• Endgame's 'Sky' high in distrib deal

    December 6, 2006

    Jim Stern's financing and production company Endgame Entertainment has entered the distribution biz. It is teaming with production/distribution shingle Maxmedia to co-distrib animated pic "Sky Blue," which premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

    Endgame is using its financing arm to underwrite pic's P&A for its Dec. 31 Oscar-qualifying release in L.A. and its nationwide release, which will begin in New York in mid-February.

    South Korean animated pic, directed by Moon Sang Kim, is the first toon to combine 3-D, 2-D, live action and miniatures.

    Film was recently released in Korea under the title "Wonderful Days," and has been dubbed and directed for an English-language audience by Sunmin Park.

    Set in the postapocalyptic future, anime-style feature follows a young female soldier who must make the ultimate choice between love, duty and the hope of a better world.

    " 'Sky Blue' is one of the most visually arresting films I have ever seen, and as such, this is the perfect first project for Endgame to distribute theatrically in North America," said Stern.

    "Blue" was produced by Sunmin Park, Jung Min Ethan Park, Kyeong Hag Lee and Kay Hwang.

    Endgame's recent productions include "Proof," with Miramax Films; "Five Children and It," with the Henson Co., the U.K.'s Capitol Films and the U.K. Film Council; "Compleat Female Stage Beauty," with Tribeca Pictures and Lions Gate; and "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle," with Senator Intl. and New Line Cinema.

  • Weisz Pulls Off 'Brothers' Con

    November 7, 2006

    Writer-director Rian Johnson has cast Oscar winner Rachel Weisz in "The Brothers Bloom," an in-ternational con man adventure that will be Johnson's follow-up to the 2005 teen film noir "Brick" (HR 10/11).

     

    The project, scheduled to start production in February, was announced Oct. 11 by producers Ram Bergman and Endgame Entertainment's Jim Stern.

     

    Weisz stars as a mysterious millionaire who turns the tables on a veteran team of con men who take on one last job.

  • Weisz to Star in Johnson's Brothers Bloom for Endgame

    October 11, 2006

    Rachel Weisz will star in the con artist adventure story The Brothers Bloom, Rian Johnson's follow-up to his high school noir Brick.

    Jim Stern's Endgame Entertainment is financing the story of sibling confidence tricksters who attempt to fool a mysterious millionairess (Weisz) and get in deeper trouble than they planned.

    CAA is representing domestic rights and The Weinstein Company will handle international sales at AFM. Principal photography is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2007.

    Ram Bergman reprises the producer role he performed for Johnson on Brick, which won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance 2005 and was released earlier this year by Focus Features, which at one point was set to finance this new project.

    Stern will also produce, and Endgame's new president of production Wendy Japhet will serve as executive producer

    "We're absolutely thrilled to be working with a filmmaker as gifted as Rian," Stern said. "The Brothers Bloom harks back to a great con artist film such as The Sting and is the perfect follow-up to Todd Haynes' I'm Not There, which we just wrapped."

    Weisz will next be seen opposite Hugh Jackman in Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. She recently wrapped production on Wong Kar-wai's My Blueberry Nights, and is currently in production on Working Title's Definitely Maybe. She begins production in December on Noam Morro's Smart People opposite Dennis Quaid.

    Weisz is represented by CAA, The Firm, and lawyer Howard Fishman at Hirsch Wallerstein Hayum Matlof & Fishman.

    Johnson and Bergman are represented by Brian Dreyfuss at Featured Artists Agency and lawyer Stephen Clark at Lichter, Grossman, Nichols & Adler.

  • Weisz books con job

    October 10, 2006

    Rachel Weisz will star in the indie adventure "The Brothers Bloom," written and directed by Rian Johnson.

    Endgame Entertainment is financing and producing with Ram Bergman. Project is Johnson's first since helming fest favorite "Brick," which Bergman also produced.

    "Brothers Bloom" revolves around two brothers who are among the world's best con artists. The younger brother decides to quit their life of crime, but he's persuaded to do one more job, swindling an eccentric millionaire.

    Producers are Bergman and Endgame Entertainment's Jim Stern. Newly installed Endgame prexy of production Wendy Japhet is exec producing.

    Film is skedded to start shooting in the first quarter of 2007.

    CAA is selling the pic domestically, with the Weinstein Co. handling international sales; it will begin selling the project at the American Film Market.

    Weisz, who will be seen in theaters next month in Darren Aronofsky's "The Fountain" opposite Hugh Jackman, recently wrapped production on helmer Wong Kar Wai's "My Blueberry Nights" and is shooting Working Title's "Definitely Maybe." After that, she'll begin production on Noam Murro's "Smart People."

    Endgame, launched by Stern in 2003, is a full-service production and finance company based in L.A.

    Endgame's upcoming slate includes Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There" and supernatural thriller "Solstice." Previously released films include "Proof," "Hotel Rwanda" and "Lord of War."

    Weisz is repped by CAA, the Firm and attorney Howard Fishman. Johnson and Bergman are repped by Featured Artists Agency and attorney Stephen Clark.

     

  • Over the Hedge- New York II

    September 19, 2006

    Getting an independent film financed in New York requires fancy footwork: a bit of private equity here, some soft money in the form of foreign presales over there, tax credits on the back end, grants and individual investors to wrap things up nicely. Hedge funds? Those are for the West Coast big guns.

     

    At least, they used to be. Hollywood's hedge fund mania finally has trickled down to New York's indie film community, with some early successes. But hedge fund managers aren't making it easy to open that new financial vein.

     

    "The arrival of hedge funds is absolutely simmering down to the indie film scene," Endgame Entertainment CEO Jim Stern says. "Endgame has hedge fund money in the company, and we do exclusively independent films that are independently financed. To the extent that companies like ours are successful, it will continue."

     

    But the factors that lure hedge fund managers to indie productions are not necessarily those that attract them to bigger-budget films. Atop the list are often a producer's track record and an attractive slate.

     

    "Slate is everything," says John Penotti, co-founder of GreeneStreet Films, whose current slate — including Robert Altman's Picturehouse release "A Prairie Home Companion" — is backed by a Louis Bacon-managed hedge fund and other private equity. "There are investors that understand portfolio financing and want you to prove you have the ability to handle a revenue-generating slate."

     

    Another factor tends to be the marketable elements in each film's package, such as having a big-name director or star attached. But the biggest challenge facing the indie producer who aims to attract professional moneymen remains ensuring that movies will make it to the theater in the first place.

     

    "Lots of movies get made and get no distribution at all, and most hedge funds take the approach that they want to invest in a portfolio of movies," says Stephen Scharf, a partner at the entertainment law firm O'Melveny & Myers. "They want to know that they've got up to bat enough to have the chance to hit a home run."

     

    It's a matter of averages, according to Dorothy Palmer of Dorothy Palmer Talent Agency, whose Web site includes a pop-up advertisement that serves as a call to investors. "All you need is just one hit, and (for) the other three or four that didn't quite make it, you get a tax write-off," she says.

     

    Adds Charlie Corwin, whose Original Media shingle produced 2005's "The Squid and the Whale" and ThinkFilm's recently released "Half Nelson": "Long-term survival requires assured distribution. A hedge fund can invest in a film or slate of films that never sees the light of day, and that's not what is going to bring the returns."

     

    Hedge fund interest in indie films is at least partially connected to the sluggish economy and the slowing of real estate as a useful investment tool, but a good part also has to do with the somewhat loose definition of "independent." Rogue Pictures, the genre label of Universal-owned Focus Features, signed a nonexclusive co-financing deal this year with hedge fund-backed Intrepid Pictures — but is that significantly different from producers who strike out on their own to raise cash? The growth, some say, is more in the former than the latter.

     

    "If an 'independent' is a guy that makes his own movie, that's one thing, but there's a whole second layer now under the studios that's a viable, growing business," says Deborah Del Prete, founder of Odd Lot Entertainment, which recently began shooting Warner Independent Pictures' planned 2007 release "The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing" in New York.

     

    Del Prete and partner Gigi Pritzker still rely on private equity and presales to finance their movies, which usually have budgets of $10 million-$25 million, but acknowledge that the film-financing business has become so professionally managed that Wall Street is starting to see the upside of investing in indie projects.

     

    "Hedge funds are doing different transactions with distributors and different producers and becoming much more prevalent," says Carolyn Hunt, a partner at the entertainment law firm Loeb & Loeb. "Depending on what sorts of deals they put together, (the trend) could or could not be temporary. The pictures we've seen hedge funds going into have been smart deals."

     

    But some low-budget indie producers remain cautious.

     

    "The reality is that if the hedge fund brokers are getting their fees, they go home happy," says Seth Carmichael, director of acquisitions and development at Goldcrest Films and co-producer of 2004's "Brother to Brother." "But if the money doesn't come back, the clients aren't going to keep going back to their brokers and saying, 'I'm in for the next round.'"

  • 'Journals' Makes Point as Toronto's Fest Opener

    September 8, 2006

    The Toronto International Film Festival got off to a brave start Thursday night with the kickoff gala screening of "The Journals of Knud Rasmussen," an Inuktitut- and Danish-language drama about Canada's Inuit people being stripped of their traditions by Christianity.

     

    Business also got under way as IFC First Take said it has picked up all North American distribution rights to "&hellip So Goes the Nation," a documentary uncovering election manipulation in Ohio during the 2004 U.S. presidential race. "Nation" is scheduled to have its world premiere at the festival Thursday.

     

    At the fest's opening, the strains of native throat-singing and drum-beating opened the proceedings at Roy Thomson Hall as co-directors Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn introduced a cast of unknown Inuit actors to about 4,000 guests.

     

    "The voice of Canada's Inuit people speaking to an audience of the country's most powerful and privileged is clearly a historic moment in Canada's history," Cohn told the opening-night audience.

     

    Signaling a watershed moment in Canadian film, Toronto festival co-director Noah Cowan said "Journals" represented "a cultural and cinematic triumph."

     

    Kunuk and Cohn earned the Camera d'Or at the 2001 Festival de Cannes for their first feature, "Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner," a film about native history and healing. "Journals," their second feature, has the naked man that ran across the Arctic ice in "Atanarguat" stopping in 1922 to witness the Inuit people's shaman tradition be undermined, and ultimately replaced, by Christianity.

     

    Cohn recalled that in 2001 the Toronto screening of "Atanarjuat" was to have occurred on Sept. 11 but was halted after the terrorist attacks in the U.S.

     

    In "Nation," the film that caught IFC's attention, directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo took several camera crews to Ohio to document charges hurled between Republican and Democratic officials and loyalists, including allegations of fake voter registration and the suppression of voter turnout.

     

    The filmmakers nabbed interviews with Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, Republican National Committee chairman Edward Gillespie, President Bush's 2004 campaign manager Ken Mehlman, John Kerry's 2004 campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill, Democratic adviser Paul Begala and campaign strategists for both candidates to get a comprehensive view of the election battle.

     

    "Nation" will bow simultaneously in theaters and via cable video-on-demand services Oct. 4, a month before the November elections. "We wanted to release the film before midterm elections, when the public's interest in campaign politics is high and the film's message will have the greatest relevance," Del Deo said.

     

    "People spend more time analyzing what car to buy than who to vote for," said Stern, who also serves as CEO of the film's production company Endgame Entertainment. "That's why the movie is at times analytical and at times maddening. We'd like this to be a film that encourages people to spend less time crying foul and more time thinking how they can make a difference."

     

    It's just one of several political-themed films that will hit the Toronto fest this year, from the provocative "Death of a President," to Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," which explores a young girl's horror-filled fantasies in reaction to the fascism in 1940s Spain.

     

    The deal was negotiated by IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring, Elizabeth Nastro and Ryan Werner for IFC and Endgame Entertainment CEO Stern, Doug Hansen and John Sloss on behalf of Endgame.

     

    In all, 352 films from 62 countries will unspool in Toronto; the festival ends Sept. 16.

     

    To ensure that assembled media and film buyers not invited to Roy Thomson Hall on Thursday night didn't feel left out, Toronto scheduled a slew of films that night, including 20th Century Fox's "Borat," which screened to a capacity house at midnight at the Ryerson Theatre, with lead Sacha Baron Cohen of "Da Ali G Show" on hand.

     

    Other films unspooling in Toronto included the Canadian zombie film "Fido," which stars Carrie-Anne Moss and Billy Connolly; Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," which earned the Palme d'Or at Cannes in May; the German drama "The Lives of Others"; and Norway's "The Bothersome Man," from Jens Lien.

     

    As in past years, the opening-night screening will be followed during the first weekend with an uptick in buying during Toronto's behind-the-scenes market.

  • IFC takes North America on ...So Goes The Nation

    September 7, 2006

    IFC Entertainment has picked up North American rights to the political documentary ...So Goes The Nation, which receives its world premiere in Toronto. The film is directed by Endgame Entertainment founder James Stern and Adam Del Deo.

    ...So Goes the Nation explores America's tumultuous electoral process and focuses on the infamous Ohio vote count in the 2004 Presidential election between George W Bush and John Kerry.

    Stern and Del Deo interviewed voters and gained access to such high-ranking strategists as chairman of the Republican National Committee Edward Gillespie, and his Democrat counterpart Terry McAuliffe. IFC plans a multi-platform release through its First Take label on Oct 4.

    "This is an engaging documentary that, in addition to addressing the US political machine as a whole, opens the viewers' eyes to the calculated strategies of top political insiders and the voting process in a way that hasn't been done before," IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring said.

    "We are thrilled to have IFC as our distribution partners," Stern added. "They understand that in making an analytical film versus one that is polemic, we feel we have a better chance at having an impact on viewers and stimulating a real dialogue".

    Sehring and IFC's Elizabeth Nastro and Ryan Werner negotiated the deal with Stern, Doug Hansen and John Sloss on behalf of Endgame Entertainment.

  • Endgame taps prod'n prez

    August 8, 2006

    Former Paramount exec Wendy Japhet has been hired as Endgame Entertainment's president of production.

    Endgame CEO James D. Stern said the move is part of the shingle's expansion of its production arm. It recently closed a new round of fundraising for film production and development that brought its equity to over $100 million.

    Japhet will oversee Todd Haynes' feature "I'm Not There," which recently began shooting in Montreal. Pic's produced by Stern, Christine Vachon and Jeff Rosen, and stars Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere and Christian Bale.

    While a senior VP at Par, Japhet oversaw MTV Films' "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." She was a producer with De Line Pictures and exec produced "The Italian Job" and "Without a Paddle."

    Since its inception in 2003, Endgame has co-financed more than 20 features, including "Hotel Rwanda," "White Noise," "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" and the upcoming "Stay Alive," "Lies & Alibis" and "Solstice."

  • Haynes Names Final Dylan Actor for I'm Not There

    July 30, 2006

    Todd Haynes has named the sixth actor to play Bob Dylan in his outrĊ½ ensemble portrait IÕm Not There, which begins production on Jul 31 in Montreal.

    So far Christian Bale, Richard Gere, Heath Ledger, Cate Blanchett and Ben Whishaw have lined up to play the great singer-songwriter.

    If the presence of Blanchett points to the radical nature of the project, Haynes maintains the radical tone with the addition to the cast of the black child actor Marcus Carl Franklin.

    Franklin appeared alongside Terence Howard in the HBO Films production Lackawanna Blues and will play Dylan in one of his difference life guises.

    David Cross, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Bruce Greenwood, Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams are cast in support roles.

    Celluloid Dreams, which assembled the financing with Cinetic Media and is handling international sales, recently closed deals with Australia (Icon), Brazil (Europa), and Switzerland (Filmcoopi).

    Judy Becker comes in to replace Jan Roelfs as production designer, while Jay Rabinowitz has been named as editor. A previously announced, HaynesÕ Far From Heaven collaborator Ed Lachman serves as cinematographer and John Dunn is costume designer.

    Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Richie Havens, and the band Calexico have been added to the list of musical collaborators, which at the time of Cannes was believed to include Jack White of The White Stripes, PJ Harvey and REMÕs Michael Stipe.

    Christine Vachon is producing through Killer Films along with John Goldwyn, Jeff Rosen and James Stern through Endgame Entertainment, the projectÕs primary financier.

    John Sloss, whose Cinetic Media is representing North American rights, serves as executive producer along with Andreas Grosch, Amy J Kaufman and John Wells.

     Previously announced international sales closed with Germany (Tobis) Benelux (Cineart), Scandinavia (Scanbox), Italy (Bim), Portugal (Atalanta), Greece (Audiovisual Enterprises), Eastern Europe (EEAP), Latin America (TV Azteca), and Japan (Happinet).

  • Agent ankles, loads Arsenal

    May 28, 2006

    Longtime CAA agent John Ptak is ankling the tenpercentery to form Arsenal with partner Philip Elway.

    As more outside money finances Hollywood productions, new firm will advise producers, distrib companies and private equity funds.

    In his more than three decades as an agent, including over 15 years at CAA, Ptak was a pioneer in positioning agencies in the business of raising funds for projects, not simply packaging talent.

    At CAA, he has handled financing and distrib deals on more than 100 indie films, including pics by Woody Allen, Jane Campion, Paul Haggis and Terry Gilliam.

    Elway was recently head of German tax fund VIP Medienfonds' American financing unit. He's also been an exec VP at Douglas-Reuther Prods. and chief operating officer of Bel Air Entertainment.

    The duo's move reflects the importance of private equity in the current Hollywood financial ecosystem. In recent years, every major studio has inked nine-figure co-financing pacts with private equity funds.

    Driven largely by the hedge fund boom, studios and producers have seen more private equity firms seek investment opportunities in entertainment properties.

    Arsenal's initial client list will include Exception-Wild Bunch, Endgame Entertainment, Spitfire Pictures, Kadokawa Pictures USA and Davis Films. Shingle plans to be up and running just after this year's edition of the Cannes fest closes.

    In a statement, Ptak said of his CAA colleagues, "The agency thoroughly encouraged the growth of this new, independent business from the beginning. Philip and I look forward to working closely with CAA on shared client companies and films."

  • Endgame Completes New Funding Round

    May 19, 2006

    Jim Stern's Endgame Entertainment has completed another round of financing, bringing the company's equity to more than $100m in operating capital.

    The new financing will allow Endgame greater flexibility to make bigger- budget features and finance third-party projects.

    The private equity fund launched in March 2003 and has converted to a fully operational production and financing entity.

    Its co-financing credits so far include Hotel Rwanda, Lord Of War, Proof, White Noise, and Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle.

    Endgame recently released the horror film Stay Alive, jointly financed with Spyglass and released by Hollywood Pictures.

    The ensemble comedy Lies & Alibis starring Steve Coogan and Rebecca Romijn was co-produced and financed with Summit and is set to be released this summer through Sony Pictures.

    "My goal in starting Endgame has always been to have a company that operates across the entire entertainment spectrum," Stern said. "We have now grown the equity base of the company to a level of operating capital which enables us to develop, produce and finance a significant on going slate of commercially oriented projects."

  • New coin for Endgame

    May 14, 2006

    Endgame Entertainment has completed a round of financing that gives the company more than $100 million in operating capital.

    Endgame will use its new coin to transform itself into a full-fledged production and financing company.

    Since its 2003 formation as a private equity fund, Endgame has been involved in more than 20 films in a co-financing or producing capacity. Titles include "Hotel Rwanda," "Lord of War," "Proof," "White Noise," "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," "Beyond the Sea" and "Stage Beauty."

    Endgame has folded its remaining fund resources into the new financing. CEO James Stern supplied some of the money himself, he said, but most came from private equity sources.

    Endgame will continue to follow as eclectic a track as has Stern, a film director, producer of musicals "The Producers" and "Hairspray" and holder of NBA championship rings as part owner of the Chicago Bulls going back to the Michael Jordan-led title runs.

    While genre, documentaries and musicals will remain staples, Stern will push Endgame into higher-budgeted films, limiting exposure with distribution deals.

    To Stern, a good example of the company's increased ambition is "Courting Danger," an Insley Pere-scripted drama the company developed about Alice Marble. She was the top-ranked U.S. female tennis player, drafted in 1939 to spy on an ex-lover, a Swiss banker suspected of funneling money to the Nazis.

    Endgame will make a first-look deal with a studio in the next 12 months, said Stern, who continues his stage producing with Broadway tuner "The Wedding Singer" and a musical adaptation of "Leap of Faith" that Taylor Hackford will direct.

    "We plan to be actively producing and financing or co-financing three to five films each year," Stern said. "Our principal interest is in building a library of value over the next five years."

    Cash infusion comes as Endgame is producing "Solstice," a supernatural thriller helmed by "The Blair Witch Project" co-director Daniel Myrick. Endgame developed, produced and fully financed the film, which Stern will begin showing to distribs in the next few months for a likely winter release.

    At Cannes he will begin showing "The Battleground," a political documentary he directed about the struggle between presidential candidates Bush and Kerry for the pivotal state of Ohio in the 2004 election.

    Endgame also co-produced and financed with Summit the comedy "Lies & Alibis," which Columbia Pictures releases this fall.

  • Capital Gang

    April 11, 2006

    Not long ago, Hollywood was trumpeting the new breed of money men as saviors of the film business, with high-net-worth individuals such as Mark Cuban and Bob Yari infusing much-needed funds into productions around town. Now, Wall Street is following in their footsteps. These days, it seems that investment firms and hedge funds have decided that movies might be worthy gambles after all.

     

    "The studio business historically returns around 12% or 13% a year, and the feeling is that, with the explosion of home video and the potential of new technologies, this is probably just the base," producer Michael London says.

     

    He should know: London, whose credits include 2004's "Sideways" and 2005's "The Family Stone," is one of many direct beneficiaries of the finance community's renewed interest in film production. His newly formed Groundswell Prods. has raised $55 million and aims to raise as much as $100 million for movie projects, with an eye toward making under-$20 million specialty pictures and genre product. "There has been interest in the past, but it feels we have now hit a tipping point where real money is flowing into the business," London says.

     

    That is great news for major studios and the independent-film sector, both of which already have benefited from impressive deals:

     

    $ Paramount in 2004 raised $230 million through the Melrose Partners fund put together by Michael Blum, head of Merrill Lynch's global structured-finance division and the man behind many film- financing deals. The fund was designed to attract investors to pay for as much as 20% of the studio's net production costs on each of its projects, including J.J. Abrams' planned May release "Mission: Impossible 3." Another such deal is in the works.

     

    $ Legendary Pictures, a production company founded by finance and entertainment executive Thomas Tull, signed a five-year, 25-picture deal with Warner Bros. Pictures in June, with Legendary investing $500 million in a slate of films to be jointly produced and distributed by Warners. The partnership's first feature, 2005's "Batman Begins," proved successful, and its planned upcoming releases include Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" and M. Night Shyamalan's "Lady in the Water." Legendary also will develop its own projects as part of the deal.

     

    $ Credit Suisse First Boston announced in September that it had raised $135 million and created a $370 million line of credit for Kingdom Films, a company CSFB had set up in June to invest in a slate of Walt Disney Co. movies. According to the deal, Kingdom will take a 40% stake in 32 live-action Disney films.

     

    $ Bob and Harvey Weinstein's new shingle, the Weinstein Co., raised about $490 million in equity and secured a $500 million credit line late last year as part of a deal put together by Goldman Sachs, giving the brothers a $1 billion fund with which to make and distribute films.

     

    $ Relativity Media agreed in January to invest $600 million in a slate of 18 pictures from Sony and Universal through its newly created Gun Hill Road subsidiary. Deutsche Bank helped raise the capital. Relativity is committed to financing about 50% of production costs on seven Universal films during the next two years and will split costs on 11 Sony movies during that span.

     

    $ The Relativity/Sony-Universal pact followed a $500 million-plus deal between Virtual Studios and Warners, splitting the cost of six movies. Virtual works in tandem with several Relativity executives.

     

    $ 20th Century Fox has closed a deal with Dune Entertainment, an affiliate of Dune Capital Management, through which Dune will invest $328 million in 28 Fox films. Dune also was one of two buyers that acquired the DreamWorks library from Paramount last month for a tidy $900 million (the other being Soros Strategic Partners, run by financier George Soros).

     

    $ Merrill Lynch recently wrapped a $50 million deal to fund a slate of lower-budget movies and telefilms from Regent Entertainment, which distributes predominantly gay-themed material theatrically through Regent Releasing.

     

    "A number of Wall Street firms have gradually gotten more comfortable with underwriting these assets, evaluating the management teams and understanding the revenue streams and have evolved to the point where they like to do this kind of business and are fairly aggressive about it," he adds.

     

    Several key factors are driving Wall Street's newfound interest in Hollywood, but the glamour of filmmaking isn't one of them.

     

    "It is irrelevant if it is roads or real estate or bridges or cars," Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh says. "To us, films are widgets."

     

    The emergence of the hedge fund, a form of investment company that enjoys wide latitude as to where it can place its money, has created millions of dollars in capital that is now being made available to the entertainment industry. Experts also note that the recent slowdowns of real estate and the stock market in delivering solid returns on investment have helped shift Wall Street's focus to Hollywood.

     

    "The pie is bigger in general," Tull says. "You have the growth of the international marketplace, (and) you have home video and markets that were not available years ago."

     

    While increasing corporatization might be bad news for those on the creative side of the film business, it is an encouraging sign for investors who previously eschewed Hollywood's Wild West mentality. Not only are seasoned corporate executives in charge at most studios, but also, the fact that the majors belong to publicly traded corporations means that their accounting procedures operate with a greater degree of transparency than ever before.

     

    "Previously, you had this maverick, mogul-led Hollywood, where if you were an outsider who came in with bags of money, you left without them," Tull says. "Now, the studios are run by conglomerates, and the reporting structure is much more transparent."

     

    Also helping matters is the fact that studios are offering investors an opportunity to back their biggest titles. In the past, investors often were sought to help shore up risky projects that generally were considered B-list; now, the majors are looking for outside partners to help defray costs on summer tentpole releases, including the recent "Batman" and upcoming "Superman" films.

     

    "It was important for us to be able to get the very best properties that Warner Bros. had to offer," says Tull, who declines to discuss details of the Legendary/Warners arrangement.

     

    The same is true of Relativity's deal with Sony and Universal. Even studio executives admit that they allowed Relativity to select from among a wide array of projects.

     

    "In our case, we showed them a list of titles that were either in preproduction or production or early postproduction," says Bob Osher, chief operating officer of the Columbia Motion Picture Group. "They chose the ones that fit within their business philosophy."

     

    The only project that was off-limits? Sony's eagerly anticipated Sam Raimi-helmed 2007 release "Spider-Man 3."

     

    "You have a very sophisticated Wall Street that does a lot of analysis," Osher says. "They have taken a look at the past performance of films over a number of years and made a determination that if they invest in a large-enough sample of pictures, they will make the return they are looking for."

     

    Each investor has his or her own theory about what will work. Legendary invests largely in pictures aimed at 18- to 34-year-old males, while Relativity makes films that fit into a sophisticated computer formula the company has crafted. Others believe that money is to be made not through major- studio releases but through the indie sector.

     

    "They're much more interested in splitting (financing), because every dollar counts," Endgame Entertainment chairman and CEO Jim Stern says.

     

    Stern is not the only financier with Wall Street backing who is looking at solid indie projects. Intrepid Pictures, backed by hedge funds and run by producers Trevor Macy and Marc Evans, recently signed a nonexclusive co-financing deal for three to five movies a year with Rogue Pictures, Focus Features' genre division.

     

    In most cases, though, investors are looking to spread their risk over a slate of pictures. "Their challenge is finding companies other than the major studios to realistically do this business," Jarchow says.

     

    Studios are not necessarily thrilled about their new business partners, but with other funding sources drying up and parent companies tightening their purse strings, they must turn somewhere for cash.

     

    "The studios are being squeezed by their parents to leverage their capital more, and they want to earn distribution fees," says Hal Sadoff, a former banker who now works for ICM as the head of the agency's International Independent Film Group. "They have these vast distribution outlets that they want to fill with product, and the way to do that is to bring in additional capital to finance a larger slate of pictures."

     

    Adds Kavanaugh: "Studios are doing this because they have to. The studios became very reliant on third-party capital — German tax money, insurance funds, sale-and-leaseback money — that has mostly dried up, so now the studios are going, 'Where do we get our co-finance?' Well, there is a lot of money in banks and pension funds and these very sophisticated hedge funds. But those guys are not going to be naive about it; they are going to do due diligence and say, 'We want a piece of the good stuff.' And the studios realize, if they want this capital, then they are going to have to be much more open."

  • Hilarie Burton

    April 2, 2006

    Hilarie Burton has joined the cast of Endgame Entertainment's "Solstice" for helmer Dan Myrick. Elisabeth Harnois, Shawn Ashmore and Tyler Hoechlin star in the thriller about a group of friends who gather at a lake house for the summer solstice.

    Burton started her career as a VJ on MTV before segueing to a role on the WB drama "One Tree Hill."

  • 'Blair' man bolstering 'Solstice'

    March 26, 2006

    Later this week, writer-helmer Dan Myrick will get behind the camera for the first time since co-directing "The Blair Witch Project" when lensing starts in New Orleans on Endgame Entertainment's "Solstice." Elisabeth Harnois stars in the horror-thriller, which revolves around a young woman who gathers with her friends at a lake house for the summer solstice after the suicide of her twin sister.

  • 'Blair' brain envisions a new horror

    March 26, 2006

    Later this week, writer-helmer Dan Myrick will get behind the camera for the first time since co-helming "The Blair Witch Project" when lensing starts in New Orleans on Endgame Entertainment's "Solstice."

    Elisabeth Harnois stars in the horror-thriller, which revolves around a young woman who gathers with her friends at a lake house for the summer solstice after the suicide of her twin sister.

    The screenplay for "Solstice" was written by Myrick, Martin M. Musatov & Ethan Erwin. Pic also stars Shawn Ashmore and Tyler Hoechlin.

    Producers are Endgame chair-CEO James D. Stern and production exec Adam Del Deo.

    "Solstice" was skedded to begin production last year, but lensing was delayed after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

    Myrick burst onto the scene in 1999 with box office phenom "Blair Witch," which he co-directed and co-wrote with Ed Sanchez; latter is in post-production on "Altered" for Focus Features' genre label Rogue.

    Endgame, a financing and production shingle backed by private equity, is a producer on horror pic "Stay Alive," which opened this past weekend with an estimated $11.2 million. Endgame's other credits include "Lord of War," "Proof" and "White Noise."

    Harnois stars in Warner Independent Pictures' upcoming "Chaos Theory." Past feature credits include "Pretty Persuasion."

  • 'Blair' pair out of woods

    January 8, 2006

    After striking it big with "The Blair Witch Project" in 1999, Dan Myrick and Ed Sanchez seemed to disappear into the Maryland woods.

    But they've found the trail back to Hollywood.

    Sanchez is in post-production on "Altered," a horror/sci-fi pic set for release from Focus Features' genre label Rogue, possibly in 2006. Myrick will soon begin shooting "Solstice," a supernatural thriller for Endgame Entertainment; and a docu-style horror feature called "Raw Feed" for Warner Home Video.

    So where has the pair been? Mostly rejecting genre scripts like the doomed "Exorcist" prequel, Sanchez says -- and getting into studio tangles.

    The pair, who met at film school at the U. of Central Florida, saw their "Blair Witch" association end in a lawsuit with Artisan over the sequel, which also dashed hopes the distrib would greenlight their comic screenplay "Heart of Love."

    The pair say they've benefited from watching the trends their film helped spark: the boom in low-budget horror pics, and the rise of viral marketing campaigns.

    "We'll never repeat the success of 'Blair Witch,' " Myrick says. "But we have an understanding of why it happened, and that helps us."

    Given the vagaries of the studio system, they say a hiatus isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    "People these days graduate film schools and studios throw $40 million at them," Myrick says. "Then they wonder why the movies blow up. I'd rather be patient and earn my stripes."