UPDATED, 10:25 AM: We hear the guy behind these talks is Dallas-based billionaire Tom Dundon, who made all his money in the subprime market. He was considered to be a possible back-pocket fix at Sony. One of the LStar funds was part of the Dundon funds and was run by Sam Loughlin, who did not get along with the Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group Tom Rothman. Once Loughlin was out of the mix (he stepped out of Lone Star Funds in July), it was thought that Rothman might make the deal with Dundon on a Sony slate.
We hear that Andrew Gumpert, who left Sony for Paramount to become its COO in November, has strong relationships with both Dundon and Loughlin and was a key figure in bringing them all to the table on behalf of his new studio. Gumpert also was key to the first deal with Loughlin at Sony concerning LStar. We know that these talks have been going on for sometime with both Paramount and with Sony. Stay tuned.
EXCLUSIVE, 9:48 AM: In a move that sounds imminent and might steer at least one major Hollywood studio away from looking for slate-financing partners in the perilous pond that is Mainland China, Paramount Pictures is in serious talks for a new slate-funding deal with a consortium of investors led by a Dallas billionaire, sources said. I’m trying to find out who the backers will be and will write them when we know.
The deal will call for the funding of upward of 25% of the studio slate and run for longer than the three-year term of the Chinese deal. This would be a major accomplishment for Paramount chairman-CEO Jim Gianopulos, who has been searching for funding beyond Viacom to overhaul the studio’s lagging movie slate. Insiders caution that the Chinese money still could materialize and that other suitors have met with Paramount, but I’ve heard that top studio financial and legal execs — Gianopulos wasn’t there — just flew to Dallas and things look pretty advanced with this particular consortium. No comment from the studio.
It sounds like the backers ostensibly might fill the billion-dollar gap that had been promised but remains stuck in purgatory since Shanghai Film Group and Huahua Media at best delayed and at worst welched on their funding commitments. Back in January, Deadline revealed that Brad Grey had finalized a deal with those two China-based entities to fund 25% or more of the studio’s entire film slate for three years, including investments that were retroactive. The deal had the potential to bring $1 billion in funding and was a way to invest capital in movies and kick start a slate of 15-17 films after the studio’s awful fiscal year that saw a loss of $455 million in 2016. This closely followed the ouster of Viacom chairman Philippe Dauman, after his plan to sell 49% of the studio to Dalian Wanda for $4.9 billion was thwarted by Shari and Sumner Redstone. As importantly, the deal was struck before a Chinese government crackdown on the flow of funds from the Middle Kingdom into Hollywood. That move has hobbled most film studios and financiers that had based the future of their companies on Chinese funding, hand in hand with the importation of their films in China.
“We do have a deal, a signed agreement,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any secret or it’s been publicly reported that the Chinese government has imposed a number of different regulatory hurdles in terms of investment by Chinese companies and sectors, in particular in entertainment. So part of it got caught up in that.
“So we haven’t received the money that we are entitled to under the deal, but we have been given continuing assurances that they’re processing it and going through it. That is a very opaque, or at best, translucent process for an American company to understand how that process works and what the timing is. But if it does not come together in a timely fashion, we have a great deal of confidence based on overtures that have come to us and relationships that I and others have that if that doesn’t work out, we would replace it in a very timely, immediate fashion.”
Presumably the new slate financier will have an opportunity to co-finance the Paramount-Skydance collaborations that include a revamped version of The Terminator, which Deadpool director Tim Miller is developing to direct with input from the franchise’s creator James Cameron, and another shot at the Star Trek franchise, along with the coming Transformers spinoff Bumblebee and the rebirth of Top Gun. Gianopulos has a tall order in front of him to turn around the studio, but confidence in funding big pictures is key. It sounds like he’s about to get a shot of confidence.