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Holmes, Fogelman rev up mystery ‘Murder Creek’

Richard Holmes, producer of Brit hits “Waking Ned Devine” and “Shooting Fish,” has formed a producing partnership with Ron Fogelman, formerly senior VP of international sales at Universal.

The duo have already taken their first project, “Murder Creek,” to Hollywood, where Sid Ganis and Alex Siskin have come aboard as exec producers through their Sony-based shingle Out of the Blue.

An original screenplay by American femme scribe G.E. Mimms, “Murder Creek” is a comic mystery set in the deep South, about a small-town sheriff struggling to keep his community together in the face of strange events and incursions from outsiders. Holmes and Fogelman have signed up Mimms for two further scripts.

In his three years at Universal, following stints at Polygram and Rank, Fogelman won a reputation as a savvy low-key operator by structuring innovative foreign sales deals, including tricky gross participations, for such widely differing pics as “Hannibal,” “Spy Game” and “The Shape of Things.”

“I’ve been looking for more direct access to sources of international finance and distribution, and to widen the perspective behind the development slate,” Holmes says. “Hooking up with Ron gives us that.”

“Richard and Ron’s new partnership marks the formation of a dynamic and exciting contemporary British movie team,” says Ganis, a former Paramount and Sony topper.

Winchester, Cobalt unite in hope

So how much is Winchester Entertainment actually paying for Cobalt Pictures, the London and L.A.-based sales and financing company behind Disney’s “Open Range” and DreamWorks’ “House of Sand and Fog?”

Not much, on the face of it — £180,000 ($300,000) net, based on Winchester’s stock price when the deal was agreed, for a company into which Cobalt co-owners Alton Irby and John Muse have sunk untold millions of dollars.

But beyond that simple answer lies a much more complicated calculation, which all depends on what you think Winchester is really worth. This is the key to understanding why both sides believe there’s a real upside in their union after a bruising couple of years in the indie sales biz.

Irby and Muse, both heavyweight American venture capitalists, are getting 10% of Winchester’s enlarged stock, plus an option to buy a further 10% at a fixed price — $590,000 — a year later.

When the deal was agreed, 10% of Winchester was worth $500,000 on the stock market. Cobalt has $200,000 in cash, so Winchester was paying just $300,000 net for Cobalt’s assets. Since then, however, Winchester’s stock has risen significantly, so Cobalt’s net pricetag has already gone up to $475,000, with Muse and Irby also standing to profit from their future share options.

But after its annus horribilis in 2003, including three profit warnings and the investigation of chief exec Gary Smith for insider trading (he was found innocent), Winchester’s stock is still trading way below the company’s own estimate of its net asset value, which is $33 million. For Irby and Muse, 20% of that is a far more mouth-watering prospect.

“Cobalt became a black hole for them,” Smith says. “Now they are getting a proper infrastructure and an investment in a public company.” Irby and Muse also will be freed from their operational responsibilities.

Apart from a cash injection, Winchester is getting a much-needed vote of confidence by two influential investors, who say they are in it for the long haul. They also are willing to put their own equity into individual movie projects, as they have with most of Cobalt’s pics to date.

“I’m not disenchanted with this business, but to build it you’ve got to have critical mass,” Irby says. “Gary Smith is a survivor. Winchester is bruised and beat-up, but still standing with a pretty reasonable business model.”

Winchester also will benefit from the arrival of Cobalt’s London-based principal Rodney Payne, a veteran film banker who will join the board and continue to run Cobalt as a production financing label, offering services to other sales companies as well as to Winchester. There is, however, no place for Payne’s L.A.-based partner Hal Sadoff.

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