Panda to tame loose Cannon

Cannon Pictures Inc., the beleaguered purveyor of action-adventure flix, may have found a new savior: the deep-pocketed Canadian Belzberg family.

A start-up company partly funded by the Belzbergs — three brothers who built their fortune raiding and taking over companies in the 1980s — is in discussions to buy out Christopher Pearce, Cannon’s chairman and controlling shareholder.

The company, Panda Pictures Inc., is currently looking over Cannon’s financial records to determine if the company is healthy enough to be bought. Because of Cannon’s shoddy financial record, the deal is far from done.

“We have made no determination as to what we will do,” said Panda president Robert Blake, whose family’s money, largely made in real estate, is also behind Panda.

Should Panda’s bid go through, it would mark the latest round in the roller coaster of Cannon, an indie with hits dating as far back as “Joe” in 1970 that reemerged flamboyantly in the high-flying ’80s. Fueled by the showmanship of Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus, Cannon had hits with the “Death Wish” and “Missing in Action” series — starring Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris, respectively — only to collapse in a sea of red ink and bad deals.

If Panda completes the acquisition, it will pay Pearce 12 cents a share, or $ 4 million, for his 60% stake in the company. Additionally, Panda will pay Pearce another $ 2 million, about $ 600,000 less than he is owed by Cannon.

Panda will also buy a 14% stake in Cannon held by former chairman Ovidio Assinitis. Panda has agreed to pay 11 cents a share, or roughly $ 800,000.

The deal is largely contingent on Panda’s ability to clean up Cannon’s financial mess. Cannon owes roughly $ 24 million to Credit Lyonnais Bank Nederland, another $ 1 million to ING Bank — another Dutch bank — and about $ 12 million to other creditors. For the deal to go through, all of those creditors will have to take some sort of financial haircut.

Debt reduction

“We intend to work very closely with the creditors to substantially reduce the debt or eliminate the debt on the Cannon balance sheet,” Blake said. “To do that, creditors would have to consider a work out.”

According to its filing, Panda intends to replace Cannon’s directors and current senior managers, though Blake declined to say who the replacements would be. Pearce, though, will get a five-year, eight-picture production deal with Cannon on a pay or play basis. The deal calls for Pearce to receive $ 750,000 for each pic. Additionally, Panda intends to pump millions of dollars into Cannon to shore up its finances.

“There is no question here that this company needs an equity infusion,” Blake said. “The equity we put in could approach $ 20 million.”

Shalom to Golan-Globus

Panda also intends to sever all remaining ties to Cannon’s Golan-Globus days.

Additionally, Panda plans to create a new foreign sales organization.

But Panda also plans to stick with some of the formula that made Cannon work. Norris, who is currently working on the CBS series “Walker, Texas Ranger,” of which Cannon holds 20%, recently signed a seven-year deal with the company.

Although Panda will acquire rights to the “Delta Force” and “American Ninja” films, among others, Cannon special counsel Mike Emery declined to say if older films like the “Death Wish” series will also be included in the deal.

With Panda’s backing, Cannon intends to release 10-14 films next year, with three or four costing more that $ 20 million before P&A, Emery said.

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