You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Listen: How Walden Media Navigates the Mega-Budget Film Era

CEO Frank Smith partners with studios to keep kid-friendly fare like 'Dora and the Lost City of Gold' in theaters.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is just the kind of family-friendly movie you’d expect to see from Walden Media, which teamed with Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon to bring the iconic kiddie character to theaters (premiering Aug. 9).

But while the company is as dedicated as ever to burnishing the inspirational fare-focused brand it has built over the past 16 years, the strategies CEO/president Frank Smith has employed to keep Walden in the game have evolved considerably in recent years.

“The industry has changed so dramatically around us and so quickly, you realize to continue with your mandate, to be relevant, you have to change with the industry,” he explained in the latest episode of the Variety podcast “Strictly Business.”

Listen to the podcast here:

Walden’s specialty is making movies in the modest $25-50 million budget range, far below what studios spend on the blockbusters crowding cineplexes these days. But it’s an increasingly untenable model considering that often requires a P&A spend exceeding the production budget. Once open to helping finance a $200 million-plus project like “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Walden has lost its taste for mega-budget fare because the economics no longer make sense to Smith.

Under Smith, Walden has transformed into a nimbler operation with more flexible approaches to either producing, developing or financing projects.

While Walden still considers itself a producer for the theatrical market first and foremost, Smith has diversified the company into TV and streaming, including an upcoming series for Netflix based on “The Baby-Sitters Club” book series.

Even the kind of content Walden is looking to invest in has changed a bit, as its backing of “Everest” in 2015 demonstrated interest in “soft PG-13” films that aren’t just for kids but still deliver the inspiration central to the company’s brand promise.

No wonder a well-capitalized firm like Walden — part of Anschutz Entertainment Group — stays on the call sheet for studios looking for partners to help offset their risk. Smith revealed that Walden recently saw its decade-long first-look deal with Fox Filmed Entertainment expire but is currently in talks with a different major studio on a deal, though he declined to specify which company.

“Studios are looking to hedge their bets, looking for partners,” said Smith, “and I don’t know how other partners are received, but studio chiefs call me.

Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Past episodes include conversations with Discovery CEO David Zaslav and Dana Walden, co-head of 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Television Group. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Inside an Inox Leisure multiplex in

    India's Inox Multiplex Chain Reveals Ambitious Growth Plans

    Indian multiplex chain Inox Leisure has revealed ambitious plans to more than double its existing screen capacity of 600. The company is planning to add 900 more screens across the country over the next decade. “That’s the realistic answer, but my desire is to do it over the next five years,” Siddharth Jain, director, Inox [...]

  • Joker

    Why 'Joker' Is About All of Us (Column)

    Take a look at the photo above. It’s the most poetic image to have emerged from Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” and the reason I say “poetic” isn’t just because the shot has that caught-in-action indelible vibe of a quintessential movie poster: graphic, hauntingly composed, a bit shocking (at least, the first time you see it). It’s [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Rules International Box Office With $117 Million

    Though Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” stumbled at the domestic box office, the Angelina Jolie-led sequel enjoyed a far stronger start overseas. The follow-up to 2014’s fantasy adventure inspired by the “Sleeping Beauty” villain took off with $117 million from 56 international markets. In North America, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted with a meager $36 [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    Box Office: 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Dominates With Soft $36 Million

    Five years after Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” cast a spell over the box office, the villainous enchantress has returned to the top of domestic charts. Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” a sequel to 2014’s fantasy adventure based on the “Sleeping Beauty” sorceress, flew lower than the original and debuted to a disappointing $36 million from 2,790 [...]

  • MIA Wrap

    Rome MIA Market Wraps With Stronger U.S. Presence, Boosts Italy's Industry Standing

    Rome’s MIA market for TV series, feature films and documentaries wrapped positively Sunday with organizers boasting a bump in attendance just as some 2,500 executives departed in an upbeat mood after four days of dealmaking and presentations of mostly European fresh product, which elevated Italy’s global standing in the industry, especially within the TV sector. [...]

  • Film Republic Adds Further Sales for

    Film Republic Inks Further Deals for 'God of the Piano' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Sales agent Film Republic has closed further territory sales on “God of the Piano.” Film Movement previously picked up North American rights to the film, as reported exclusively by Variety. Mont Blanc Cinema has taken the rights for Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay. Limelight Distribution is looking after the Australian and New Zealand releases, Hualu [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content