Samaha closes $100 mil deal

Financing covers producer's next eight pix

Flamboyant independent producer Eli Samaha has closed a credit facility with Imperial Entertainment Group worth $100 million.

The financing is for the next eight films from Franchise Pictures, the film production and distribution company owned by Samaha and his partner Ashok Armitraj.

Imperial said ICE Media and London-based C.E. Heath would insure a portion of the facility. ICE is risk managing while Heath is brokering the deal.

While major studios regularly insure their slates with such schemes, it is relatively unusual for lenders to back an independent film company in this way.

The size of the facility, for a newish company with a small library, will come as a surprise to many in the industry. However, Imperial prexy Morgan Rector said Samaha’s track record speaks for itself.

“Few independents have the ability to deliver a slate of pictures as impressive as Franchise’s, which was key to enabling us to put together this unique facility,” Rector said.

Upcoming Franchise pics include “The Boondock Saints,” starring Willem Dafoe, and “The White River Kid,” starring Antonio Banderas.

Prolific producer

Samaha is nothing if not prolific, having produced 35 pics in the last three years. Many have failed to secure U.S. distribution, but Imperial senior vice president Jared Underwood insisted that the bank did not view this as a problem.

“Their pictures are financed by worldwide — not purely domestic or international — sales,” said Underwood. “Some will have domestic (before going into production), some won’t. If we were worried about it, we wouldn’t be doing this deal.”

Among Franchise’s theatrical releases this year are “20 Dates,” from Fox Searchlight, and Ted Demme’s “Snitch,” from Lions Gate Films.

Rock solid

A boost to Franchise’s bankability is its relationship with Oliver Stone’s Illusion Entertainment Group (Daily Variety, July 9).

Last month Illusion teamed with Franchise in a non-exclusive, production finance arrangement, under which Franchise will finance two to three pics a year that Illusion produces.

Illusion is likely to supply several of the pics made under the Imperial facility. Samaha and Illusion have been discussing projects, but nothing is clear-cut yet.

Samaha said other new productions, to be covered by the facility, were the romantic comedy “Desperate But Not Serious,” starring Claudia Schiffer, erotic thriller “Mercy,” starring Ellen Barkin and the Patrick Swayze-starrer “Without a Word.”

“My philosophy is that I have to make theatrical movies,” Samaha said. “It’s taken me three years, but now I’m moving to the next level.”

Imperial Entertainment Group is a subsidiary of Imperial Bank. Last year the company said it lent more than $250 million and it financed 75 indie pictures.

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