Won’t be boxed in

Sales firm Pandora to beef TV ops, buy others

CANNES — Paris-based sales company Pandora is planning to increase its size significantly by acquiring companies and beefing up its television sales operations.

And in a move designed to open the door to U.S. pics in the $20 million to $25 million range, Pandora is looking to raise around $250 million in insurance-backed loans.

The new funding is part of a wider plan to partner with a U.S. studio, in the process providing Pandora with international rights to Hollywood pics and television product.

With Cannes barely open for business, Pandora told Daily Variety that the company has taken all rights outside the U.K. to singer-songwriter Dave Stewart’s $10 million directing debut, “Honest.”

The pic, a crime caper starring three of the four girls from Brit band All Saints, is set to lense in August and was scripted by Stewart and “The Commitments” writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

“Honest” was originally announced by Winchester Films, which failed to raise the financing for the project.

Pandora’s imminent expansion is clearly linked to its recent acquisition by Gaylord Entertainment. Pandora has had solid critical and box office hits with such arthouse titles as “Like Water for Chocolate,” “Kolya” and “Shine,” but has been frustrated in its attempts to break into bigger-budget pics, particularly in the States.

Pandora president and chief operating officer Ernst Goldschmidt said, “We want and need to grow rapidly. We must have critical mass and we want to be involved in bigger films.”

Gaylord, which had 1998 revenues of $524 million and profits of $31 million, has a reputation for being acquisitive. “These are people who are fast on their feet and eager for us to grow,” Goldschmidt noted. Gaylord was one of the companies that looked at buying Polygram.

Gaylord Entertainment recently agreed to bankroll Indigo Prods., a new venture from British film and TV producers Scott Meek and Nigel Stafford-Clark. As part of the deal, Pandora has a first-look agreement with Indigo.

Just the start

“The pact with Scott Meek and Nigel Stafford-Clark is only the beginning of the realization of the business plan agreed with Gaylord,” Goldschmidt said.

Although the veteran film exec wouldn’t be drawn on the question, the February departure of Pandora chairman Christian Bourguignon, coupled with last year’s arrival of Gaylord, appears to have lifted the brakes on Pandora’s development.

Change in attitude

Goldschmidt has long been known to want to grow the business, while Bourguignon was slightly more reluctant. Pandora’s revenues last year were $17 million with profits of just under $1 million.

“We’re looking to buy libraries or companies which produce and have their own catalog,” Goldschmidt said. “Straight production companies aren’t really on our shopping list as they tend not to have assets.”

With head of theatrical sales Sudy Coy set to retire in October, Goldschmidt has been reshaping his sales team.

Toby Melling has been brought in to head TV sales while Shebnem Askin, former Trimark VP of international sales and co-productions, has also joined the Pandora team to handle theatrical sales and will take over from Coy in the fall.

Pandora has a 40-pic theatrical library and about 250 hours of television programming.

“We will grow our television business,” Goldschmidt said. Pandora started life as a TV sales company but has been relatively quiet on that front in recent years.

It has just acquired Australian toon series “Wicked” for worldwide sales outside North America, Asia and Australasia. In addition, the company has picked up video toon smash “Veggietales,” which has sold more than 7 million tapes in the U.S. but which has been largely unexploited on television.

In Cannes this year, Pandora is repping a bundle of pics including Gavin Hood’s “A Reasonable Man,” starring Hood, Nigel Hawthorne and Janine Eser. Currently in production is Arto Paragamian’s “Two Thousand and None,” starring John Turturro and Catherine Borowitz. Set to shoot in June is Laslo Papas’ crime thriller “Inside Job,” starring Christopher Walken and John Hannah.

Added to the slate are Rolf de Heer’s “The Old Man Who Read Love Stories,” starring Richard Dreyfuss, and Sam Pillsbury’s “Crooked Earth,” due to lense in October.