EXCLUSIVE…MONDAY UPDATE & WRITETHRU: I now have the details of that in-the-works deal between Ukrainian-born billionaire industrialist Len Blavatnik and cash-strapped The Weinstein Company. Harvey and Bob Weinstein are social friends with Blavatnik, whose U.S.-based Access Industries was the backer of Stewart Till’s 2009 purchase of Icon UK film and entertainment business from then owners Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey. Now The Weinstein Co and Icon UK will find movies with budgets of $5 million to $10 million, and maybe even $15 million (“if we see something we like,” an insider tells me). Weinsten Co will put up 100% of the P&A for the U.S. market and Icon UK will put up the P&A for foreign. And Weinstein Co will distribute the pics in North America while Icon UK will release in England and Australia. Weinstein Co will pre-sell a few overseas territories but Icon UK will re-sell most of the international countries. And the two companies will split the profits 50-50. It is The Weinstein Co’s intention to make as many films as it can that fit the criteria. The figure may start out as 1 or 2 the first year because of a revolving credit facility of only $25M which the Weinstein Co hopes could balloon to a fund of $100M.
With the backing of Access Industries, Icon UK’s CEO Till bought Icon UK’s international sales company, the distribution operation based in the UK, and the Majestic Films & Television library. Till was until August 2009 Chairman of the UK Film Council, and from 2002-2006 Chairman/CEO of United International Pictures, the international joint venture of Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios International. Before that, he was President of Signpost Films, a worldwide production and distribution companyent. The Icon UK deal marked the start of Till’s efforts to rebuild the defunct Euro major Polygram Filmed Entertainment, which was sold by Dutch music company Polygram to Seagram in 1999. Polygram was subsequently merged with the international distribution operations of Universal Studios, then owned by the beverages conglom.
SUNDAY PM: It’s not yet the moment for Harvey Weinstein to toast any deal with vodka. But he always manages to find rich guys for deals. Hmm, let me see: there was Michael Eisner (who bought Miramax), then Goldman Sachs (who started The Weinstein Co), then Ron Burkle (that aborted buyback of Miramax), and now Blavatnik through Icon UK. “Len is Harvey’s newest pigeon. He says he’s got him and claims he’s putting money in,” an agent tells me. The pair even posed together at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
You may recall that the Access Industries founder and chairman, (aka “The Russian”, though his flack Mike Sitrick hates it when I refer to the Harvard-educated naturalized American citizen as such), was one of the bidders for MGM but only wanted to make a recapitalization/restructuring offer, meaning that it wasn’t an all-cash offer as requested by the investment bankers. Then again, Blavatnik loves a distressed property he can own or invest in at a bargain, which is how he amassed his global conglomerate of industrial, chemical, real estate, and media properties. And you can’t get more distressed than The Weinstein Co these days. Is a future investment in mind?
Said to be worth in excess of $7 billion, Blavatnik managed to fly largely under the media radar until his involvement with Hollywood’s MGM and Icon UK. Founded by Blavatnik in 1986, Access Industries’ other media holdings include majority stakes in Perform Group (the online sports broadcaster), TopUpTV (a UK-based digital terrestrial TV service provider), and Amedia (an entertainment TV content developer and producer in Russia) together with minority stakes in RGE Group (an Israeli TV production company) and Warner Music Group (one of the world’s leading recorded music labels and music publishers).
Media reports say Blavatnik is “a man of very few words with a deadpan sense of humor”. He often quotes his favorite movie, the Eddie Murphy/Dan Ackroyd 1983 comedy Trading Places. At a company conference in 2005, he reportedly told senior executives: “Basically the idea is we buy low and sell high. We are here to make money.” Problem is nobody in the room got it. Not to worry. Harvey will.