Ron Burkle remains a mystery to Hollywood. The supermarket tycoon turned private equity funds manager has sat down with The New Yorker‘s Connie Bruck for a not-very-flattering long profile. It makes clear he has no over-arching strategy for his entertainment investments at present – except to avoid bidding wars. (“Burkle seemed to feel that as long as he was approaching movies as a hobby he could enjoy the dividend of glamour without violating his proscription against the business.”) But there is intel about his financial dealings with Harvey Weinstein and Ryan Kavanaugh. (“Burkle said that he particularly likes investing in people who have encountered adversity, because he believes they often come back stronger.”) For instance, the article says Burkle received all of Relativity as collateral for his most recent investment of a “couple of hundred of millions of dollars” – and that Burkle, not Kavanaugh, is now calling the shots at Relativity. It also speculates in the future Kavanaugh goes out and Weinstein comes in:
In the past seven years, Kavanaugh has proved adept at structuring deals where investors have done poorly while he and Relativity prospered. And last winter, when Kavanaugh’s luck finally seemed to have run out, Burkle rescued his company … Relativity’s first big-budget epic, “Immortals,” was set to open in early November, and, less than two weeks beforehand, Elliott reportedly threatened to reduce its investment unless Kavanaugh agreed to dramatic concessions. At this moment, Burkle appeared, and in a familiar guise: a fierce opportunist, cloaked in benevolence. Colbeck Capital, a New York firm that he helped establish, negotiated the deal with Kavanaugh, Burkle said: a fifty-million-dollar loan, followed by others. “Ryan was fair with us on one deal, and we liked the math and the structure and the security,” Burkle said. “He had ‘Mirror Mirror’ and ‘Act of Valor’ coming out, and somebody had to step in to do what his partner had promised to do and didn’t do.” He emphasized that Kavanaugh had not charmed him into this investment, even though he found him “personable.” In January, Burkle expanded his interest, in a transaction that gave him free equity. According to someone familiar with the transaction, the collateral was, essentially, the whole company.
This June, Relativity announced that it had raised three hundred and fifty million dollars in debt financing, structured by Colbeck. A new board of directors had been created, which included Burkle, two Colbeck bankers, and Kavanaugh; Elliott has departed, and Burkle is already exerting the kind of control over Kavanaugh that Singer never could. A new round of equity financing, which will seek investors from around the world, is planned in the next several months. For Burkle, the deal appears advantageous and cheap; had he set out to create such a broad-based entertainment company from scratch, it would have taken years. But the enterprise will succeed only if its movies do. One popular Hollywood theory is that Burkle will eventually fire Kavanaugh and most of the Relativity employees, put Harvey Weinstein in charge, and call the merged entities the Weinstein Company. Burkle rejects this scenario. When I asked Weinstein about it, he stammered for a moment and then said, “Ron has never said that to me, and I doubt that it would be true.”
Burkle also describes accompanying Harvey to the Cannes and Sundance film festivals and investing 50-50 in movies together:
“Harvey had always treated me like a star, even though he never had any reason to believe that I would ever be able to do anything with him.” … Burkle said that he and Weinstein have an informal agreement, in which “basically I can do half of what he does on a movie.” Burkle said, “We do everything on a handshake. The first movie we did together, ‘Idiot Brother,’ Harvey thought he spent more on P. & A.” — prints and advertising — “than he should have, and he called me and said, ‘I’m not gonna take a distribution fee because I don’t think I did you right.’ So, for whatever anybody’s ever told me about how tough Harvey is, he’s been ridiculously fair with me.” He added, “Everything I’ve done with Harvey has been profitable — everything.”