Savoy pix boffo in Wall St. bow

Film distribution newcomer Savoy Pictures Entertainment bowed on Wall Street yesterday to an enthusiastic response from investors.

The indie’s initial public offering raised $ 60.8 million, the largest for an indie since New Line Cinema went to market seven years ago, collecting $ 20 million.

Savoy, which is headed by Victor Kaufman and Lewis Korman, is also the largest and most successful entertainment deal investment bankers have brought to market since cable programmer International Family Entertainment raised $ 120 million last April.

Part of the cachet, said Jeffrey Logsdon, an analyst at Seidler Amdec Securities Inc. in L.A., is that the two top executives had excellent track records at Columbia Pictures and TriStar. Also, experienced investors dropped more than $ 100 million into the company at its inception a year ago.

More important, Savoy has an opportunity to grow.

“There’s room for another distributor since Orion has faded from the spotlight,” he added.

The demand for a piece of the company was so strong, underwriter Allen & Co. was forced to more than double the number of shares available to the public to 4 .2 million shares at $ 14.50 each.

Under terms of the original filing, Savoy expected to raise between $ 26 million and $ 30 million by selling a 12.6% stake of its equity. The offering of 20% of the company, at a substantial premium, is a solid endorsement of Savoy’s management and initial investors.

Heavy trading on the new issue — which is listed as “SPEI” on the over-the-counter market — sent the stock skyward as high as $ 17.50. It finally eased back to close at $ 16.875, a 16% premium to the offering price.

Allen & Co. said it increased the size of the offering because of increased demand on the part of investors who attended the company’s road show.

About 40 Wall Street firms, including Bear Stearns, First Boston, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, Dean Witter and PaineWebber, participated in the underwriting.

A proving ground

The offering may prove to be a barometer for other entertainment companies looking to raise capital in the public markets. One candidate rumored to be mulling the move is Miramax Films, a dominant force in the art-house arena. The company is especially hot now with Oscar contender “The Crying Game.”

Savoy, which is just a year old, boasts a blue-chip pedigree with Korman, a former Columbia chief executive and a TriStar founder, as chairman and chief executive, and Kaufman, his right hand at both companies, as president and chief operating officer. Also on board as early investors were Allen & Co., former Columbia Pictures chairman Frank Price, Carolco co-founder Andy Vajna, the powerful Pritzker family and giant Japanese trading company Mitsui & Co.

The start-up opened its doors with $ 100 million in stock and subordinated convertible debt. Another $ 60 million arrived last summer from Silvio Berlusconi, producers Mario and Vittorio Cecchi Gori and Britain’s Carlton Communications PLC.

‘Bronx’ cheer

In readying for its debut release — Robert De Niro’s directorial debut “A Bronx Tale”– which is earmarked for later this year, Savoy has hired movie industry veterans. In July, it hired “Fletch” and “Soapdish” producer Alan Greisman to lead the company’s contact with the creative community, as well as former Columbia president of distribution Jimmy Spitz to handle relationships with the theater circuits.In August, it inked an agreement with former Seiniger Advertising executive VP Stephen Hayman to develop movie campaigns.

Already, the Hollywood bloodlines have led to results. The company has lined up such projects as director Sir Richard Attenborough’s “Shadowlands” with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, the John Waters comedy “Serial Mom” with Kathleen Turner and director Wes Craven’s “Dr. Strange.”

Questions raised

Within the industry, though, many have questioned whether Savoy will have a tough time booking theaters and collecting revenues from exhibitors. However, at the NATO/ShoWest ’93 convention in Las Vegas earlier this month, National Assn. of Theater Owners president Harmon “Bud” Rifkin publicly welcomed the upstart distributor to the business.

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