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Walk of Fame Honoree Brett Ratner Builds Hollywood Production Powerhouse

When Brett Ratner and James Packer joined forces to create RatPac Entertainment in late 2012, Hollywood took notice.

Warner Bros. soon got onboard with the company, entering into a co-financing partnership, with RatPac that replaced Legendary as Warner’s key investor. RatPac operates as a production company and financing entity, and has a $450 million deal that covers 75 pictures with Warner Bros. over four years.

“Warner Brothers is the greatest partner anyone could ever have,” Ratner says. “It’s truly a family business there, and I know that sounds weird, because they’re a massive corporation, but you get that vibe with them, starting with Kevin Tsujihara. Warner’s has always been like that, and they still operate like that. It’s a very friendly, encouraging place to make movies. I’m hoping to direct my next picture there.”

And the feeling is mutual. “We’ve known and worked with Brett for years, going back to the ‘Rush Hour’ films at New Line, and it’s been a great partnership,” says Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Tsujihara. “Our deal with RatPac was the natural extension of this relationship with someone we know as creative, resourceful and well-connected. They bring a smart combination of experience and success on the business side, and a great balance between Brett and James on the partner side. The guys each bring their own strengths and vision, coming together in something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”

And looking ahead to the future, it’s obvious that RatPac is an integral part of the Warner Bros. landscape. “RatPac is a key financing partner to Warner Bros.,” Tsujihara says. “We’ve partnered on more than 50 films to date, and they’re involved with a number of our key 2017 titles, including ‘The Lego Batman Movie,’ ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ ‘King Arthur,’ and ‘Wonder Woman.’ I think that roster speaks to our level of commitment to the partnership.”

Ratner and Packer have a 50-50 split in ownership of RatPac, and it’s interesting how, at first, the company had been established to work on one film at a time. Ratner recalls that it was Packer who suggested “an entire slate of films” rather than Ratner’s initially preferred “one at a time” approach. Before long, RatPac became a critical part of the Warners machine, with credits including “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Sully,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Midnight Special,” and “The Accountant.” And aside from its deal at Warner, RatPac is able to explore other creative opportunities, as the company has helped produce Oscar winners “Birdman” and “The Revenant” for Alejandro G. Iñárritu.

Jose Mandojana for Variety.

“I remember Alejandro showing me some of ‘Birdman’ as they were shooting, and when I saw the footage, I said that I had to be involved in some way,” Ratner says. “Sometimes you’ll see my name in the credits, and other times you won’t. It’s all about getting great cinema out there to the people who want it.”

Being at WB also means that Ratner will continue his close working relationship with longtime friend and collaborator Toby Emmerich, who was recently named president and chief content officer of Warner Bros. Pictures Group.

“Now that Toby is running Warners, it makes me so proud, because I can remember coming up with him when he was an exec at New Line when we did ‘Money Talks’ and the ‘Rush Hour’ movies,” Ratner says. “He’s been a huge part of my career.”

The sentiment is mutual. “What can I say to describe Brett Ratner?,” Emmerich says. “Aside from being an incredibly gifted and knowledgeable cinephile with a deep passion for filmmaking, he’s one of the most loyal, generous and talented individuals I have ever met. I’ve been proud to call him my friend for the last 30 years.”

RatPac is isn’t defined by one type of film. John Cheng, who is RatPac’s head of development, says, “We, of course, are looking for diverse, complex characters and original stories, but there are three qualities that we tend to look for in most projects we get involved with: Fun, fish-out-of-water, wish fulfillment, [and] heart. If a project has three of these, we know we have something special.”

The company has an eclectic roster of films in various stages of production and development.

“We are prepping ‘The Goldfinch,’ which is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Donna Tartt,” Cheng says. “We have an amazing script by Peter Straughan, and John Crowley, who directed one of my favorite movies of last year, ‘Brooklyn,’ is directing. Nina Jacobson is producing the project with us at Warner Bros.

“True-life stories are something that we’ve been doing a lot of heavy development on, and we’re making television a priority. We will also be co-financing our own shows as well.”

RatPac also has worldwide aspirations, with a push into China’s booming film market.

“Our deal with RatPac was the natural extension of this relationship with someone we know.”
Kevin Tsujihara

“China is our big strategy, with a focus on producing local Chinese movies, and funding them at the ground level for the Chinese marketplace,” Ratner says. “We’re interested in expanding and investing in locally grown cinema with homegrown talent and creating jobs for artists.”

This sentiment is echoed by RatPac chief operating officer Paul Neinstein. “Everyone is aware of how big the Chinese marketplace is, and how important [its] box office returns are. We’re interested in capitalizing on the exploding cinematic market in China, while expanding upon the local Chinese film community with homegrown projects, because those have the potential to breakout in the country in a huge way. And we want to develop Chinese-centric projects that can reach the global marketplace. We’re working on a re-imagining of ‘Enter the Dragon,’ which is one of Brett’s favorite films, and we’re approaching it in a unique way that pays respect to the original while doing something new.”

RatPac Documentary Prods. has made in-roads in the non-fiction space. “Documentaries are very important to me. ‘Night Will Fall’ [2014] is a project that we’re very proud of,” Ratner says. “It’s a defining Holocaust documentary, and I think it’s an extremely important piece of work. We did that one for HBO, and we’re working with Netflix, Amazon, and HBO on some really interesting projects.”

Recent documentary credits includes “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds,” “By Sidney Lumet,” “Before the Flood,” “The JT LeRoy Story,” and “One Day Since Yesterday: Peter Bogdanovich and the Lost American Film.”

TOP ‘DOGS’: Exec producer Brett Ratner jokes on the “War Dogs” set with director Todd Phillips and star Jonah Hill.
Courtesy of Melinda Sue Gordon

Adam Bardach, who heads physical production for RatPac Documentary Films, is tasked with putting many of these projects together. “No two days are quite the same, which keeps it interesting,” Bardach says.

“We have been moving into non-fiction series work lately so I’ve been busy developing and pitching a few of those.”

“We’ve put out some great filmmaker documentaries and I love Netflix and Amazon and their business model because they’re helping to get the content out there,” Ratner says.

According to Marie Therese Guirgis, head of production for RatPac Documentary films, “RatPac is uniquely positioned to develop and produce both high-quality documentaries and features and TV shows. There are very few companies putting equal resources and attention in both fiction and non-fiction, and we have found that this is very appealing to creators and rights-holders. It allows for a very strategic roll-out of the different forms and also ensures that the creator with the original idea gets to maintain input and work with the same people throughout the life of the story.”

Ratner also has a continuing passion for foreign language cinema, and has a big supporter in Sony Pictures Classics co-head Michael Barker, who worked with RatPac on “Land of Mine,” the short-listed Danish selection for foreign-language film in the Oscars.

“I’ve never met anyone with the same sense of passion for international cinema than Brett,” Barker says. “He has an insatiable appetite for films from around the world. I can remember the first time I met him, we were at a party, and we must’ve spoke for two hours about documentaries and independent cinema and new filmmakers. He’s got an amazing appetite for quality films and filmmakers.”

RatPac Entertainment also houses RatPac Press, which Ratner is very passionate about.

“We’re very excited to be releasing the definitive book on [French filmmaker] Jean Renoir,” he says. “I got Martin Scorsese to write the introduction and we spent two years putting it together. Peter Bogdanovich provided notes, because he’s an authority of Renoir’s work.”

Running roughly 1,000 pages, it was a huge endeavor, so getting Bogdanovich to help was special for Ratner. “It’s very ambitious, and the ultimate resource on Renoir, who I think is the most important filmmaker in the Western world,” says Bogdanovich.

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