Simon Franks, CEO of Redbus Film Distribution, has $29 million in his pocket and an axe to grind.
Last week, the 34-year-old Londoner sold the company he founded seven years ago to Lions Gate for $35 million. His stake was 83%; his partner Zygi Kamasa had 17%.
Franks, who also owns a flourishing advertising business among other media interests, is contracted to keep running Redbus for another three years. When he leaves, he says, he will quit the film industry.
But in the meantime, having already cashed his chips, he’s determined to make his voice heard in the corridors of power about the sorry state of the British movie biz, and what he sees as the failures of the U.K. Film Council.
“One of my paybacks is that I’m going to use some of my money to try and change the way the government relates to the film industry,” he says. “The Film Council has done a dreadful job. The industry is in no better condition than when I came into it.”
Franks is a longtime Labor Party member and donor. “I’ve never used the fact before that I support certain politicians financially, because people would have said I was acting in my own interest,” he says. “But I want the next guy who comes along to be able to do what I did. The economics are so loaded against us. I have started five businesses, and they are all doing well, but film is by far the hardest.”
“I would require companies operating TV channels to acquire British films, and that would create a virtuous cycle,” he suggests. At the moment, he says, “There’s no way a British company can make as much profit from a British film, or from an American film, as an American company can.”
He points out that he and Kamasa built Redbus without “a single piece of help” from the Film Council. “Pathe has had over $50 million, we’ve never had anything. That’s very odd. Maybe if we had done, we would still be a British company today.”
Franks, who came out of banking, evidently feels that his scrappy talents have never been embraced by the U.K. film establishment.
“I’m an aggressive, entrepreneurial character and they didn’t want that. Anyone who ruffles feathers, they don’t want.”
The folks at Lions Gate clearly recognized a kindred spirit, however. “Simon is very entrepreneurial, and we’re a very entrepreneurial company,” says Nick Meyer, president of Lions Gate Intl. and Franks’ new boss.
After a quiet couple of years while Redbus disentangled itself from its bankrupt former shareholder Helkon, the company has already been ramping up its slate, co-producing “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “The Wicker Man.”
“Lions Gate has very little interest in not being the No. 1 independent in any territory they are in,” Franks says.
Lions Gate gets back U.K. rights to its library from Sony in March, and those will be exploited through a much-expanded Redbus homevid arm.
According to Franks, RFD has always been profitable. Insiders say the $1.4 million operating loss it declared in 2004, after $2.4 million profit in 2003, was an accounting device to reduce its tax bill.
In fact, given the company’s underlying state of financial health, Franks argues that the price paid — $28 million in cash and just $7 million in stock — was “very cheap.”
So why did he sell? “It’s very hard to jump to the next level,” he explains. “I love my business — it’s my baby, I started it in my spare bedroom — but I accepted that I can’t run it forever because of the natural impediments for British film companies. I wanted to find the right home for it.”