News comes before 'Immortals' opening
Relativity’s talks with JPMorgan to raise capital for its planned buyout of backer Elliott Associates have stalled, according to several individuals with direct knowledge of the negotiations.
JPMorgan’s side of the discussions with Relativity have been led by the bank’s special investments group — not its Los Angeles-based entertainment division. The latter division, arguably the most active in the entertainment banking space, has never backed a Relativity-arranged deal.
News broke June 1 that Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh was progressing toward a deal to buy out Elliott’s stake in Relativity, with JPMorgan putting together a handful of strategic partners to put forth $100 million-$200 million each, including JPMorgan, which would syndicate the deal and remain an active investor. At the time, sources close to the negotiations said they expected the deal to close as early as September.
But the potential deal was met with a chorus of skepticism from the finance community as well as many in the entertainment realm. Since then, Elliott, Relativity and JPMorgan have kept mum.
Relativity and JPMorgan declined to comment. In matters of finance, participants are typically bound by nondisclosure and legal prohibitions.
Even without JPMorgan, Relativity could still complete its planned buyout of Elliott with a different investor. And some sources familiar with the deal insist that conversations with the bank are continuing.
“Don’t count out Kavanaugh,” said one financial source. “He’s been very successful in raising money in the past. Logic would say that JPMorgan wouldn’t want to fund it at this point — but when has logic ever prevailed in the film business?”
Kavanaugh is a polarizing figure, a maverick with a larger-than-life personal and business style that has many in Hollywood rooting for him, but he also has his detractors.
Multiple sources in the entertainment financing community, both in New York and Los Angeles, have told Variety that reputational risk and financial concerns have spooked some of JPMorgan’s senior execs.
News of the deal stalling comes as Relativity’s first self-distributed tentpole, “Immortals,” is poised to hit theaters worldwide. Though the film’s performance will be closely watched, Kavanaugh has said that much of the company’s exposure on the pic — about $75 million of the $85 million budget — is covered through foreign pre-sales and that theatrical grosses may belie its true profitability.
“The practical reality is, box office is 20% of the pie, and it’s somewhat irrelevant,” Kavanaugh told an audience at Variety’s Film Finance Summit on Tuesday.
First word of JPMorgan’s potential interest in Relativity came the same day the studio announced it was spinning off its co-financing element to minority stakeholder Elliott, effectively ending Relativity’s co-financing relationship with Universal. How stalled talks with JPMorgan will affect Relativity’s financial relationship with Elliott remained unclear; the hedge fund said in June that it was injecting additional coin into Relativity’s homegrown slate.