Branson’s Virgin jumps into bed with Kavanaugh

Brit tycoon pacts for production entity with Relativity

British tycoon Richard Branson is moving aggressively into Hollywood in partnership with Ryan Kavanaugh.

Branson is launching Virgin Produced as a film and TV development, packaging and production company, along with a joint venture with Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media through its genre label, Rogue Pictures, to develop, produce and market films.

“Virgin has always been aboutdoing it your way, expressing oneself through innovation,” Kavanaugh said. “It dares to be different. We believe that their approach to film is suited to do just that and pairing the Virgin and Rogue brands to create innovation couldn’t be more natural.”

Virgin Produced will develop and produce original films and co-produce two to three movies a year with Relativity/Rogue. The first film under the partnership is Peter Farrelly’s “Movie 43,” a sketch comedy project in the style of “Kentucky Fried Movie” and “The Groove Tube.”

Relativity had announced in March that it would serve as a co-financier and co-producer on the project and arrange distribution through one of its studio partners. Stars on board include Elizabeth Banks, Gerard Butler, Kieran Culkin, Hugh Jackman, Johnny Knoxville, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chloe Moretz, Liev Schreiber, Seann William Scott, Tony Shalhoub, Emma Stone, Matt Walsh, Patrick Warburton, Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet.

“The focus is on big, commercial product that is reflective of the Virgin brand,” said Jason Felts, who’s been tapped as CEO of Los Angeles-based Virgin Produced.

Justin Berfield will oversee the development team as chief creative officer. Both men are former J2TV/J2 Pictures producers.

“Entertainment has long been a focus of mine and the brand, and I’m excited for the chance to further grow in this space,” Branson said. “Jason and Justin’s approach is very entrepreneurial, very Virgin. We share a passion for creating and nurturing communities of talent and fresh material. The Rogue and Virgin brands seem an obvious fit.”

Branson is a successful entrepreneur with roots on the music business. He launched Virgin in 1970 as a record mail-order business, then opened a chain of Virgin Records stores two years later and eventually grew his empire to over 300 companies in transportation, travel, mobile phones, media, financial services and fitness. In the 1980s, Virgin Vision produced and distributed indie films.

Branson’s fortune was estimated last year at $3.9 billion by Forbes.

The Virgin announcement comes a week after Relativity absorbed Overture Films’ marketing and distribution operations, adding distribution to its financing and production business. Insiders say Relativity aims to release upward of 20 titles a year by 2012 — a mere seven years after Kavanaugh made his mark in the biz by arranging studio slate financing deals with third-party hedge fund money.

Relativity has financed, co-financed or produced more than 200 features. Kavanaugh acquired Rogue Pictures from Universal last year, giving Relativity a library of titles. Relativity will distrib Rogue titles via U.

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