EXCLUSIVE: Here in Toronto for the Saturday premier of Knives Out, writer/director Rian Johnson and producer Ram Bergman have launched T-Street, an entrepreneurial new company that will generate original content for film and TV shows. The venture is fully capitalized by global media company Valence Media, and longtime picture partners Johnson and Bergman have the financial ability to develop, produce and finance projects, with T-Street holding a substantial financial stake.
T-Street launches with a first look deal with Valence Media’s MRC for film and television projects. Valence Media will hold a substantial minority equity stake in the company.
Johnson and Bergman said they will soon be opening offices, and staffing up to hit the ground running. They intend to make their own original creations through the company, and produce others.
T-Street comes directly out of the experience Johnson and Bergman had in making Knives Out, a package that Deadline revealed on the eve of last Toronto. It was something that came together lightning quick to take advantage of an unexpected hiatus for Daniel Craig between when Danny Boyle exited and Cary Fukunaga took the directing reins of the James Bond film No Time To Die. The Agatha Christie-style whodunit was expected to be the hot project of the last TIFF market, but didn’t last that long.
“We were about to go to Toronto right after speaking to you about Knives Out, but we didn’t make it there because MRC came in with an aggressive and creative deal and we canceled the trip,” Bergman told Deadline. “It was exactly six weeks from the moment we talked with you to when we started filming.”
Knives Out stars Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Colette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell and Christopher Plummer. MRC and Lionsgate will release it November 27.
The partnership between Johnson and Bergman spans 15 years, starting with the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-starrer Brick, followed by The Brothers Bloom with Adrien Brody, Rachel Weisz and Mark Ruffalo, and Looper, which starred Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. They then moved to event picture making with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which grossed $1.3 billion worldwide. They are crafting a new film series set within the Star Wars universe, and those plans remain on the boards. They said they were excited by T-Street, because it will give them the opportunity to work with artists they admire, with a company structure that makes it possible to offer equity stakes in hits they hatch. Their Knives Out deal was entrepreneurial and they liked working with the MRC team enough to take their next longterm step with them.
“There’s a rule we live and die by, that life is too short to work with jerks,” Johnson said. “This is an extension of that philosophy, as we had a great experience with Modi Wiczyk and the entire MRC team.”
Said Bergman: “We think we can help them be a good supportive home for filmmakers in movies and television, who can share in the upside. We have the ability to finance movies and shows. Now, we just have to do the work.”
There is no specific formula for the revenue sharing; it will be used selectively on a project by project basis. After a career spent crafting his own vehicles, Johnson said he was eager to broaden.
“I always focused on directing my own stuff and never had the producing bug,” he said. “I’m excited to open things up and get the chance to work with talented people and learn from them. In a way, this is very much in the mode of how we’ve always worked, though Star Wars was different for obvious reasons. But we’ve always thought like indie filmmakers, maintaining a degree of ownership and authorship over what we’ve done. This was a way to set up a space where we can make that happen for other filmmakers.”
MRC expects them to beef up both its feature and TV output for a company whose films have included Baby Driver, Ted, Elysium and Dark Tower, with TV shows that have included House of Cards, Ozark and Counterpart.
“We have had the privilege to work alongside Rian and Ram through the making of Knives Out. As skilled and talented as they are as filmmakers, they are even better people and that is what makes this partnership so exciting for us,” said MRC Film Co-Presidents Jonathan Golfman and Brye Adler and MRC Television President Elise Henderson. “We are aligned in our shared entrepreneurial spirit and this platform gives them the freedom to continue their thoughtful approach to building content and attracting like-minded partners. We look forward to keeping Mel’s Diner in business together for years to come.”
Johnson and Bergman are repped by CAA, attorney Stephen Clark at Lichter Grossman Nichols Adler Feldman & Clark, and attorney Matthew Thompson at Sidley Austin. Carmen Carpenter from Evolution Media Capital also acted as an advisor on the deal on behalf of Johnson and Bergman.