural, rolling hills) + London settings/characters?
[reference from Wiki page:] Konigsberg, Ira (1997). The Complete Film Dictionary. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-670-10009-9. "First look deal. A contractual agreement between a studio and independent producer that the studio have first rights to consider a film by that producer for production and/or distribution by giving financial support during the development period."