EXCLUSIVE: Filmmaker and financier Bobby Paunescu, former Comerica Entertainment senior exec Jared Underwood, film/TV producer Kearie Peak and business affairs/acquisitions exec Christopher Taylor have partnered to form Solar Pictures, a new shingle that will produce and finance four to five feature films per year aimed at the global marketplace.
Pictures will range from small independent features to mid-size action films, with budgets as high as $30 million. They will start with projects they’ve developed prior to joining forces, and make some acquisitions to get up and running.
Paunescu and Underwood, the principal investors in the venture, will serve as managing directors. Peak and Taylor will be co-CEOs, with Peak overseeing production, while Taylor oversees business and corporate affairs. Paunescu, Underwood, Peak and Taylor are business colleagues and friends, with relationships going back as many as 18 years. Edward Lawson Johnston, founder of the London-based merchant bank LJ Group, will also be a key investor. LJ Group has more than $5 billion of assets under management, and Johnston previously set up the British and World Luxury Council in London, Dubai, Mumbai and Delhi with HRH Prince Michael of Ken. Ziffren Brittenham’s Bryan Wolf structured the deal for Solar Pictures and represents the company.
“This is a great time for my partner Jared Underwood, our two incredibly talented executives Kearie Peak and Chris Taylor and myself as we launch Solar Pictures,” said Paunescu. “For my part, I’ve been preparing for this day for many years by first learning the business and then the craft with the films I produced, wrote or directed. Now it’s time for the next step — making great independent films with strong appeal to the U.S. and international markets.”
Said Underwood: “Each of us — Bobby Paunescu, Kearie Peak, Chris Taylor and myself — brings something unique to Solar Pictures. With Bobby’s financial resources, his first-class production studio facilities in Romania and other strategic partnerships around the world, we believe Solar Pictures will offer filmmakers and actors a unique production and distribution platform for their films.”
Paunescu has so far been a financier, producer, writer, director and distributor of 12 feature films. He formed the art house shingle Mandragora International Group in 2004, and the first film he produced, 2005’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, won the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes. He made his directorial debut in 2009 with Francesca, the opening-night film at Venice. In 2010, Paunescu opened production studios in Romania in cooperation with Italy-based Fandango. The first feature filmed there, Diaz, played at the Berlin Film Festival last month. He recently wrapped four films, including Closer To The Moon with Vera Farmiga and Mark Strong.
As for his day job, Paunescu is the majority owner of one of the top 10 private industrial conglomerates in Central and Eastern Europe, with businesses encompassing wind energy parks, insurance, transportation, hotels, agriculture, mining, real estate development and media. Paunescu has partnered with News Corp to develop two commercial television networks, five daily newspapers, eight radio stations and Internet sites.
Underwood last week left his post as SVP and group manager at Comerica Entertainment. He spent 18 years at Comerica, during which time his group spend nearly $10 billion in financing and provided funds for more than 800 films including Oscar winners or nominees Crash, Gods And Monsters, Wallace & Gromit, Babel, District 9, Milk and Nine. Other films included Iron Man, the Twilight Saga films, The Expendables, The Grey, The Woman In Black and The Ides Of March. At Comerica, Underwood was also involved in structuring credit facilities for Summit, The Weinstein Company, DreamWorks, Relativity Media, Participant Media, Endgame Entertainment, NuImage, Reliance Big Pictures, Skydance Productions, Exclusive Media, IM Global, Inferno, FilmNation, QED and many others.
Peak, who’ll oversee development and production, partnered with Dean Devlin in Electric Entertainment from 2003-2012, during which time the company went from a studio-based production entity to an indie TV/film mini-studio with its own in-house post-production facilities that generated Flyboys, The Librarian and Leverage. Before that she ran K2 Productions and was president of The Steve Tisch Company.
Taylor had risen from general counsel of JVC Entertainment’s general counsel of its interactive entertainment/music group to head of acquisitions and business affairs of its film group, Largo Entertainment. While there, Taylor assembled financing on films like White Squall, G.I. Jane, Mulholland Falls and Affliction. He remains a producer on the Point Break remake.