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Robert Simonds, Gigi Pritzker Pact with TPG, China’s Hony Capital on Production Venture

Ambitious film startup inks direct distribution deals with AMC Theaters, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike

Producers Robert Simonds and Gigi Pritzker have partnered with private equity giant TPG and China’s Hony Capital on an ambitious production venture that aims to generate as many as 10 movies a year.

The partners said they would focused on producing eight to 10 star-driven properties with mid-range budgets and an emphasis on global appeal. The venture vows to sidestep the traditional distribution process in favor of what it described as “unprecedented direct distribution agreements” with exhibitors AMC Theatres, Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark and Carmike.

“The seismic shifts in the entertainment industry have produced exciting new opportunities in content, production and distribution. Together with our partners, we are creating a studio with the flexibility, global scale, and experience required to seize this opportunity,” said Simonds (pictured), whose recent pics include remakes of “Cheaper By the Dozen” and “The Pink Panther.”

“Star-driven, mid-budget films are an underserved market and with our proven track record in this area, we are uniquely positioned to successfully partner with traditional distributors in North America, expand in the vast Chinese market, and capitalize on new, still developing digital channels,” he said.

Other execs on board for the venture (which was not given a formal moniker in Monday’s news announcement) are former Viacom Entertainment COO Thomas McGrath, who will serve as COO; Noah Fogelson, former CEO of Crest Animation, as exec VP of corporate development and general counsel; and Sophie Watts as exec VP of content.

Pritzker’s OddLot Entertainment banner is not affected by the deal, which she is handling as a personal investment. OddLot began a multiyear, multipicture co-financing and distribution deal last year with Lionsgate to co-produce and distribute films. The announcement said the Simonds deal would receive “additional equity and debt provided by business interests” of Pritzker.

“I am confident in Bob’s vision for this company and the partnership he has assembled,” Pritzker said. I look forward to seeing it thrive. As both a filmmaker and an investor, I look forward to finding strategic opportunities to work with him on upcoming projects.”

TPG helped seed the venture through its $3.6 billion TPG Growth investment fund. The Texas-based private equity firm has been expanding its Hollywood investments in recent years, most notably through its minority stake in CAA.

“With Bob Simonds, we have built an independent company with the capabilities of a major studio — a fully integrated and truly global production and distribution company,” said Bill McGlashan, managing partner and founder of TPG Growth. “We are delighted to partner with the leading theater chains in North America as we launch and expand this business, and as developers and owners of original content, we look forward to working with the many new and exciting digital distribution channels around the world.”

The involvement of Hony Capital has also provided for a Chinese film and TV production alliance with SMG Pictures, a unit of Shanghai Media Group. Hony Capital was founded in 2003 and at present is managing about $7 billion in assets, including a stake in SMG Pictures. News of Hony’s deal with Simonds continues the flow of Chinese investment coin into showbiz, and comes just days after former Warner Bros. Pictures topper Jeff Robinov unveiled a $120 million-$150 million financing commitment from China’s Huayi Brothers media concern. 

“This is the first investment a Chinese company has made into a Hollywood studio; and it is a perfect example of how investors bring in various but unique resources to create a new-age studio,” said John Zhao, CEO of Hony Capital. “Together with its strategic partners like SMG and PPTV, Hony Capital will bring in the best mix of China’s market resources to help Bob and his veteran team execute the first global-market focused, vertically-integrated studio that Hollywood has seen in a decade.”

Pritzker’s OddLot co-financed “Ender’s Game” with Summit. The upcoming OddLot slate includes “Draft Day,” starring Kevin Costner and due out via Summit on April 11; “Mortdecai,” starring Johnny Depp with Lionsgate releasing; and Jon Stewart’s upcoming directorial debut “Rosewater.”

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