After collecting six championship rings as part owner of the Chicago Bulls and a Tony Award as a producer and financier of “The Producers,” James D. Stern is ready to join the growing list of entrepreneurs who are investing in movies.
Stern has formed Endgame Entertainment, a production and financing venture that kicks off with the acquisition of “Electroboy,” Andy Behrman’s bestselling memoir of a bipolar overachiever who flourished and fell during the 1990s. Matthew Chapman (“Grave Goods”) is writing the script. Stern is also directing and producing a documentary chronicling the integration of Chinese hoops star Yao Ming into the National Basketball Assn.
Endgame has two components: a development and acquisitions company that will be headed by president of production Julia Eisenman, the former president of Jay Roach’s Everyman Pictures; and the Endgame Fund, a financing source that will provide coin for 15 movies over the next three years, either self-generated or from third-party producers. Endgame’s money maneuvers will be supervised by Doug Hansen, a veteran of the entertainment departments of Union Bank and Banque Paribas.
Unlike most of the financial angels descending onto the film landscape, Stern knows his way around a camera. He directed and produced “Michael Jordan to the Max,” a film that brought Jordan’s larger-than-life highlights to the Imax screen. Stern also produced and directed “It’s the Rage,” a film that starred Joan Allen and Gary Sinise. And he’s helming the Yao project, a co-production between Endgame and NBA Entertainment.
“We began at the NBA draft last June and have had complete access and taken wonderful footage,” Stern said. “This is more than a film about a basketball player. It’s how Yao has fit into a new environment while creating a bridge between two cultures. He’s a metaphor for China’s emergence on the geopolitical stage, in areas from politics to finance.”
Stern also was a producer and financier of the stage hits “Hairspray” and “Stomp.” He acknowledges that being a producer of “The Producers” is an interesting calling card, even though the musical is about a theatrical producer who swindles investors.
“Endgame is being supported by myself as much as other individual investors,” Stern said. “Unlike Max Bialystock, I don’t know how to get into any game without putting my own money in. I’d also like to think that I wouldn’t look good in pinstripes.”
Stern’s family made its fortune manufacturing health care projects such as a rotating showerhead, and another company that invested in hedge funds. He parlayed that into becoming one of the limited partners in the Bulls and seeding stage shows. He noticed a similar need for financing in Hollywood as conglomerates are curtailing studio spending and other money outlets withered. He came to L.A., met everyone and flirted with funding a project or two before walking away from the table. He said he’s ready now to deal.
Need for capital
“The thing that was impressed upon me is how capital is in such short supply, how the implosion of the German markets and the constriction of the banking industry created a need,” he said. “I’ve done several things in the past that made people money and thought if I could put together capital to allocate to productions and late-stage completion financing, that might put me ahead of the curve.”
Stern said a studio alliance is a possibility, and he wouldn’t disclose how much capital he’ll spend over the three-year period.
“We are coming to the table to put up chips,” Stern said. “I’m not playing this game to spend money for a few years and do something else. I’ve always planned ahead. I’ve already got it in my will that my kids can sell the Tony, but not the championship rings. I’ve directed three films. This is what I want to do.”