Equity players enter risky film sector

Argonaut, Barbarian, Social have different mandates

Argonaut Pictures

Launched with minimal fanfare a few months ago, Argonaut is a $100 million private-equity fund with three partners: Giovanni Agnelli, Scott Bloom and Manny Mashouf.

Agnelli and Bloom were partners before and had set their sights on producing years ago. They put up the bulk of the firm’s capital (most of it inherited) and serve as principals.

“We threw really great parties and got to be friends with a lot of wealthy people,” Agnelli says matter-of-factly.

Argonaut’s current films are in various stages of development. The list includes pics from $3 million to $60 million-plus. Two of the biggest are Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Twilight Zone” project at Warner Bros. and another Warners pic Argonaut is close to acquiring in turnaround, “White Jazz,” which was originally set to star George Clooney. In preproduction is Jake Scott’s “Welcome to the Rileys,” with James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Maria Bello.

Barbarian

Gotham-based Barbarian mainly focuses on sub-$20-million budgets. Partners Aaron Kaufman, Ray Hartenhorn and Douglas Kuber try to engage private investors (often high-net-worth individuals or families, or asset-backed funds) with the soundness of their projects.

“The key to thriving in today’s marketplace is not getting overly sentimental,” Kaufman says. “I grew up on Hal Hartley, Alison Anders, all those New York walk-and-talk movies, but those are not working anymore.”

Two of Barbarian’s upcoming titles are “Spread,” directed by David McKenzie (“Young Adam”) and starring Ashton Kutcher, who is also a producer, and “The Greatest,” starring Susan Sarandon and Pierce Brosnan.

Social Capital

Social Capital, headed by founder Martin Shore, aims to produce two to three pics a year in the $15 million-$55 million range. Creatively and financially, pic models are David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” and “A History of Violence.”

The 3-year-old outfit has an alliance with film-finance consultancy the Steel Co. Social Capital just wrapped “Tell-Tale,” based on the Edgar Allen Poe short story and starring Josh Lucas, Lena Headey and Brian Cox, and Julie Delpy’s “The Countess.” The Steel connection helped get Scott Free onboard to co-produce “Tell-Tale,” with Ridley Scott himself stopping by the edit room.

Social Capital also has music covered — Shore began his showbiz run as a successful session drummer. He quit at 29 and turned to real estate but manages to produce music for Snoop Dogg and soundtracks for Lionsgate and Dimension while amassing a nine-figure portfolio.

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