While Hollywood wonders if a big part of the financing for Jeff Robinov’s new shingle will come from Huayi Brothers Media, others with less luster are tapping China for funding. Producers Robert Simonds and Gigi Pritzker announced in The New York Times they have teamed with backers including TPG Growth and Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital to form a venture they call “a next generation film studio” that will finance, produce and self-distribute eight to 10 star-driven theatrical films per year for the global market with budgets at around $40M. They expect the venture to spend over $1B over the next five years. The strategy: Hollywood’s devotion to tent poles has pushed them away from star vehicles, and the venture wants to bring those back. Of course, that happened because new stars are few and far between, and even the dependable ones no longer deliver strong opening weekends like they once did. Simonds, who had an early strong run with Adam Sandler comedies but whose last hit was 2006’s The Pink Panther, will be chairman and CEO of the venture with former Viacom Entertainment Group exec Thomas McGrath as COO. OddLot Entertainment CEO Pritzker will also sit on the board. She is coming off the disastrous Ender’s Game, but has also been involved in tasteful fare like The Way Way Back, Drive and the upcoming Jon Stewart-directed Rosewater. They say they have made direct distribution deals with North American theater chains AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike, that guarantee slots for the company’s output and bypasses traditional distribution strategy. Hony’s participation is designed to provide access to the growing Chinese market and a strategic partnership for film and TV has also been forged with Shanghai Media Group. It is an intriguing model, and another opportunity for exhibitors to have alternatives as studios continue to try and shorten the gap between a theatrical and ancillary release.
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