Biz wonders how tycoon will reshape his purchase
With Miramax Films no longer in play, the specialty label can finally get back to the business of making and releasing movies.That’s great news for Hollywood, which needs all the buyers of projects it can get these days. But in Ronald Tutor, the biz must now deal with a new power player in town. Figuring out just what he is looking for raises more questions than answers. In Miramax, the industry has another indie label that must find a way to make money from the types of projects most studios have walked away from and with which other distributors, like Overture and CBS Films, have struggled. The sale of Miramax was announced late Thursday after months of negotiations with a variety of suitors, including founders, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who sold it to Disney. It ultimately went for $660 million to Filmyard Holdings, made up of Tutor, Colony Capital and a group of smaller investors, including Rob Lowe, and debt financing from banks. The lengthy negotiations with those vying for its 611-title library having ended, now comes the building process — something with which Tutor, who heads a giant construction firm, is certainly familiar. If there were a pack of trading cards of Hollywood’s moneymen, Tutor’s would include these details: At 69, he is an Armenian-American born in Sherman Oaks, Calif., who built his $700 million fortune constructing high-profile venues — including the San Diego Convention Center, the San Francisco Intl. Airport expansion, the Wynn Encore hotel and casino and Planet Hollywood Towers in Las Vegas, the Bradley Intl. Terminal at LAX and the Los Angeles Metro Rail through Tutor-Saliba, the firm he founded in 1981 before merging it with Perini Corp in 2008. He is a diehard USC fan, investing in the university’s $150 million Campus Center, which carries his name. Twice divorced, Tutor is a family man who’s close to his four children but a businessman who’s willing to gamble in new areas to grow his fortune. He doesn’t always win, having gone nearly bankrupt on an investment in a water treatment plant. He hasn’t fared all that well in the film world, either. Although he is a regular at the Cannes Film Festival, having consistently shown up on the Croisette over the past decade, Tutor has managed to back a slate of low-performers and befriend David Bergstein, now deep in bankruptcy proceedings over film investments that didn’t work. If Tutor has a motive for trying again and again in Hollywood, it’s that he has invested too much in the entertainment biz over the years to walk away just yet, according to interviews given by the typically press-shy exec. Tutor will either join the ranks of Hollywood’s new group of moguls — who include Ryan Kavanaugh, Legendary Pictures’ Thomas Tull, Reliance ADA Group’s Anil Ambani and Sam Gores — or join the likes of Steve Bing, Neil Kadisha and Elie Samaha, who tried and failed to buy their way into the movie biz. Count Virgin’s Richard Branson as another newcomer in the film biz, as of last week. Tutor is likely to lean toward dramas like Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” the Bergstein-produced pic, that make critics happy but don’t necessarily attract big crowds to the megaplex. Likewise, he would be unlikely to go after high-profile pop culture epics that Tull does, for example, or the varied slate of star-driven films and lucrative genre fare that Kavanaugh has most often backed. In fact, making movies doesn’t even excite him, he has repeatedly said, signaling that he may be reluctant to pony up the dollars to secure major toy, vidgame or comicbook properties to exploit on the bigscreen. Tutor and others involved with the purchase of Miramax have not said how much they’re willing to spend on production or where they will get the money to continue operating the company. But the film library, itself, is expected to provide much of the revenue. How much that will amount to is anyone’s guess. It only has a handful of top-tier titles, including “Pulp Fiction,” “Chicago,” “Shakespeare in Love,” “Good Will Hunting,” “The Piano” and “The English Patient,” that generate high interest from audiences. Film libraries make money from two streams: DVD sales and TV output deals, both of which have been drying up. Tutor says he sees value in Miramax’s library but hasn’t explained how that can be generated, other than hinting that he’ll count on digital distrib to earn much of the coin. He faces some big financial headwinds in that effort. MGM’s library of more than 4,000 titles and 10,600 TV show episodes, for example, was only able to generate $500 million a year — with 30% of that coming from the James Bond franchise. An estimated 40% of that library money still had to be paid back to filmmakers and the guilds, leaving little in the coffers. Others have struggled, too, including the Weinsteins, who have faced major challenges with their indie company since walking way from Miramax in 2005. Tutor seems to like a challenge, however, and says he has a plan. He has said he will have to add more films to Miramax’s existing library to make it financially viable. Disney is handling distribution of existing and new titles for the next year, a deal that could be expanded if needed. It is likely that Miramax will aim to pick up movies from film festivals at first, or quickly greenlight a small slate of films. With James Robinson as a potential investor in the new Miramax, it’s likely several of the company’s films would come from his Morgan Creek banner. And there is still the question over just who will ultimately run Miramax. Tutor has said he’ll soon tap a seasoned film executive to lead a staff of 50. Many in town have already suggested Robinson and former MGM and Overture exec Chris McGurk as likely candidates.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more