EXCLUSIVE: I fear that Ryan Kavanaugh is having a nervous breakdown. I’ve just confirmed with Elliott Associates that their stake in his Relativity Media is not for sale. “Elliott is not selling. They are not shopping,” the investment group told me exclusively just now as an update their reining in Relativity. Interesting that Ryan today has gone public about buying something that is not for sale. I have learned that Kavanaugh does have a call option where he can buy Elliott’s stake but the investment group would have to agree and it would tack on a sizeable premium making the purchase price “a huge amount of money”, insiders tell me. And no one sane would bankroll him to do that.
Also, I’m told not to believe any of the dollar amounts Kavanaugh is claiming about Elliott’s stake in his company “because they’re off the wall”. Indeed, Kavanaugh himself over the past year has alternately confirmed and denied just to me that Elliott has invested $1.2 billion in Relativity and also a number half that. Which is why trying to speak to Ryan is always such a frustrating experience for myself and the other business press: he rarely tells the truth about anything involving his company. Instead, Kavanaugh today went to the last naive journalist who’ll believe his nonsense (that is, in addition to Variety which just tributed him) and pretended he was taking charge of his company and jettisonning Elliott. “He doesn’t like that they are taking a more active role and that [former Relativity Media President] Michael Joe is now the Elliott person that works with Relativity,” my insider explains. “Ryan keeps telling Elliott in 20-30 emails that because of what they did he can’t get any business done.”
This comes after weeks of his railing against all the facts since May 12th showing that Elliott Associates had poured untold hundreds of millions into Relativity Media, and as recently as $200 million in March, and seen very little return. Meanwhile, Relativity keeps expanding its reach after doubling in size and transforming from a production company to a studio with its own distribution. All the while churning press for itself and Kavanaugh especially recently because the movie side has just made some very big-money bets on big features with big name casts. That’s a lot of risk for Relativity and Elliott together, more than the investor could tolerate.
Right before Elliott publicly tightened the screws on him, Deadline heard from several different sources that Kavanaugh was trying to enlist JP Morgan to help him get out from under the investment group. JPM has a private equity fund, One Equity Partners, with a history of showbiz deals. These are the same people who invested in Lionsgate’s TV Guide deal. Ryan, in desperation, also approached several hedge funds in those 30 days to bail him out. I understand that Guggenheim Partners, at a minimum, looked at the books and passed. Those are the same people who recently bought The Hollywood Reporter and Billboard. After Ryan couldn’t deliver anybody, Elliott decided to swoop in and tighten the screws. After all, insiders tell me that Relativity has lost close to $200M on the Universal co-financing deal and studio bigwigs there admit readily that Kavanaugh’s company has hemorrhaged money with them. I hear big investors in Elliott had been calling Paul Singer and questioning Elliott’s exposure in Relativity before the investment company took more control.
Then, right before the Cannes Film Festival, Deadline heard from several sources that Kavanaugh was claiming to have hooked up JP Morgan’s Greg O’Hara, a senior partner in One Equity Partners. While Ryan was ensconced at the costly Hotel Du Cap, O’Hara was with him taking taking a lot of meetings toward’s Ryan’s end of buying out Elliott’s investment in Relativity. “Kavanaugh and O’Hara may be talking to people. But I would be very shocked if there is anybody, at this point, that is going to bail them out,” one savvy film financier tells me.
So how crazed is Ryan now? Well, he kept telling reporters for weeks that he was going to get Elliott to make a statement of confidence in him and to say that all the stories about their reining him in was a misinterpretation and to say that they have not taken any controls over his company, to say that they only have minority shareholder rights, to say that they have no more say over his business than they did before Michael Joe was installed, etc. But Elliott point-blank refused his requests to make any statement at all.
Next, Kavanaugh began sending “cry for help” emails during the Cannes Film Festival pleading, “I have to do something to fix this. Everywhere I go it’s hurting me.” Kavanaugh claimed he’d just lost a movie at Cannes because other studios were telling filmmakers that “Relativity isn’t even gonna be the one marketing or distributing your film, it’s gonna be some New York Hedge Fund who now controls them”. Indeed, just as I had predicted, the Elliott vs Relativity ruckus became the huge story everyone in Hollywood and Cannes talked about. And still is.