Film Department charts its future

Company will stay private and get new funds

Mark Gill and Neil Sacker’s the Film Department may have had to pull its initial public offering, but the process may not have been for naught.

The company contends it has attracted investors who are close to ponying up $200 million in new financing to produce, acquire and release five to 10 films a year.

TFD withdrew its IPO registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday. It first filed for an IPO in December but has been unable to woo investors, even after cutting the share price by more than half in recent weeks (Daily Variety, Aug. 4).

Gill and Sacker said they’re still closing the new financing, which will be a combination of equity and debt and will come from both new and previous investors.

While the company has been able to pay off more than $60 million in debt and raise an additional $15 million over the past 12 months, it still must pay off a remaining $25 million in debt.

During the IPO process, Sacker and Gill — who met while working at Miramax in the late 1990s — were prevented from talking about the company’s status. With those restrictions now lifted, the two execs on Wednesday spoke in detail about the steps they have taken over the past nine months to give TFD distribution capabilities, in addition to being a producer, finance and international sales operation. To that end, TFD has struck a number of strategic partnerships.

Just before filing for the IPO, the company said it would launch a domestic distribution operation. But as Sacker and Gill further explained on Wednesday, the actual distribution will be handled by a third party, in this case, the Weinstein Co.

TFD is launching a marketing division to support the distrib venture. Gill and Sacker said TFD will retain a large measure of control in distribution, and that the company will hire a prexy of distribution and prexy of marketing. These steps will lighten the fee the Film Department pays TWC.

The deal with TWC also provides access to TWC’s Showtime pay TV slots.

However, the distrib deal means TFD’s fate is tied to TWC, which has had its own ups and downs but recently restructured and eliminated much of its debt.

First release under the pact will be Catherine Zeta-Jones starrer “The Rebound,” which the company announced will open nationwide on Dec. 25.

TFD has closed a U.S. homevid deal with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

“If you are an independent studio, you need to have a U.S. wide release guaranteed before you go into production. We have that,” Gill said.

TFD intends to release not arthouse films but star-driven nationwide releases. Slate will be a mix of two to four inhouse productions a year as well as acquisitions.

“The IPO brought good news and bad news. The bad news was the market was very hard. Hedge funds and mutual funds were on the fence,” Sacker said. “The good part was, companies came to us and said they liked our management team and that they saw the opportunity in U.S. distribution, but they thought it was too early for us to go public. If we would stay private, they would be interested,” he added.

A number of top agents have been aiding the outfit as it looks for ways to stay afloat, including WME’s Patrick Whitesell and Graham Taylor, as well as CAA’s Kevin Huvane and Richard Lovett, according to insiders.

Agents say TFD’s development slate is strong. It includes thriller “Good People,” which Niels Arden Oplev (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) has now come onboard to direct. Tobey Maguire is producing and attached to star.

Once the $200 million in additional financing is secured, “Good People” is ready to go into production, as well as “The Pre-Nup,” a romantic comedy written and directed by Jordan Roberts, and “Agent Fabulous!,” from the producers of “Austin Powers.”

Going into post-production is “Earthbound,” starring Kate Hudson, Gael Garcia Bernal, Whoopi Goldberg and Kathy Bates. It’s aimed for release in early 2011.

TFD’s one release, “Law Abiding Citizen,” grossed north of $120 million worldwide.

TFD launched in 2007 with $200 million in financing from GE Capital.

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