Ambitious RatPac-WB Deal Deserves a Closer Look

Bart: Ratner's Ambitious RatPac-WB Deal Deserves
Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images

I usually nod off when a slate deal is announced (I don’t really care how a studio funds its movies), but the Warner Bros.-RatPac arrangement has piqued my interest.

As negotiations evolved (the basics of the pact were announced in April), it’s clear that the strategy here is more ambitious, the content more diverse, the numbers more exotic (potentially involving as much as $1 billion) — and a filmmaker, not a banker, will be calling the shots. That filmmaker, Brett Ratner, is off to China this week to expand the venture’s involvement in that skyrocketing territory, but before he left, we sat down to discuss the deal’s particulars.

At a time when the flow of Hollywood product is not only shrinking but also suffering from creative atrophy, RatPac clearly deserves scrutiny. It envisions not only co-funding studio features, but also backing midbudget films, documentaries and high-end television miniseries. And it is investing substantial funding — $20 million to start, through China Media Capital, a state-backed fund — in Chinese-language product. The goal of this strategy is to build a major library. And along the way, the media landscape may be brightened as well.

Besides Ratner, key players in the deal are James Packer, who has steered the multibillion dollar assets from his father, Kerry Packer, into casinos in Macao and Las Vegas, and now entertainment; and Steven Mnuchin, CEO of OneWest Bank, who put together Dune Capital. Announcement of a chief operating officer for the venture is expected imminently. Also anticipated: disclosure of a co-funding deal with a premiere TV network.

According to its initial scenario, Ratpac will use its revolving fund of $450 million to help fuel the entire Warners slate — an anticipated 84 films over four years — taking a minimal 25% stake in each picture. Its two initial ventures were propitious: “Gravity” and “The Lego Movie.” Followup picture “Jersey Boys” didn’t fare as well.

But RatPac figures that the WB slate, in its post-Jeff Robinov era, will continue the studio’s consistently profitable performance of recent years. To this end, the WB-RatPac lineup is keyed to an 11% distribution fee (some slate deals yield 9%) and there will be no cherry-picking provision. “We’re betting on Warner Bros.,” Ratner says. “We do not pretend to possess the genius ability to predict winners from losers.”

On the other hand, Ratner will be able to raise his bet from 25% to 50% on certain pre-selected films if he so chooses. Such is the case with “Black Mass,” starring Johnny Depp and directed by Scott Cooper. Hence, while RatPac will not be an integral part of the studio’s greenlight process, its influence will be felt if it resolves to raise its bets.

RatPac’s development process also will carry clout. The company’s interest in Donna Tartt’s bestseller “The Goldfinch” helped put that title on the slate. Several other top-line novels also are being negotiated.

Through a separate credit facility, RatPac is involved in a range of midbudget independent films directed by the likes of Russell Crowe, Edward Norton and Roman Polanski, most of which do not have advance U.S. distribution deals. The venture is the principal backer of Warren Beatty’s long-gestating film about Howard Hughes, which wrapped three weeks ago. It cost less than $30 million and will be distributed by Fox.

Since its Warners arrangement is nonexclusive, RatPac will co-finance another Fox film, “Revenant,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio. And Ratner is co-funding development on projects with Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Arnon Milchan’s New Regency.

Will these ambitious plans come together? Ratner has always engendered a degree of skepticism in some camps. Single and free-wheeling, his lifestyle is as high-energy as his “Rush Hour” films. He is impulsive, and says what he thinks, yet is instinctively gracious. Most important, he gets the work done, and his work has been largely successful.

At the moment, the greenlights are flashing, and the money is flowing. What more can a filmmaker ask.

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  1. Washington M. says:

    Who wrote the comments below from a 2 bedroom rented house in hollywood say “I”? Money is put behind those who can deliver. No one knows the in’s and out’s of why someone like Brett Ratner is successful, except those who have worked with him personally. Fortune favors the brave and notices the good at heart. If I could get through all the ups and downs that he has and still tick, I’d be as successful as him. I don’t know how, but he has good instincts. I just hope that the content he greenlights gets deeper, a little more complex. True Detective or in that vein…

  2. Old School Quality says:

    Peter Bart and Ratner are tight. This is nothing but a puff piece. If Ratner wants to impress, then he needs to start financing the mid-budget adult themed movies that we don’t get anymore (Training Day, L.A. Confidential, Traffic, At Close Range, Carlito’s Way, State of Grace, Gattaca, etc.) Most everyone I know is tired of this super hero/robot/monster shit (despite their huge box office). Give us some real movies like HBO and Showtime are providing with their series and miniseries.

  3. TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    This consortium dropped the ball big time with Jersey Boys which was more about oppressive ethnic stardom stereotypes than music. And casting Johnny Depp (who recently has been box office poison) as Whitey Bulger in Black Mass is a stretch. If he isn’t able to don the kabuki makeup he usually wears in many of his bizarre roles, this won’t bode well for the transformation. However, the release to look forward to is Beatty’s vision of Howard Hughes since epic character films seem to be his cinema forte.

    • LOL says:

      But Jersey Boys was made for dudes like you, BigBang. It was Baby Boomer to the max. It was positively Baby Booming. I thought you oldies would have been jiving in the aisles, doing everything from The Alligator and The Locomotion to the Funky Chicken. Don’t disappoint me and say you just sat fixed in your seat, man.

      Ratner should focus on elevated Millennials’ material, kind of like what he’ll be doing with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. You ought to read it, Big Bang. It’s good (http://movies-on-my-mind.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/donna-tartts-goldfinch-tells-us-so-much.html).

      • TheBigBangOf20thCenturyPopCulture says:

        Don’t equate boomers with your dark age dreck parade. JB is a global hit musical that was turned into a B grade mob film.with music breaks in between the goombah posturing. As for millennials, the only safe place they can hope to be elevated is to higher ground as they struggle to grow old vs. climate change.

  4. Equipment guy says:

    Bottom line no matter what people think of Ratners and his talent or lack of as long as Packer is willing to hang in there and keep the cash flowing Brett will be on top. But like any outside Hollywood money after enough creative accounting by Warner bros usually these money guys go elsewhere when the returns are not there anymore. I give this deal 3-4 years before J Packer gets sick of the games and tires of Ratner and all the overhead charges (planes, yachts and parties) on his tab.

  5. Hercules has underperformed and have seen no cutting edge, high profile movies in this current slate of films under Ratpac at this point in time.

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