BREAKING: Jeff Robinov’s back and with an investment from Fosun International Ltd. which will help finance his war chest that brings in a total of what sources say is a combined equity/debt structure of around $1B. Fosun just filed their paperwork with the Hong Kong stock exchange, stating that it entered the agreement on June 6.
Details of the Fosun deal structure is, as yet, unknown as the company did not disclose it nor have they disclosed any governance issues, the deal breakdown of how much equity vs. debt. In other words, its as ambiguous as can be at the moment. It is also understood that Robinov is in talks with other possible financial partners as well. Huayi Brothers still could be involved in the final deal as a distributor in certain territories and Robinov is also talking to European investors. The entire financial structure of the deal is currently being worked out, sources said.
Meanwhile, Fosun said in its filing, “pursuant to the Agreement, the company will exercise significant influence over the distribution arrangements of movies produced by Studio 8 in the mainland of China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan regions.” They also just put out a press release which is translated from Chinese that states through its investments, the deal gives Fosun the opportunity to share “Chinese elements and stories in Studio 8’s Chinese co-productions and wants to “build a global culture platform covering movie, entertainment, culture consumption and media network with various means as M&A (mergers and acquisitions) and equity investment.” It also states that Studio 8 “will keep Hollywood’s successful business model, starting the business from film making, TV and derivate (sic) products. Eventually, the company will apply the content-based materials to the mobile and internet industry.”
Both Robinov and Fosun chairman Guo Guangchang were quoted in the release stating how happy they were to be in business together.
Robinov, the former Warner Bros Motion Picture Group President known for his taste and strong relationships with filmmakers, is expected to set up his Studio 8 at Sony Pictures Entertainment in short order and that deal is still being finalized. Robinov’s company would be a terrific shot in the arm for Sony which has been looking for outside financial partners. Beyond his track record for choosing and championing smart, commercial material (the multiple-Oscar-winning Gravity and The Lego Movie) and rebooting stale franchises like the all-important Batman series, a production war chest that Robinov could provide gives Sony a number of no-risk titles that they will distribute. That gives them entree to event films with zero exposure as Studio 8 will finance 100% of its films. Robinov expects to produce about six big-budget films a year for Sony so he can be hands-on, which was his style inside Warner Bros. previously.
Meanwhile, questions abound as to who might join him in his new company. Amassing the financing pieces has taken months, with the requisite meetings, phone calls, and long distance plane flights. A number of incarnations were being discussed, including, at one point, with producer Graham King with financial equity investments arranged by Steven Mnuchin, chairman and CEO of One West Bank Group and Dune Capital Management. At another point, discussions took place with Ukrainian-born billionaire Len Blavatnik, who was talking about providing the bulk of an investiment for Studio 8 before those discussions broke down. That sent the former WB executive back into talking to potential investors in Europe and China.
One source noted that Robinov wanted to make a fewer number of films to reduce the risk, but investors actually wanted his company to produce more films to “cross-collaterize.” Calls were said to be taking place all week back and forth to China apparently as Robinov and his lawyers continues to figure out the financial structure and deal points with Huayi Brothers and others.
So just who is Fosun International? It has diversified businesses but is also an investor, and since it is not a distribution company, is offering equity only to Studio 8. Fosun is heavily involved in the insurance and industrial operations sectors and on its website says, it “unremittingly builds up its capabilities in identifying and capturing investment opportunities benefiting from China’s growth, improving the management and enhancing the value of investees, and establishing multi-channel financing system to access quality capital.”
Their investment comes as Chinese media and entertainment company Huayi Brothers said in March that it was eyeing an investment in Studio 8 in the ballpark of $120M-$150M. Often in China, deals are announced before everything is set in stone and this week word has been swirling that Huayi had fallen out of a proposed arrangement, but talks were still going on late last week. An investment of such size would have been the biggest by a Chinese entity into Hollywood production, but while folks look to China as a potentially lucrative partner, money is often difficult to get out of the Mainland. Despite his strong reputation as a serious executive with great taste, some investors had been reticent to plunk down a pile of cash for a company that nevertheless currently has no assets apart from its respected founder.
Robinov’s eye for talent goes back his days as a literary agent at ICM, he was known as having a penchant for developing material and for nurturing his clients. Through his time at Warner Bros., he developed strong relationships with a lot of talent around town, including Christopher Nolan and Spike Jonze — while his Best Picture nominee Her was backed by Annapurna’s Megan Ellison, Robinov championed the film. Robinov also developed trusted relationships with Ben Affleck and shepherded Best Picture winner Argo; he also first repped as an agent and then supported Andy and Lana Wachowski who gave Warner Bros. the highly successful Matrix trilogy; and huddled with director Baz Luhrmann who credited Robinov with giving him the freedom to create The Great Gatsby in all its visual eye candy. Others he has great relationships with are Zack Snyder (Man of Steel and Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice) and The Hangover series producer Todd Phillips. Some of those filmmakers are currently cornerstones at Warner Bros.
Warner Bros has also reaped the benefits of Robinov’s tenure since his exit. Robinov joined the studio in 1997 as a senior vp of production and in 2002 was named president of production. rose up the ranks Not only with the $716M worldwide grosser Gravity, but also The Lego Movie, which Robinov also greenlit and is now one of the highest-grossing pics of 2014. And truth be told, the studio now is starting to flag at the box office now a year after the executive’s exit. Some of those pictures he greenlit that are still winding their way through the pipeline — like the tried and tired Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore romantic comedy Blended and the big-budget Tom Cruise sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow have misfired badly, especially with U.S. audiences.
At the time he was promoted to head the Motion Picture Group, Robinov was credited with helping both domestic and overseas growth at the box office crossing the billion-dollar mark every year since 2002 in both domestic and international box office grosses. Under the tutelage of he and Alan Horn (now the chairman at Disney), Warner Bros. boasted that it had three films cross $200 million in a single year (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Batman Begins, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Thanks to Horn and also to a stellar marketing, domestic and international distribution team.
Also during Robinov’s tenure, the film division won Oscars for Million Dollar Baby and The Departed and the Best Animated Feature Oscar for Happy Feet. Other films under Robinov’s leadership were 300, Ocean’s 13, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Superman Returns, Syriana, Ocean’s 12, The Polar Express, Troy, The Last Samurai, the aforementioned The Matrix films and Cats & Dogs.