Brett Ratner took a few minutes away from directing Dwayne Johnson in the MGM/Paramount film Hercules: The Thracian Wars to talk about being in the center of a herculean $450 million slate financing deal that RatPac-Dune Entertainment finally closed with Warner Bros. It is an arrangement that will cover as many as 75 of the biggest films made by Warner Bros and New Line for the next few years.
Ratner tells me that this is a straight financing deal, but one that will allow and his RatPac-Dune partners James Packer and Steven Mnuchin to build library assets. It is just one piece of what could become a very interesting puzzle. Ratner said that Packer, son of the late media mogul Kerry Packer, got out of the media holdings that were his father’s preoccupation and instead has put his money in a number of ventures that include casinos in Macau. That whetted his appetite for investing in China’s fast-growing film business.
“Part of our strategy will be to expand into China, to co-finance Chinese movies and films that not only work around the world but Asia in particular,” Rather told me. “We are already developing some movies we feel will work in the Asian market.”
Warner Bros finally confirmed the slate co-fi deal that has been in the works since the studio’s relationship with Legendary Pictures cratered (the fact that the first film is this Friday’s opener Gravity indicates this wasn’t abrupt). Legendary, which grew after being part of such lucrative franchises as The Dark Knight, Inception and Man Of Steel, had a say in which studio movies it co-financed. It also developed with Warner Bros distributing. While Ratner happens to be a producer on one of the films covered by the co-fi deal, Horrible Bosses 2, there are no current plans to generate product for Warner Bros to release. RatPac Entertainment will develop its own movies outside the Warner Bros deal. Here, the partners are betting on the new Warner Bros management team’s ability to pick winners. There is no cherry-picking.
“Warner Bros is a great studio, with the best marketing and distribution,” Ratner said. “When I looked closely at the slate, I said, ‘James, we’ve got to do this.’ We’re betting on the whole slate, and we’re betting on that management team of Kevin Tsujihara, Sue Kroll, Dan Fellman, Veronika Kwan-Vandenberg, Greg Silverman and Toby Emmerich at New Line. Steve Mnuchin has so much experience in film finance through all of the Dune deals with Fox, we feel very confident. I make studio films; this is what I do, and what I know.”
This is a heady time for Ratner, a few years removed from having to withdraw from Oscarcast producer because of insensitive comments. He took his lumps, apologized to everyone who would listen, made donations and did volunteer work. It’s become a distant memory as the consummate schmoozer and multitasker directs and produces films, releases books through his publishing imprint, and makes time to be part of a consortium bankrolling a studio’s tentpole slate.
“I feel blessed to have learned a lot of valuable lessons, which is part of life,” he said. “I’ve grown and put that stuff behind me. I am lucky to be able to focus on doing what I love, which is making films,” he said. “My partnership with James Packer grew out of friendship. We had a common interest, a love for movies and entertainment, and we partnered on a few things while he was getting out of the business his father built. We talked about partnering in a film company, but we found it was at a time when studios were not looking for partners. James looked at me and said, ‘Ratner, Packer, no one else would be able to back up a company called RatPac,’ so let’s go for it.’”
Ratner had to stop there, because Johnson was waiting for him to shoot the next scene — and even a mogul doesn’t leave The Rock waiting when he’s pumped and oiled up in full Hercules mode, ready to fight the Thracian Wars.