Kevin Spacey, Dana Brunetti Set to Run Relativity for Ryan Kavanaugh

Kevin Spacey & Dana Brunetti
Jim Smeal/BEI/BEI/Shutterstock

In a blockbuster move intended to resurrect his bankrupt company, Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh has reached an agreement to have Kevin Spacey and the actor’s producing partner, Dana Brunetti, run Relativity’s beleaguered studio, the company confirmed late Wednesday.

The deal brings Relativity not only the Oscar- and Emmy-winning actor and his long-time business partner, but also their Trigger Street Productions, producer of “House of Cards.” The acquisition of the production company and its star founder marks a major coup for Kavanaugh, who could not prevent his company from sliding into Chapter 11 bankruptcy five months ago.

Relativity has been fighting to raise $100 million in new capital to help complete a reorganization that would revive the moribund movie unit. An alliance of senior creditors has already taken over the company’s television operation. A U.S. bankruptcy court judge is scheduled to consider Kavanaugh’s reorganization plan on Feb. 1.

Spacey will become chairman of Relativity Studios and Brunetti president as of mid-February, according to the announcement. The duo will oversee all creative content and film production for the company. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“I am thrilled to welcome Kevin and Dana to Relativity,” Kavanaugh said in a statement.  “Kevin’s incredible creative success as a two-time Academy Award winner and star and producer of the critically acclaimed ‘House of Cards’ speaks for itself. Dana has remarkable instincts and an impressive track record of producing films such as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and ‘Captain Phillips.’ Both men share my passion for film and Relativity’s unique 360-degree content engine, and I could not be more excited to partner with such talented professionals.”

Kavanaugh’s reputation has taken a beating in the months leading up to a July 30 bankruptcy filing and since then, as his company registered liabilities of $1.2 billion and assets of $560 million. One financial partner accused him of fraud and a major producer, Neal Moritz, also briefly charged Kavanaugh with misleading him into making a movie deal, before later revoking his accusation.  Kavanaugh has denied the allegations against him and responded that his company was the victim of one-time allies who tried to undermine him to take control of Relativity.

Spacey’s own statement acknowledged that many would be stunned by the news he was joining the company.

“They thought we were crazy when we chose to do ‘House of Cards’ with an online streaming service; they thought I was crazy when I went to run the Old Vic Theatre when no one thought it could be saved; and this move with Relativity will be proof for some that we really are crazy,” Spacey said. But he called the move “an incredible opportunity to make great entertainment” and said he considered it the “next evolution in my career.”

“Having run an independent production company to now be able to run a studio is a great challenge,” Spacey said, “and I’ve learned that in the end it’s the risk-takers that are rewarded.”

Brunetti said Relativity would work to differentiate itself from other filmmakers. “While other studios are focusing on tentpoles and franchises, there is a void with an eager audience for films that are character driven with great storytelling that can be made at a reasonable budget,” Brunetti said in a statement. “Being a disruptor at heart, I look forward to the opportunities that being inside a studio system will present.”

Casting  a marquee actor-producer duo in executive leadership roles is unusual in Hollywood, though not unprecedented. Tom Cruise and his longtime producing partner Paula Wagner were recruited to run United Artists in 2006 in what was billed as a boon to the actor’s then-lagging career. But the duo’s initial films did not win over audiences and parent company MGM ran into problems financing its own productions. As MGM backed off its commitment to United Artists, Wagner and Cruise split in pursuit of their own projects.

Kavanaugh had been looking for weeks for new executives to replace the top managers, including president Tucker Tooley, who left the company last year.

Spacey, who had been best known for his powerhouse work in films such as “American Beauty” (for which he won a lead actor Oscar) and “The Usual Suspects” (for which he scored a supporting actor Oscar), is now also a celebrated TV star for his turn as President Francis Underwood on “House of Cards.” Along with Brunetti, he has also been a producer known for embracing digital innovation, like an online platform offering feedback for screenwriters, as well as for backing a series of acclaimed films, including “The Social Network,” “Captain Phillips” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

A move to Relativity could give the star and his producing partner a larger platform for launching projects. It would help reestablish a measure of credibility for Kavanaugh’s film operation, which has been battered by a series of lackluster films and a financial meltdown that has delayed the release of many others. A Spacey-Brunetti combination at Relativity would presumably help resolve some of the issues the mini-studio might otherwise have in luring talent to embark on new movies.

Brunetti has worked with Relativity in the past — reaching an accord a year ago to make a movie about the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, an episode that claimed the lives of four Americans and raised a political furor over the American response. The studio bought story rights from some of the principals on the scene of the debacle. The project is separate from the soon-to-be released “13 Hours,” another Benghazi-themed film, from Paramount.

Brunetti, it is fair to assume, also will want to continue as the producer of the lucrative “Fifty Shades of Grey” movies.

Spacey appeared at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday to talk about the intersection of storytelling and technology. He made no mention of the impending deal with Relativity.

Season four of “House of Cards” will premiere on March 6.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report. 

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  1. Love Kevin Spacey, that guy has the Midas Touch.

  2. KS says they will askew franchiss but DB have this potential “Grey” franchise. They say one thing but do another given the budget, capitalization, market-share and return on investment. Independent films, yes, as long as they show profit sufficient for rreinvestment.

  3. You couldn’t pick two guys more qualified to revolutionize the studio system. They both have a fresh, all seeing eye for the creative process and the future. They bring entertainment evolution to the table.

  4. Dunstan says:

    It would be great if they can somehow bring the company back from the dead. Kavanaugh should be in jail; he’s nothing more than a con man.

  5. Reader says:

    You have problems.

  6. TM says:

    It’s a bold and thrilling move. KS and DB are not the nicest people to do business with – but nor are most of the other payers at the studios.

  7. iamtrue2bill says:

    I wish them luck. Spacey is obviously a man who consistently challenges himself. He’s succeeded meeting those challenges up to now, and I am sure he’ll succeed once again. Mr. Brunetti apparently scored big with “50 Shades” but I’ll never understand why.

  8. rrawpower says:

    Swimming With Sharks indeed . . . .

  9. Equipment guy says:

    Four Americans died that night in Benghazi, not two.

    • Nate says:

      And there were 39 U.S. Embassy attacks resulting in 30 deaths under gw bush. Not to mention the thousands that died on 9/11 when bush and dick were asleep at the wheel. Just before they destroyed the US economy, and handed US taxpayers the largest tax hike in US history–otherwise known as the Iraq war.

      • Saoma808 says:

        The Benghazi attacks were the first time since 1979 that a US ambassador was killed is what I was trying to say with my other reply to you. sorry for all of the mistakes I use the voice to text and it sometimes creates a lot of errors hopefully you get the gist of what I’m trying to say. Also I want to apologize for any personal attacks that I might have made in my comments towards you such as calling you an idiot or whatever because that’s exactly what I am saying should not be done. just argue the facts peacefully. However it’s hard not to get worked up and start getting away from the point.

      • Saoma808 says:

        Where do you get this number “39 attacks on US embassies during George W presidency”?
        Did you just make it up? According to Huffington Post there were 13 attacks not 39. And I’m not saying “only 13” I’m just saying check your facts from a reputable site.
        Just because you read it on the Internet doesn’t make it true and it’s sad that I have to even say this.
        Bill Clinton went on the record to mislead the number of diplomatic deaths during the Bush years to help with his wife and her PR nightmare.
        He referred to 10 occasions during the Bush administration when US diplomatic personnel have been killed and he asked where the GOP anger had been then. What President Clinton failed to mention was that “those US diplomatic personnel who were killed during the George W. Bush administration died and circumstances other than an attack on the US diplomatic mission”
        Benghazi attack was the first time or US in Bassett or was killed since 1979. And the issue by the way with the whole Benghazi attack was not the attack itself because things like this can happen and no president can be aware of everything and be responsible to stop every bad thing that happens you can’t blame Obama for the Benghazi attack the problem was how they immediately tried to cover it up and make excuses when they knew it was a terrorist attack they said it was because of some video and it was a spontaneous attack. Sure I’ll buy that they just were up there with a friendly protest and then suddenly decided to pull out the rocket launchers.
        And finally your comment about “Bush and Cheney being asleep at the wheel on 9/11”
        Do you actually believe that or are you just trying to create propaganda? It’s bad enough if that’s what you’re doing but if you actually believe it it’s even worse! You are just sad really really sad. Bush was in office for approximately eight months when 9/11 attacks happened. It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback in hindsight and say they should’ve seen it coming but really nobody in the world side coming not exactly what happened sure there were signs that an attack might happen
        But to the extent of what happened nobody could predict that and how about giving the Bush administration some credit for reacting in creating homeland security so that we haven’t had a “9/12” for the rest of his presidency and in building the intelligence preventive system to prevent and stop the many attempts after his presidency that Obama has been able to maintain. I’m not a big Obama fan but you have to give him credit to for continuing to keep any 9/11 type of attacks on our soil.
        Stopping like all the rest of the morons out there that just badmouth the political figures that they disagree with with bogus fax and personal insults. If you don’t like Bush tell us why using policy disagreements and tell us why you like any particular politician because of their policies that you agree with.

      • Wow, nice to know it’s so simple. If you think Bush and Cheney are somehow responsible for the ’08 crash they’d have to be in charge of that to be held responsible. Wall Street and corporate interest are in charge OF THEM and all the men in suits in front of microphones you’ve ever seen are just puppets for the money party – all other parties are a distraction. And multinational corporations tear apart the rest of the world, while providing meticulous copy for the men in suits – shaping their words and policies to the beat of the corporate march to the bank. FDA is full of former drug and food company execs writing laws for the profits of the companies they STILL work for, not for the safety of the American people. Corporations employ countless youth in other countries, while enjoying endless tax shelters here…

        The very notion that you’ve demonized ONE or TWO people and have made them into the boogeyman is just laughable. Before you call me an idiot Republican read it again, and realize all the left and right does is offer you two lies, it’s underneath that matters.

  10. cadavra says:

    And of course, United Artists itself was the original star-owned studio, having been formed in 1919 by Chaplin, Fairbanks, Pickford and Griffith–which prompted the origin of the phrase, “The inmates have taken over the asylum.”

    • The Truth says:

      When United Artists was formed in 1919, Richard Rowland, head of Metro Pictures, snidely remarked about his new competition: “The lunatics are taking over the asylum.” The conceptual origin of the phrase comes from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether.”

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