Roth revs it up

Vet preps network of backers, distribs

The contours of Joe Roth’s company have finally taken shape — and they are revolutionary.

In a unique arrangement, the former Walt Disney Studios topper has attracted a handful of deep-pocketed equity partners. They will also fund and distribute the pics Roth puts out under his new banner, Revolution Studios.

The shingle, which bears a name inspired by the Beatles’ song, has an output deal at Sony Pictures, a TV deal via Fox Broadcasting, and a cable pact with Liberty Media’s Starz Encore Group. These three companies combined have invested several hundred million dollars in Revolution in exchange for a collective stake of about 25%. Starz Encore owns the biggest chunk, followed by Sony and Fox.

Roth will be Revolution’s majority owner and will be headed up by former Disney execs Rob Moore and Todd Garner, who will help Roth run Revolution and also hold equity stakes in the company.

Revolution recently acquired a controlling interest in Netcaster MediaTrip.com, which will serve as the in-house Internet arm focusing on promoting the movies the company makes. MediaTrip’s CEO, Austin Harrison, is expected to announce several major talent affiliations in short order, the company said.

Apart from the arrangement with MediaTrip, Roth will personally finance the development of a separate sci-fi and horror content venture called Distant Corners Entertainment Group. Subsid is run by John Hegeman, formerly head of marketing/acquisitions for Artisan Entertainment, and key contributor to the company’s “The Blair Witch Project” campaign. Revolution will the first opportunity to turn on-line properties created via Distant Corners into movies and TV programs.

Combinations of Revolution’s primary investors, plus partners in Japan and Germany, have agreed to pitch in for production and P&A for up to six pics a year for the next six years. Fox, which has all U.S. broadcast and basic cable rights to Revolution product, has agreed to a per picture minimum based on a percentage of box office.

Financial commitments from worldwide partners total some $3 billion.

Sony will distribute the movies theatrically and on homevid in North America and will handle distribution in all media in international territories save Germany and Japan, where, respectively, Senator Films and Toho-Towa will distribute. Pony Canyon will distribute homevideo in Japan.

The new company, which will move this fall into a 60,000-square foot expansion being built at the Lantana Center in Santa Monica, has 25 properties in development and ongoing relationships with Julia Roberts’ Shoelace Prods. and Jack Giarraputo and Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison banner.

“I expect us to make an eclectic array of high and low budgeted commercial films to encompass everything from ‘Pearl Harbor’to ‘Deuce Bigalow,’ ” Roth said.

Revolution is estimating average budgets of $50 million and P&A commitments of $40 million a film.

“It’s a dream come true to have the financing to produce my own slate of pictures,” Roth said.

Revolution had talked with other potential studio partners, but said Sony offered the best terms. “When Joe left Disney, John and I saw a rare business opportunity and went after it,” said Sony Corp. of America Chairman-CEO Howard Stringer. “It isn’t often that you get the chance to be involved with the creation of a new studio. Revolution Studios offers us a brilliant merger of talent and opportunity to invest in and partner with (Roth).”

John Calley, chairman and CEO of Sony, noted that pacting with Roth does not represent a policy change at Sony. “It was person-motivated rather than some business scheme cooked up,” he told Daily Variety. “We are responding to a person who comes with a great piece of man power. We didn’t buy a deal, we bought Joe. He is uniquely different.”

Roth’s first “go” project is “Tomcats,” which began lensing on Monday.

“We are elated to be part of his new venture, especially since we’ve been working with Joe since the start of Starz,” said John J. Sie, founder, chairman and CEO and Starz Encore. “This investment epitomizes our commitment to major theatrical motion pictures, which continue to be the core of pay TV customer appeal.”

Sie emphasized that the pictures are in addition to Starz Encore’s recently-signed, multi-year output deal with Sony Pictures. Their deal with Revolution includes full subscription video-on-demand rights.

“Joe’s staple of high quality, high profile films is a perfect fit for the Fox Network, cable group and domestic syndication business,” said Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of Fox Entertainment Group.

Starz will receive pay TV rights and use the films on its 12-channel Super Pak of digital, commercial-free movie channels.

Fox has acquired all other U.S. television rights and will make them available on the Fox Networks, the Fox Cable Networks and in syndication.

During Moore’s 13-year career at Disney, he was instrumental in creating strategic relationships with the studio, including the Mouse House’s output agreement with Pixar Animation Studios, the acquisition of Miramax Films and the financing/production agreement with Spyglass Entertainment.

At Disney, Garner supervised the Adam Sandler starrer “Waterboy,” “Nothing to Lose,” “Deuce Bigalow,” “Con Air” and the upcoming Jerry Bruckheimer pics “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “Pearl Harbor.”

Also aboard the Roth ship is Greg Silverman, who will work closely with Garner. Sources say producer Charles Neuwirth will also soon join the company as head of physical production and that the staff will grow to some 25 employees within the coming weeks.

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