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Posts Tagged ‘Roger Birnbaum’

A Lion, Hobbits and Bond – oh my!

July 22nd, 2011 No comments

As summer heat scorches most of the U.S., (except, interestingly enough, Hollywood), perhaps it’s time to chill out and get caught up with stories we’ve blogged about in past months. Interestingly, in one way or another, all of today’s stories link to Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Sort of.

 

The Cat Came Back…

Proving a corporate survival rate second to none, MGM emerged from bankruptcy in late 2010 and was placed under the leadership of former Spyglass Entertainment honchos Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber. Having successfully fended off corporate raider Carl Icahn’s attempt to take over the beleaguered studio via his one-third share in Lionsgate, as well as a semi-serious offer by Time Warner (and even some foreign tire-kicking),  MGM received debtholder approval and the bankruptcy court’s blessing to restructure its obligations, and has re-entered the movie business. Well – sort of.

As a matter of fact, MGM has a movie in the theaters right now – sort of. “Zookeeper” is a MGM film, but it is distributed by Sony under that studio’s Columbia label. MGM bought the script in a 2008 bidding war for $2 million against $3 million, and promptly set Adam Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison (HQ’d at Sony), onto the project, effectively reuniting most of their “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” production team to get “Zookeeper” made. Unfortunately, in the interim, MGM was hit with big money woes, and the film was included in a deal which gave Sony distribution rights to the next two James Bond films as well. The deal with Sony may just get the struggling studio back into regular production, but MGM’s possible future slate looks more like a ‘blast from the past,’ relying heavily on remakes of MGM properties like “Red Dawn,” “RoboCop,” “Mr. Mom” and “Poltergeist.” 

And that’s just the Halfling of it…

Another long-stalled, high-profile MGM project, “The Hobbit,” has finally begun production. Well – sort of. It’s a ‘good news, bad news’ kind of thing for MGM: MGM’s “The Hobbit,” long planned to be a pair of films directed (and co-written) by Guillermo del Toro and produced by ‘Lord of the Rings’ director Peter Jackson, ended up morphing into a giant pair of  Warner Brothers (corporate successor to New Line) 3-D movies, directed by Jackson after MGM’s money woes caused del Toro to move on (after 2 years of work) and MGM to unload its rights, retaining only broadcast TV rights. Peter Jackson has largely reunited his ‘Lord of the Rings’ principals; they support British actor Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo Baggins. In early press, Jackson points out that these things rarely get easier: the shooting schedule for both ‘Hobbit’ movies is only 12 days less than all 3 of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, and the $500 million budget is 40% more than the three earlier films. The first of the two 3-D ‘Hobbit’ films, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” is due in theaters in December, 2012. The second film, “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” is set for a year later in December, 2013.

Never say ‘Never Again’…

The other jewel in MGM’s crown (after the hard-won ‘Hobbit’ rights, which involved years of legal wrangling with Saul Zaentz) is James Bond. ‘James Bond 23,’ the as-yet-untitled next chapter in the spy series, was held up due to – what else? – MGM’s financial troubles. With the resolution of MGM’s debt situation, they are free to make the next James Bond movie. Well – sort of.

Due to a deal set up with MGM in 2004, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment distributed all of MGM’s theatrical feature films and  home video, accordingly, including the rebooted Bond franchise’s highly-successful “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace.” However, MGM exercised an option in 2006 which allowed it to transfer distribution of its product to Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. This left the distribution of the next Bond movie up in the air when MGM ran out of money; now Sony has stepped in and agreed to distribute both ‘Bond 23’ and ‘Bond 24,’ in addition to co-financing both films. This solves several problems: Sony stays in the Bond business, and MGM has a partner well-versed in dealing with EON Productions, the ‘power behind the throne’ of the Bond franchise. Oscar winner Sam Mendes is set to direct, and Daniel Craig will return as James Bond. ‘James Bond 23’ has a release date of November 9, 2012.

It’s Too Darn Hot!

It is hot out there. Why not go into a nice air-conditioned movie theater? This weekend, “Captain America: The First Avenger” is the latest 3-D superhero to grace movie screens, and it should be interesting to see if he battles boy wizards as well as he does Nazis. It takes guts to go up against such tough foes… And if good versus evil isn’t your thing, check out “Friends With Benefits,” which should benefit producer Screen Gems via its clever (2-D, superhero-free) counter-programming… Sort of.

Hollywood Hat Trick

October 25th, 2010 No comments

Scaring Up Big B.O. Horror Bucks

This weekend’s $41.5 million opening by “Paranormal Activity 2” set a record for a horror film opening, besting the 2009 “Friday the 13th” reboot’s $40.6 million opening. “Paranormal Activity 2,” was written by Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst, with a story by Perry based on the first film’s director Oren Peli’s original characters. The new ‘Paranormal’ is directed by Tod Williams, and has already grossed $63.6 million worldwide. With a budget of about $3 million, “Paranormal Activity 2” cost roughly 200 times more than the original film, and would have to make $2.9 billion at the worldwide box office to match the profitability of the first film. So it’s ‘good news, bad news’ for Paramount, which managed expectations for the latest film and utilized a more sophisticated ‘viral’ campaign for it, resulting in the new record opening, but it’s a foregone conclusion that the once-in-a-generation success of “Paranormal Activity” won’t be repeated.

Not In My Back Story…

Another sequel to another surprise hit of last year is making news: “The Hangover 2,” which is filming in Thailand, has nixed a cameo appearance by scandal-racked star Mel Gibson. The sequel to last year’s biggest grossing R-rated comedy, which made $277 million domestically and $420 million worldwide, was scheduled to include Gibson as a reclusive tattoo artist living in Bangkok, but ‘concerns among cast and crew’ have forced director Todd Philips to re-cast Liam Neeson in the role. Cast member Zach Galifianakis recently alluded in a web podcast to a strong “protest” he was voicing about his latest project, but he never mentioned Gibson by name. It’s only the latest in a string of public-relations nightmares for the former box-office champ, following the leaking of recorded phone tirades made against Oksana Grigorieva, his former girlfriend and mother of his year-old son. Gibson’s messy private life has caused his stalwart pal Jodie Foster to put the release of her recent directing effort, “The Beaver,” starring Gibson as a man who expresses himself through a beaver hand puppet, on hold; the film may never get a theatrical release, and instead go ‘straight to video’ as something of an oddity. Insofar as Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, was offered a cameo in the first film, it seems clear Gibson has not been forgiven by Hollywood for his anti-Semitic, misogynist and racist comments or behavior – nor does it feel like that will happen anytime soon.

Don’t Cats Only Get 9 Lives?

As if the MGM bankruptcy and reorganization could get any messier, another Hollywood film studio, Lions Gate Entertainment, has made an 11th hour bid for the beleaguered Leo the Lion, which was about to face a summary bankruptcy reorganization after a creditor’s vote at the end of this week and be turned over to Spyglass Entertainment principals Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum to run. Now Lions Gate has offered a package valued at $1.8 billion, including a provision by Carl Icahn, Lions Gate’s largest shareholder, to purchase $963 million of MGM’s $4 billion in debt, making Icahn one of MGM’s biggest creditors (including the $500 million of MGM debt he already owns). As its chief creditor, Icahn would have more say over whether MGM would accept the previous plan to have Barber and Birnbaum run the show, or merge Lions Gate Entertainment with MGM, which Lions Gate chairman Jon Feltheimer says will result in a more vital company with a stronger cash flow. To complicate matters, Icahn acknowledged the presence of another MGM bidder, who has not been identified, although reports surfaced recently of interest by Sahara India Pariwar, an Indian conglomerate. As this bizarre, long march to ‘resolution’ (whatever that might mean) for MGM plays out, it’s clear that Leo the Lion still embraces drama…

MGM’s Leo the… Tiger?

September 24th, 2010 No comments

Is Leo the Lion Getting Outsourced to India?

Long-suffering film studio MGM has experienced another odd twist as it limps its way to a bankruptcy reorganization next month. Although its creditors have announced plans to place Spyglass Entertainment principals Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum in charge of the debt-riddent studio, it’s possible a new buyer has surfaced: Sahara India Pariwar, a Mumbai, India, conglomerate, is said to have begun exploratory talks with MGM, which carries a debt load of $3.7 billion, offering to purchase Metro Goldwyn Mayer for $2 billion dollars.

Even if the rumors are true, there are a number of hurdles to clear before MGM can become Bollywood-West. For starters, the studio has little to offer beyond its aging library and their interest in two and a half valuable film franchises: “The Hobbit,” (with New Line/Time Warner), the James Bond films (with EON Productions) and the ‘Pink Panther‘ franchise. Since no Pink Panther films are on the horizon, MGM’s real assets are its ‘Hobbit’ share and its distribution of the Bond movies; and both of those, it seems, are NOT playing ball with any takeover by Sahara India Pariwar. The start date of the “The Hobbit” films (there will be 2) has already leaked from series star Ian McKellan, who will reprise his role of Gandalf: the films are set to begin shooting in January in New Zealand. So it seems Time Warner has stepped up to ensure “The Hobbit” gets made. As for Bond, that’s a different story altogether.

After rumors began circulating that Sahara India Pariwar was looking at MGM, some media outlets reported that EON Productions (EON, by the way, is an acronym for “Everything or Nothing,” an inside joke by legendary late producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli) headed by Cubby’s daughter and son-in-law Barbara Broccoli and her husband Michael G. Wilson, was on board for a Mumbai takeover of MGM. In a hastily-arranged press release, EON declared it had NOT agreed to any takeover by Sahara India Pariwar; as a matter of fact, EON insisted they had not been in talks at all about the Bond franchise, whose 23rd film is on hold pending MGM’s debt resolution.

 Until someone is willing to go on the record, MGM’s potential ‘sale’ is just that: a mere possibility. In the meantime, industry vets (and obvious risk-takers) Birnbaum and Barber are poised to assume control of the hobbled studio once the bankruptcy court hands the company over to its creditors and they institute their reorganization plan. If the studio is pulled from their fingers at the last minute by a successful bid by Sahara India Pariwar, don’t feel too bad for Messrs. Birnbaum and Barber. They stand to make $4.5 million if the deal falls apart.

Frankly, it’s just the latest in a sad series of affairs for once-proud MGM, which has hemmorhaged cash for most of the last three decades. Perhaps an infusion of new blood will revive the ailing Leo the Lion, but in keeping with the pathetic nature of this Hollywood tale, MGM’s big cat is really an underdog…

Meanwhile, in the Executive Suite…

May 14th, 2010 No comments

Kick Cannes

The honchos of Hollywood have decamped for the rainy, volcanic ash-threatened French Riviera for the 63rd Cannes Film Festival. Most travel plans were complicated by ash clouds from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, which caused all sorts of delayed flights, missed connections and other travel headaches for the Hollywood executives and filmmakers on their way to Nice or Cannes. The weather hasn’t really cooperated, either: last week large waves pounded the Croisette, damaging the beach and local establishments. On Wednesday’s opening night, the weather held until after the opening ceremonies, then started raining once the opening film, Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” began screening.

And those lucky enough (or beset upon, depending on who you talk to) to make it from Hollywood to exotic southern France can look forward to… more Hollywood. This year the festival runneth over with Hollywood’s touch, from opening remarks delivered by Kristin Scott Thomas, to a jury headed by Tim Burton and including Benicio del Toro; and don’t forget the movies: the slate of Hollywood product includes “Robin Hood,” “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” and Doug Liman’s “Fair Game,” based on the memoir of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, starring  Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as her diplomat husband Joseph Wilson.

So far, apparently, business is subdued at Cannes. But – a slow business climate, lots of American product on display, scads of Hollywood insiders walking around… Dare I say it? Maybe all those executives should’ve stayed home and caught up on their sleep, ’cause they’re practically in ‘little Hollywood’ now!

I Thought I Saw an Apparition – But I Guess I Was Mistaken…

One of the weirder story items coming from Hollywood (and subsequently Cannes) these days is the abrupt departure of Bob Berney, one of the two principals at

Berney & Pohlad

Apparition, the film company he and Bill Pohlad announced last August. Since then, Apparition has acquired and released several films, including Jane Campion’s “Bright Star,” “Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” and the Oscar-nominated “The Young Victoria.” But Berney’s sudden split from Apparition on the eve of Cannes, where he was to represent Apparition, has left partner Pohlad and company staffers stunned – and scrambling to make alternate arrangements to represent their interests at the festival. Apparition staffers learned Monday of Berney’s departure in a company-wide email, which was forwarded to the press in defiance of conventional Hollywood public relations protocol, wherein executives do little but gush over one another.

But there’s a twist (it wouldn’t be Hollywood without one, right?): Bob Berney is going to Cannes… So everyone in Tinseltown asks – why? It’s invariably about money… But what sort? Another indie film releasing company? Something bigger? And already, the sharks are circling: aware of Apparition’s distribution deal with Sony, industry bulletin boards around town lit up with speculation that a distribution deal may have become available at the major, prompting denials, frustration and confusion all around.

Berney is a recognized industry leader, having been involved with Newmarket Films, IFC Films and Picturehouse. Among the successes he’s associated with are “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “La Vie En Rose,” and “The Passion of the Christ.” It’s not clear what his plans are on the Croisette, but – there’s always that rarely-seen ‘other choice’ of running a studio…

 

 Lion Around?

Much has been written of the slow and inevitable demise of Metro Goldwyn Mayer and United Artists. (See my posting “Dyin’ Lion?”) But MGM, whose creditors have been trying to sell the once-revered Leo the Lion, isn’t garnering the kinds of bids the creditors would like. As a ‘studio’ awash in $3.7 billion worth of debt, MGM simply isn’t an attractive purchase prospect, despite its large library of titles. The studio eventually received only two purchase offers, and one of those, Access Industries, has since rescinded; the remaining offer, from Time Warner for $1.5 billion, was deemed too low by the Lion.

So apparently the company’s creditors have adopted a new strategy: Bloomberg.com reports that the top five creditors have amassed a controlling portion of the company’s debt and are now putting out feelers to Hollywood heavyweights who could run the studio as a going concern. Never mind that MGM already has a Motion Picture Group chairman, Mary Parent, who was production head at Universal before moving to the Lion’s den – the creditors want new blood, and have spoken to a number of former studio heads and other top players, from former News Corp. head Peter Chernin and ex-Viacom topper Jonathan Dolgen to Spyglass principals Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum. Who knows? Maybe Bob Berney’s on their list as well… he’s currently ‘between projects,’ as we say here in LaLa Land…