Chris Fenton, the former DMG general manager and Motion Picture Group president, is in discussions to head Saudi Arabia’s film and content initiative including a $10 billion fund that would fall under the kingdom’s General Authority for Culture. Fenton confirmed the talks to Deadline, but had no further comment.
Deadline understands the fund would cover film, fine arts, theater and music. It is separate from Saudi’s previously announced intention to invest $64B in the entertainment sector under the General Entertainment Authority. That covers plans for building infrastructure and actual construction including Saudi’s first opera house as well as “setting goals and drawing strategies that contribute to the development of the entertainment industry in the Kingdom,” authorities said last month.
All of this comes as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman moves to diversity the kingdom’s economy and reduce its dependence on oil. In October, MBS as he is known, moved to lift a decades-old ban on public movie theaters and has taken such progressive steps as granting women the right to drive.
On Sunday night, he appeared on 60 Minutes in his first interview with an American television network and as he embarks on a tour of the U.S. that will include meetings with top politicians and tech and entertainment executives.
It is further expected that a deal could close within a week’s time for the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to acquire a 5% to 10% stake in Endeavor (the holding company for WME) for $400M. The PIF is a separate entity to the two funds discussed above.
The $10B initiative could include content-related Hollywood investments as well as local production which is ripe for growth as multiplexes soon begin to go up. It is thought that the Kingdom would look to learn from Hollywood while building its own industry.
Fenton exited DMG in February after 17 years. While there, he was instrumental in building bridges between Hollywood and China. Saudi is not without its similarities to the Middle Kingdom in terms of government controls and censorship. But given the 30+ years that Saudi did not have movie theaters, it lacks the theatrical market that China boasts.