EXCLUSIVE: Under CEO Vince Totino and President/COO Scott Hemming, Revolution Studios is five years into a strategy of building through derivative sequels, spinoffs and remakes, while continuing to focus on the distribution of its extensive existing library. At the same time, Revolution has turned away from risky theatrical investments to focus on the upside of proven IP in a vastly shifting marketplace. Totino and Hemming have been with Revolution for more than a decade, taking over the reins in 2014 after a major cash infusion from Fortress Investment Group. Three years later, the studio was acquired by Content Partners in a $400M deal. I recently sat down with the execs to discuss the evolution of Revolution.
Prior to the Fortress acquisition, the storied Revolution had become a financial disappointment after a promising start. When Joe Roth — a former studio exec at Disney and Fox — founded Revolution as a mini-major film/TV producer in 2000, he forged alliances with Sony, Starz and Fox, and stars including Adam Sandler and Julia Roberts. But Revolution shuttered its film division in 2007 with a library of 50 titles as the failure of movies like Gigli overwhelmed successes including Oscar winner Black Hawk Down. The TV production operation continued with shows including Are We There Yet? for TBS and Anger Management for FX.
With the cash infusion from Fortress, and subsequently bolstered by Content, Revolution’s brand has been expanded under Totino and Hemming through the development of original projects as well as shepherding and mining IP from the home stable and making strategic library acquisitions (Morgan Creek International, Cold Spring, GK Films). In total, Revolution has 240 TV episodes in its catalogue and 126 features including Black Hawk Down, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, Hugo, Up In The Air and the Ace Ventura, Major League and Hellboy franchises as well as the first three xXx films.
Revolution recently participated in Fox’s live Rent broadcast by licensing the rights to the Tony winning Broadway musical, and is seeing the first fruits of a deal with Universal Home Entertainment that has pushed out sequels to Benchwarmers and Daddy Day Care. Revolution is also developing a stage musical based on 2004 Jennifer Garner/Mark Ruffalo comedy 13 Going On 30 as well as further properties.
Below, Totino and Hemming provide a look at the company’s strategy, its recent deals and the biggest challenges facing Revolution — as well as an update on 13 Going On 30:
DEADLINE: Revolution has morphed over the years. What’s been the key change that has seen you shift focus?
TOTINO: Prior to Content acquiring us, we produced xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage which was the big swing on the sequel with Vin Diesel. Revolution co-financed with Paramount. I would say the major change prior to the ownership of Content is that Content is not interested in the theatrical business as far as investing capital. They’re happy for us to pursue theatrical titles, and we will, but we won’t co-finance a theatrical sequel for one of our films. That’s not their business and we get that. So xXx was something that we’re proud to have produced and turned out to be very lucrative for Content, but it’s not something they want to continue doing. That’s the major change from the production side, that we’re not going to invest and co-finance projects moving forward.
DEADLINE: So even though xXx did well overseas and was a breakout in China, you are not involved in the development of the next picture and sold the rights to The H Collective. Can you elaborate on the thought process behind that deal?
HEMMING: We sold off the derivative rights. We don’t think of that as a license deal, we cut ties in terms of ongoing production.
TOTINO: But the benefit to Content on the production of xXx was that it reinvigorated that series and that movie did very well internationally, particularly in China. The Chinese market wants another sequel and when they came to us and said we want to do another sequel, we said we’re probably not going to do it because this one was too risky for us. The domestic market was too soft, even though the international markets worked, it was too risky for us to invest in another xXx and Content wasn’t looking to invest in theatrical sequels anyway.
So all that demand from the Chinese market generated an interest and we ended up selling the sequel rights to the franchise to Chinese company The H Collective. That was very lucrative to Content and it benefited us really because a sequel will be made in the franchise and we own the other xXx movies. Not only do we get a nice fee on the rights sale, but we’re also going to see a nice uplift on each of the xXx titles. It’s going to be made with Vin, the same producers and Joe Roth and Jeff Kirschenbaum and the same director, so it was great for us and we’ll profit from it without taking any risk.
DEADLINE: How has the strategy to exploit existing IP that you’ve employed over the past few years dovetailed with the evolution of the industry and proliferation of platforms and distribution methods?
TOTINO: We had our strategy for the last five years to build this company, and one of our main goals was to build the company through derivative sequels and other remakes of our films. We’ve been doing that, and you’re right, the market has definitely caught up and there is so much interest out there for new titles that we have a lot more opportunity than we did when we first started to create derivative projects. We’re working with several different writers on projects in various states of development. There are a lot of balls in the air right now because the development process takes a lot of time. But the fact that there’s so much interest out there and so much availability is fantastic for us.
We did the original Hellboy and they’re coming out with the sequel on April 12. That’s a Millennium film and we’re participating in that. We’re not producers on that one, this is a passive participation, but we participate on the upside and as with xXx, when this project comes out, we’ll see an uptake on our Hellboy rights and cashflow because of the consumer demand.
HEMMING: One of the great things — and this was by design, originally starting with Joe Roth and the original incarnation of Revolution Studios — was, “Look, we’re going to make movies that have broad commercial appeal and are all star-driven because that helps us in a lot of ways.”
Right now, as we’re managing those titles just on the distribution front, there’s tremendous demand because they’re relatively recent, they’re worldwide releases, there was a lot of marketing spend on them originally and they’re all star-driven. So when you look at what we did from 2014 for three years thereafter, after the Fortress acquisition and the infusion of capital, is we went out and acquired original product; we acquired Morgan Creek International, a bit older than Revolution but fits in very nicely with a lot of star-driven product, a lot of franchises in there like Ace Ventura, Major League, Young Guns and titles that do very well. And then with the GK Films titles and with Cold Spring and Cross Creek, when you look through the stuff that we’ve been acquiring over those several years, they are all very high-profile well-branded, star-driven IP and they’re very attractive. That fits in very nicely with what we’re seeing in the marketplace, so it certainly makes our jobs easier, though development is never easy. It’s a long road, it takes a lot of work and relationships and you have to stick with it. We’re seeing the fruits of that.
DEADLINE: How involved you are in the development and production process?
TOTINO: In general, we are intrinsically involved. We will take the pitch from the writers, we’ll go out with the writers and pitch to the networks, to other producing partners. We’ll be the ones that are out there making the deal, and we’ll be producers on the project. It’s an active participation on every one of our projects and that’s because we want to protect our IP. We don’t want a sequel to be made to our product or a derivative television project that could negatively impact the original title. That’s really important to us. We’ve done this for several years with Are We There Yet?, Anger Management and others where we’ve gone in and made sure that the product that’s getting made is something that will support the original film as well. You don’t want to depreciate your original title, so we participate as much as we can.
DEADLINE: You recently saw the release of the first two projects under your deal with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment’s 1440 Entertainment, Benchwarmers 2: Breaking Balls and Grand-Daddy Day Care. How does the deal fit into your overall strategy?
TOTINO: We got into business with Universal due to relationships we’ve had over there. The goal is for them to produce a sequel to a movie that otherwise would not have had a theatrical sequel and to release it through the Universal output deals internationally, and then domestically get either an SVOD deal or and sell it on digital and DVD. You capitalize on that title and put out a movie that’s going to be profitable because they already know when they make it that it’s going to make X amount of dollars. So they make it for the right price.
HEMMING: They’ve done very well with franchises. They are very smart about it and have their international deals through the TV group and generally domestically through the home entertainment side through EST, but typically making an overall deal with Netflix currently, where they can place these titles. They can continue making these every couple of years and really expand the life of the franchise — and are profitable.
DEADLINE: Do you see yourselves doing more of those kinds of deals elsewhere?
HEMMING: Possibly, we have spoken with other distributors who are in this business. Lionsgate is very much in this business and there are other players as well. Each one has their strengths and weaknesses. The two titles we’ve done thus far with Benchwarmers and Daddy Day Care obviously are more commercial which fit really well with Universal. If we wanted to do something more genre, we may go with a different partner on that like a Lionsgate that does really well in that space.
DEADLINE: Are you still being acquisitive of other libraries?
HEMMING: We are definitely focused on acquisitions, but as part of an overall company. Content Partners is very active in acquiring additional assets and libraries and that sort of thing. We work closely with them in identifying and valuing potential targets. If they are targets that fit well in our collection of assets, ie: there are distribution rights available to be actively managed and not just passive in perpetuity with a studio, then we look to put those on our platform.
DEADLINE: What is the status of the stage version of 13 Going On 30?
TOTINO: We’ve been developing the musical version for quite a while now and we’ve got a great team in place. Todd Garner brought Andy Fickman to us who also directed Heathers in London and has a longer history in theater. They pitched the idea of taking 13 Going On 30 to the stage and we loved their take on it and started pursuing that project with them. We hired the bookwriters, we hired the lyricist and composers and we put a great book together. The social response that we got to announcing that the project was going to the stage was just overwhelming. There was so much positive response and I think the market would really love to have this project. It hits the right demo as far as a musical-going demo with older and younger females. Everything is going right on that project.
HEMMING: We’d like to do it in London. As Vince mentioned, Andy had so much success with Heathers that we’re like, “Perfect! There’s our model.” We have some recorded music. Development is definitely pretty far along.
DEADLINE: You’re also focused on distributing your existing library. What are the biggest challenges that you’re facing currently?
HEMMING: The market changes. We’ve talked primarily about new projects and derivative projects and sequels and spinoffs and that type of thing. However, our main focus is on cashflow and distribution on our existing library. So we sell our library around the world through a sales agency agreement and we try to maximize profits from that. With the changing marketplace, with the direct to consumer offerings from Disney and Time Warner and Universal, the marketplace is changing. We’re trying to stay ahead of that as well because those studios are going to be making product and they may not be sold to international TV players in the future because they’re going to try to keep everything internal and build their own OTTs.
I think we’re in a unique position there in the fact that we’re independent because the international television networks aren’t going away. They’re still going to need product. If they’re not getting it from the big studios, they’re going to have to get it somewhere and they don’t have the money to invest in all these projects. I feel like that benefits a library like ours going forward. But it’s challenging. In two or three years, it’s going to flesh itself out and hopefully we’ll benefit from that.
TOTINO: The evolution of Revolution has been ongoing. The market has caught up with our strategy and it’s been super beneficial. And with the support of our new owners, they actually bring a lot of stuff to the table for us since they have different relationships than we do and they’ve been in Hollywood for years. It’s been helpful for them to bring a lot of new opportunities our way. We’re ready for additional growth.