You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Relativity Media: Femme force

Women's Impact Report: Exceptional Execs

Linda Benjamin likes boxing. She doesn’t box but used to represent boxers. So the exec VP for business and legal affairs at Relativity Media is particularly keen on “The Fighter,” one of Relativity’s own films coming out in December.

“One of the boxers I represented was training in Big Bear to fight (Oscar) De La Hoya, and I’d go up to watch him work out,” Benjamin recalls. “Then for fun I’d put on the gloves and get in the ring. But one little tap from these guys and you’re on the floor.”

Relativity, which burst on the scene in 2004 and began drumming up huge amounts of cash, has taken its knocks too, from rivals, in the press. But more recently, as the economy tanked, wallets snapped shut and others threw in the towel, Relativity has stayed the course, and founder Ryan Kavanaugh and his team — including Robbie Brenner, exec VP of production; Shannon Gaulding, senior VP, production; and Julie Link, senior VP, development for RelativityReal, the company’s newly minted TV division — have gained newfound respect.

They’re among few in Hollywood just now who can still raise dough: for slate deals, or for their growing inhouse film division.

“I didn’t know what to expect when I joined the company,” says Benjamin, who has been there two years. “I have been pleasantly surprised. It’s an adventure.”

“I think Relativity’s strength is in its team,” she adds. “Everybody starts every day asking how can we move this vision forward? How do we make smart decisions? How do we take calculated risks? It takes a lot of people to watch all of the angles.”

Benjamin, a former chief operating officer of Intermedia Film, works on the single picture business, movies the company makes on its own. “Brothers,” a Lionsgate release, was the first. “Dear John,” distributed by Sony’s Screen Gems, was the hit that knocked “Avatar” from first place at the box office.

The company plans to release six to eight films a year with budgets of $20 million-$60 million.

She also oversees Relativity’s music operation and helps out with TV, including an international distribution pact with Sony Pictures Television inked last spring.

This summer, the company made two major deals. It agreed to license its films to Netflix to stream to its subscribers during the traditional pay-TV window. Benjamin calls that deal a “game changer.”

Relativity also took over the distribution and marketing operations and some assets of Overture Films.

Robbie Brenner, exec VP of production who joined the company in May 2009, likens the vibe of Relativity Media to that of Miramax, where she spent eight years. “Our work spans the spectrum from unique films such as ‘Catfish’ to filmmaker-driven movies like ‘The Fighter’ to epic tales like ‘Immortals.’ ”

The last title, a 3D adventure about the Greek warrior Theseus, is directed by Tarsem Singh and will be released in November 2011. “There are so many closed doors right now,” says Brenner “and Ryan and (president of worldwide production) Tucker (Tooley) are saying yes.”

Gaulding spent 11 years at Sony, where she helped oversee production on “Dear John,” based on a book by Nicholas Sparks, which grossed more than $112 million worldwide. She learned how that kind of movie served a female audience, a segment growing in power and recognition.

Relativity recently won a bidding war for Sparks’ latest novel, “Safe Haven,” now in development. “Nicholas Sparks writes stories that resonate for women in Middle America,” says Gaulding. “They see in his characters the best in themselves and connect deeply with that. It gives them something to take home.”

Gaulding grew up in a farming family in Missouri and Tennessee, and her background influences her sensibilities about films, but also how she approaches her work. “I learned on a farm to work cooperatively,” she says. “Oddly enough, the farming approach of everyone working together was perfectly suited for the collaborative effort required in filmmaking.”

Link came aboard in 2008 with Tom Forman, for whom she worked for 10 years at Endemol USA and then Forman Prods.

With more than 20 shows in the pipeline, Real is known for its reality programming, with 90% of the company’s projects unscripted, although the TV arm is increasingly pursuing scripted programming as well.

The Texas native is especially proud of the “Police Women” series on TLC, about female officers working in a man’s world while juggling kids, husbands and boyfriends. “Those women remind me every day that you can have a great career and a life and don’t have to choose between them,” says Link.

Concludes Benjamin: “This is as exciting a time as ever to be involved in the entertainment business, particularly with respect to the ways people can both make and experience content on such a personal level. We get to create business and creative paradigms that were unimaginable a few years ago. What could be better than that?”

Popular on Variety

More Scene

  • Michael Shannon Benedict Cumberbatch Tuppence Middleton

    How Martin Scorsese Saved 'Current War' From Harvey Weinstein

    Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon finally gets to release his version of his long-in-the-making “The Current War.” The film, about the competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, was originally set to be distributed by the Weinstein Company after Harvey Weinstein recut it, much to Gomez-Rejon’s chagrin. To make matters worse, Weinstein premiered the movie at the [...]

  • Law Roach Kiki Layne

    Law Roach, Kiki Layne Highlight the Serious Side of Fashion at InStyle Awards

    “I’m not supposed to be here,” stylist of the year honoree Law Roach told the well-heeled guests assembled Monday night for the 5th annual InStyle Awards. “Where I’m from, no one makes it to these rooms…and I stand here for two reasons right? One, that someone told me I was special; and two, that somebody [...]

  • Debra-Messing-Donald-Trump

    Debra Messing Lampoons Donald Trump in Play Based on Mueller Report

    Debra Messing portrayed President Donald Trump in an all-star play based on the Mueller report on Monday at Beverly Hills’ Saban Theatre. Wearing a light pant suit and sitting with legs spread confidently, Messing nailed Trump’s mannerisms in the one-night-only play, “You Can’t Make This Sh*t Up,” which raised funds for a Barbara Boxer-led PAC [...]

  • Kathryn Hahn Mrs. Fletcher

    Kathryn Hahn Talks Working With an Intimacy Coordinator on 'Mrs. Fletcher'

    HBO’s new comedy “Mrs. Fletcher” follows the journey of an empty-nester divorcee who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and sexual exploration following her son’s departure for college. At the series premiere on Monday night at the Avalon Hollywood in Los Angeles, Kathryn Hahn discussed playing the titular role of Eve Fletcher, a middle-aged woman [...]

  • Taika Waititi Natalie Portman SDCC 2019

    Natalie Portman Weighs in on 'Thor: Love and Thunder's' Possible Breast Cancer Storyline

    Natalie Portman doesn’t know if “Thor: Love and Thunder” will include a breast cancer storyline for her character Jane Foster, but she’s definitely intrigued by the possibility. “It’s just very rare that these kinds of big entertainment films look at more serious, real-life issues,” she told Variety at L.A. Dance Project’s 8th annual fundraising gala [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content