As expected, the MGM ownership situation is getting closer to being sorted, and it won’t be long before the Lion has a chance to roar again. Or at least emerge from its cage. Spyglass chiefs Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber have signed non-binding letters of intent that will make them MGM co-chairmen/CEOs. That leads to the next step, which is a pre-packaged bankruptcy proceeding that would convert debt to equity, removing the $4 billion albatross from around the Lion’s neck so that it can start generating films again. The prepackaged bankruptcy allows the company to be restructured while it freezes existing deals for franchises that include the James Bond series and The Hobbit.
The LA Times reports that the Spyglass guys are already looking past this hurdle, and are talking with Ken Schapiro about coming aboard as COO. He’s a vet of Qualia Capital, which was among the entities that kicked the tires on MGM before management decided to go with Birnbaum and Barber, who are expected to make projects but will likely eliminate the studio’s marketing and distribution arms and set the projects up elsewhere. All this means that The Hobbit, with Peter Jackson at the helm, can move forward, with co-financing partner Warner Bros distributing the two films worldwide.
The situation on 007 will be more feverish. Warner Bros, Sony Pictures Entertainment and 20th Century Fox are the obvious outlets, but don’t count out Paramount. That studio has been co-financing partners with Spyglass on Star Trek and the upcoming sequel. That has grown into a strong relationship. I’m told that Paramount is making an aggressive push to win that franchise, much the way that it captured the Marvel Entertainment deal before that enterprise was sold to Disney. That gave Paramount distribution rights to the Iron Man series and the upcoming films Thor, The First Avenger: Captain America and The Avengers. Obviously, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson hold a lot of say in where the films go, but it will be a hotly contested property–if MGM indeed stops functioning as a distributor. The appeal to such a move is, it shaves costs upfront. The downside is MGM will have to pay distribution fees down the road. Deadline was first to report the distribution outsourcing plan by the Spyglass duo, on June 29. It would mean major downsizing of those divisions.
Also in the mix are remakes of films that include Robocop, as well as development projects like the Robert Ludlum thriller The Matarese Circle, which at one time, had Denzel Washington attached to star with Tom Cruise, and David Cronenberg directing.
All this leaves the existing executive team headed by Mary Parent looking at the exit, but that is also no surprise. Parent put together an enviable slate, but only released one projects–Hot Tub Time Machine– and watched another, The Zookeeper, become a big Sony Pictures Entertainment summer 2011 release after creditors plunged the studio into a state of paralysis as they put a “for sale” sign on the studio.