Former MGM CEO and Spyglass principal Gary Barber and Lantern Entertainment have joined forces to form Spyglass Media Group, an independent outfit, which will blend new film and TV projects with the Weinstein Co. assets.
Strategic investors include Eagle Pictures, the largest independent distributor in Italy, and the UK’s Cineworld Group, owner of Regal Cinemas and the No. 2 exhibitor in the world. Barber, who received a $260 million payout last year after being pushed out at MGM, is also described as a “significant” investor in the new company. Financial terms were not disclosed for any of the equity holders, though Lantern is the majority investor.
Headquartered in Century City, Spyglass Media will be led by Barber, who will be Chairman and CEO and oversee all operations. The announcement was made today by Barber along with Lantern Entertainment Co-Presidents Andy Mitchell and Milos Brajovic.
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“We’ve been talking for months about ways to do business together,” Barber told Deadline in an interview. “Strategically, we felt that one plus one could equal three if we could put together this joint venture.”
Mitchell said the deal filled in a large hole for Lantern, which prevailed in the Weinstein bankruptcy auction last year despite not having any significant background in entertainment. “We had a very junior team in desperate need of experienced management,” he said. “What we were missing was the full-time expertise that Gary has and that our team will have. This is not a disruptive merger. This is an expansion.”
Employees are being briefed on the deal this afternoon, and Barber and Mitchell said some significant executive hires are due to be announced over the next few weeks. The executives declined to offer any specifics as to head count or the budget range of projects. The company, reactivating the Spyglass co-finance and production entity that Barber ran with Roger Birnbaum from its founding in the 1990s, expects to start releasing its first theatrical titles in 2020.
When it acquired the Weinstein Co. for $289 million, Lantern gained control of development projects and more than 250 film library titles, as well as scripted and unscripted TV series. (Longtime revenue-generator Project Runway will be reborn tomorrow night on Bravo.) The roster includes The King’s Speech; Inglourious Basterds; Silver Linings Playbook; The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained and Spy Kids, plus genre franchises Hellraiser and Scream.
The Upside, with Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston and Nicole Kidman, showed the potential of the Weinstein library when it went out under the STX banner in January and crossed $100 million domestically.
Speaking of STX, however, it and other well-capitalized entities have experienced headwinds trying to go it alone. In an industry known for its skepticism, especially with indie turbulence of late and ongoing digital disruption, the reborn Spyglass will face a couple of key questions out of the gate. First, given that Barber had indicated a willingness to sell MGM when he was running the company, is the new Spyglass a long-term play or a short-term flip? (The latter scenario has also gained some traction in recent months among many industry veterans given Lantern’s lack of show business experience.) Also, how will Spyglass be able to forge positive relations with talent and business partners given the radioactivity of many of the Weinstein Co. assets that are a key part of the new company?
Asked the flip-or-build question, Barber and Mitchell both expressed full-throated confidence in the new setup’s viability for the long run. Asked directly about the baggage of the Weinstein titles, they emphasized that the company will be funded to explore a range of new production, not just to exploit library titles.
“We’ve got strategic partners who are fully committed to helping us build something,” Barber said. “I’m willing to put my own money at risk – not many people in Hollywood are willing to do that.”
Mitchell said the deal took a few months to put together, reflecting the unusual combination of elements. “It was hard to find the guy who would give us a bridge we needed “It was not an easy task to find someone w/the experience and background.”
Barber said the explosion of platforms seeking original content — especially with direct-to-consumer services from WarnerMedia, Disney and others launching in the coming months — positions Spyglass well. Though even pedigreed independents like Lionsgate, despite being viewed as attractive acquisition targets, face a tougher road than ever in an industry driven by scale. “There could not be a better time to produce compelling and crowd-pleasing content for worldwide distribution across multiple platforms,” Barber said.
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