UPDATE with more information throughout: The latest tie-up between China and Hollywood is a go: Beijing-based Perfect World Pictures and Universal Pictures are near a deal for a $500 million movie slate financing deal, Deadline has confirmed. It comes the same month China’s Dalian Wanda Group agreed to acquire a majority stake in Legendary Entertainment for $3.5B, so this isn’t pocket change coming out of the Middle Kingdom as its companies try to find footing in Hollywood. Our sister site Variety reported the Uni-Perfect World deal first.
Taking a page out of their rival CAA’s history from the 1990s where the talent agency had a hand in corporate deals with Sony and MCA, we hear that it was the WME-hatched division Raine Group that helped Universal square up the offer sheet for a new co-financing deal about eight months ago.
Universal needed the deal because its pact with Legendary Pictures is limited and allows Thomas Tull’s company to cherry-pick and invest in what amounts to about six event pictures per year. The Perfect World pact runs five years and covers 25% of the budget of each film, with Universal excluding many of its best pictures from the pact, sources say.
The deal terms were extremely studio-friendly, and that was a reason that no U.S. company bit. Universal apparently asked for a distribution fee of 12.5% and it was able to exclude Fast And Furious and Jurassic franchises as well as its Illumination Minions franchise. That one has been popular in China, but we’re told there is every possibility that Illumination could go public and the encumbrance would complicate that. Sources said that on pictures Universal shares with Legendary, Perfect World would possibly take 25% of Universal’s limited stake, big movies that might include the Bourne Identity franchise and the Tom Cruise-starrer The Mummy. It also looks like there would be a place in this deal for the Fifty Shades Of Grey sequels.
At the end of the day, the terms weren’t palatable enough for U.S.-based hedge funds and institutional investors, and two Chinese companies stepped up. One didn’t pass the compliance stage, but Perfect World Pictures did. The funding will come in the form of $250 million equity and the rest in debt, and Perfect World is looked at as a good bet, compared to some of the Chinese companies that have stepped up lately. It was traded on the Nasdaq before going private, and has offices in the U.S.
The negotiations with the Chinese were led for Universal by Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Jeff Shell, Universal Pictures president Jimmy Horowitz and Abhijay Prakash. We also understand that haggling continues.
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