Legendary Pictures eyes new credit line

Tull pursuing up to $900 million for new pics, ventures

Exclusive: Thomas Tull has always had big-picture plans for Legendary that involve more than just bankrolling a slate of Warner Bros. tentpoles. Now he’s going after some big money to make that happen.

With the financial community renewing its interest in Hollywood, banks are offering more competitive rates for borrowers, enabling entrepreneurs like Tull to pursue new lines of credit to fund everything from films to TV shows, Web series, games and comicbooks.As first reported Friday on Variety.com, Tull has already begun talks with investors to raise $600 million to $900 million through banks, other institutional lenders and hedge funds as part of a new credit line that would run through 2016.

Lead banks are said to include JPMorgan, with $200 million likely to come from institutional investors.

Legendary Pictures’ current credit line expires in 2013, the same year that its current distribution and financing arrangement with Warner Bros. is set to end. In 2005, the company inked a seven-year distribution deal to co-finance and co-produce 40 films, starting with “Batman Begins” and “Superman Returns.” More recent pics include “Inception,” “The Town,” “Sucker Punch” and “Clash of the Titans,” whose sequel, “Wrath of the Titans” is now lensing.

New funds would be used to continue co-financing a slate of high-profile pics at WB that include the “Hangover” sequel, the Superman reboot “Man of Steel,” “Jack the Giant Killer,” “The Seventh Son” and, most likely, “The Dark Knight Rises.”

At the same time, Legendary has internally been developing a growing slate of films, such as “Godzilla,” the Guillermo del Toro-helmed “Pacific Rim” and a bigscreen adaptation of game “World of Warcraft.” Company has also been ramping up efforts to expand into other platforms such as TV, digital and publishing, where it would focus on similarly high-profile pop culture fare currently favored by risk-averse Hollywood players.

Reps for Legendary said the company has a policy not to comment on private discussions and presentations. Talks are said to have already begun and should continue over the next several weeks.

However, financial sources close to the situation say Legendary’s move makes sense given that investors are loosening their purse strings again and are willing to free up more capital, making it the right time to lock down credit.

It would have been difficult to raise $500 million a year ago because of the recession, weak stock market and the amount of money spent in the indie film arena that never got recouped. Now moneymen are increasingly feeling comfortable lending to well-collateralized projects, especially if they’re housed at companies with distribution deals in place and a strong track record.

Investors are particularly interested in Legendary given the company’s record of producing tentpoles with pop-culture appeal, as well as its collateral and its ongoing distribution arrangement with WB, one banker said.

Legendary’s properties recently attracted venture capitalist Jim Breyer (an investor behind Facebook, Groupon and “Angry Birds” maker Rovio) to purchase $40 million in shares from an existing shareholder.

In October, Tull teamed with Fidelity Investments and Fortress Investment Group to buy out shares held by an original group of investors in the company, a move that enabled the chairman to become Legendary’s largest shareholder.

The companies, which included Abry Partners, AIG Direct Investments, Bank of America, Columbia Capital, Falcon Investment Advisors and M/C Venture Partners, ponied up $400 million to help launch Legendary in 2004.

Legendary is now said to be valued at more than $1 billion.