Village Roadshow Entertainment Group has sold a controlling interest — more than 51% — of the 20-year-old company to current financial partners Vine Alternative Investments and Falcon Investment Advisors with the CEO of Vine, Jim Moore, taking on the chairmanship role. The deal is described by VREG as Vine and Falcon becoming “a strategic shareholder.”
Graham Burke, co-chairman and co-CEO of parent company Village Roadshow Limited, will continue as chairman of Village Roadshow Pictures. Bruce Berman and Greg Basser will stay in place, and there are no title changes for them with this transaction.
Vine has been one of VREG’s investors for about two years and Falcon for roughly seven. Village Roadshow Pictures handles about six to 10 projects a year. Its main partner (as has been for 20 years) is Warner Bros, but it also did a deal with Sony to partner on some of its films in 2014.
The agreement comes after a recent past that has included the films Going In Style, Fist Fight, Collateral Beauty, Passengers, Ghostbusters, In The Heart Of The Sea and Collateral Beauty — and therein lies some big-budget misses. Following that string, Deadline had heard the company was possibly looking to sell or move to a different studio.
The company has stayed at Warner Bros through various regimes, from the Bob Daly and Terry Semel years to the Barry Meyer/Alan Horn/Jeff Robinov troika to the current leadership with Kevin Tsujihara. And with those production changes came changes in marketing teams. No longer could they enjoy the well-oiled machine of Rob Friedman and creative guru Joel Wayne. It morphed and changed and wound through different hands as filmmakers witnessed several of their films getting lost through that process (especially in the past couple of years).
The good news is that recently Wall Streeters have pointed to Village Roadshow as a companyon the edge of rising again and, at least on paper, it looks like they have several strong properties: Guy Ritchie’s gritty King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword, the Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler comedy The House, the animated The Lego Ninjago Movie, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One and the female-driven Ocean’s Eight from director Gary Ross (The Hunger Games).
So what does this mean for Village Roadshow? According to Basser and Berman, the deal will provide capital and grow the business to the next level which will include in-house development and growth in China, and for digital content. “They really understand the business which is always a challenge in this business when dealing with investors,” said Basser. “They have a joint vision for us moving forward.”
Vine also has investments in Alcon, Virtual Studios, Legendary Pictures, EuropaCorp, Gaylord and Rysher. Falcon is a private equity firm that invests subordinated debt and equity capital in leading middle-market companies.
“To acquire a platform such as this, with its rich history, talented executives and incredible library of iconic films is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Moore in a statement. “Together with our partners VRL and Falcon, we see a unique opportunity to leverage VREG into a broad-based, global media company that will foster and support independent creativity and occupy a unique position in the media and entertainment world.” (Australia’s Village Roadshow Limited remains a significant shareholder).
VREG has a library of about 100 titles which includes global franchises in partnership with Warner Bros. Films includes Clint Eastwood’s domestic box office hit American Sniper, George Miller’s critically acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road, and the animated box office champ Happy Feet.
VREG will continue its decades-long relationship with banking partners J.P. Morgan Chase and Rabobank International to fund films under its co-financing deal with Warner Bros (and other studio partners) on a case-by-case basis.
The money coming from sale of the majority of the company “will allow us to do a number of things,” said Basser. “Of the six to 10 pictures we do a year, one or two of those now will be ones that we initiate.” By that, he said he means that they will acquire projects and develop them in-house.
Added Berman, “What we’ve always wanted to do, and what we will be able to do, is have a little bit more control over our destiny. We will supplement what we already do with movies that we bring in.”
They both insist that the business plan is staying the same, ” … but it provides another label for our partners. We will have development money, will be acquiring and producers so other talent can come to us then go back to a studio with up to 50% of the financing,” said Basser. The money will also allow them, they say, to create content and feed it through digital platforms.
In addition, they say they are looking to expand into more co-productions with China, which they started doing in 2011. “In China we have a little business there focused on co-productions for the Chinese market. We already have a couple of films in production with the Jackie Chan-starring Bleeding Steel and Shadow, so we are looking more into that as well,” said Basser. Shadow stars two Chinese husband/wife TV stars — Sun Li and Deng Chao — who apparently have great on-screen chemistry (think Tracy/Hepburn) and a heck of a Weibo account with 70 million-80 million followers. Weibo is described as a hybrid between Twitter and Facebook in China.
Other titles in the Middle Kingdom have been My Other Home, Zhou mi cang and Mountain Cry. Other company titles over the years have been Sherlock Holmes, Ocean’s Eleven, the Matrix films, Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby, Akiva Goldsman’s Winter’s Tale, and the Wachowski pic Jupiter Ascending.