Frank Smith promoted to COO
Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media, which specializes in family movies, is expanding its feature-film activities with the goal of financing a slate of high-end, star-driven commercial projects along with moving into TV and animation.
Anschutz is also revamping the executive suite with David Weil stepping aside as CEO of Anchustz Film Group at the end of the year. Frank Smith, Walden’s longtime general counsel and head of business affairs, will become Walden’s chief operating officer and oversee all aspects of Walden’s operations.
Walden, founded in 2001 by the reclusive financier Anschutz, did not disclose specifics on TV or animation projects.
Walden said it will finance the expansion through a replenishing media fund, backed by Anschutz Film Group, which allows it to not only finance production of feature films, TV series and animated content, but also provide P&A funding and gap financing for select projects.
Walden President and co-founder Micheal Flaherty will work with Smith along with Chip Flaherty, who heads Walden’s publishing division. Ryan Jones, a longtime Walden finance exec, has been appointed CFO and Naia Cucukov, a former creative exec at Virgin Produced, has been hired as VP of development and production.
Walden said it will focus primarily on projects submitted and produced by third parties and co-finance film projects originating with studio partners or independent production companies, such as its latest films — “The Giver” (a feature co-production with The Weinstein Co. with Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift and Jeff Bridges starring) and “Everest,” set up at Universal and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke and John Hawkes.
Walden and Cross Creek came on board last month to finance “Everest,” which is going into production next month.
“The restructuring reflects how the industry is working today,” said Frank Smith. “Now Walden can better leverage its capital in a more efficient manner, which means we can invest and collaborate on more films, and explore animation and television projects. Our initial meetings with studios, production companies, and agencies have been great, validating our approach and showing the great number of opportunities that are open to us.”
Walden also said there are no set restrictions on how or where capital, which allows for “maximum flexibility” in sourcing projects and material. The company noted that it maintains a first look deal with 20th Century Fox for projects developed exclusively in-house but is open to partner with all distributors on any projects the company co-finances and co-produces with outside partners.
Walden Media is a producer of three “The Chronicles of Narnia” films, “Bridge to Terabithia,” “Charlotte’s Web,” and the “Journey to the Center of the Earth” series. Besides “The Giver” and “Everest,” Walden has several film projects in various stages of development, including “Flat Stanley,” “The Berenstain Bears,” “Carmen Sandiego,” “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and “Hacksaw Ridge.”
Disney produced and released the first two “Narnia” films starting with “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” in 2005 and “Prince Caspian” in 2008. Fox handled “Dawn Treader” in 2011.
The first “Narnia” was a surprise success for Walden with $745 million in worldwide box office. “Prince Caspian” took in $420 million and “Dawn Treader” grossed $415 million.
Walden isn’t producing the fourth “Narnia” movie, “The Silver Chair,” which is set up with Mark Gordon producing. “Life of Pi” writer David Magee is writing the adaptation.