by Noah Mintz
9242 Beverly Blvd #300, Beverly Hills, CA
Founded in 2004 by venture-capitalist and movie enthusiast, Ryan Kavanaugh, Relativity Media has and continues to produce, distribute, and structure financing for more than 200 films through their Relativity Studios division. These films have successfully accumulated more than $17 billion of revenue in the worldwide box office and generated over 60 Academy Award nominations . Upon its inception, Relativity Media was widely praised for reimagining the Hollywood landscape in their buying of “textured, mid-budget films… To bankers, Kavanaugh appeared to have cracked the code, having come up with a way to forecast a famously unpredictable business by replacing the vagaries of intuition with the certainties of math” .
FINANCIALS & RESTRUCTURING:
After six years of financing and distributing high-profile films for major film studios like Sony Pictures Entertainment and Universal Pictures, Relativity Media began making and distributing their own movies in 2010 with their first original film, Season of The Witch (2010). Many industry professionals predicted the company’s downfall after witnessing Kavanaugh’s proven history of financial irresponsibility . Yet Relativity persevered, dealing out successful high-grossing films like Immortals (2011 – $83.5 million), Limitless (2011 – $79.3 million), and Safe Haven (2013 – $71.3 million) . Ryan Kavanaugh’s algorithmic, low-risk business model finally proved to be successful. With over $560 million of assets by the summer of 2015, Relativity seemed relatively untouchable. Yet when an outstanding $330 million in debt to various lenders came due in July of the same year (not to mention the $1.8 billion of debt due in the following years), Relativity was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 30th in New York State Bankruptcy Court .With this major speed bump in Kavanaugh’s plan for the future of Relativity Media, the production company came out of the 2015 fiscal year on a surprisingly high note: ranking 12th amongst all other production companies in total market share with 0.6%, and grossing $74.2 million on four movie releases (making them the third largest mini-major production company) . Similarly, things began to look up for Relativity Media at the start of this Spring when United States Bankruptcy Judge Michael Wiles confirmed a reorganization plan for Relativity on February 8th, 2016. With an offer from Trigger Street Productions‘ notable industry moguls Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti, Relativity was set to have their debt reduced by over $630 million . Although the deal included Relativity losing their television, fashion, and sports agency divisions to various lenders as a partial settlement for their egregious debt, the film division, Relativity Studios, was granted approval to release their upcoming films Masterminds, The Disappointments Room, Before I Wake, Kidnap, and The Strangers 2 upon successful completion of the deal. Just one month after the negotiation was proposed on the other hand, Spacey backed out, citing his busy acting schedule as an excuse for his inability to serve as Relativity Studio’s new chairman . Brunetti did remain on board, however, and now serves as the studio’s President of Production in both film and television operations . After multiple other financial dealings fell through including the unsuccessful Trigger Street negotiation, Relativity entered bankruptcy court once again on March 19th, now with only $16 million of financial help from various capital groups, as opposed to the $100 million Kavanaugh had pledged upon filing Chapter 11 . On top of Relativity’s fruitless financial dealings, news broke of Relativity Media’s apparent ‘Ponzi Scheme’ in late March. According to Variety magazine’s online article, “The New York investment firm Colbeck Capital aided and abetted Relativity Media’s fraudulent acquisition of a crucial film-release loan — money that was misspent on corporate expenses and to support the high-flying lifestyle of Relativity founder Ryan Kavanaugh” . This claim by RKA Film Financing seeks over $110 million in damages, and has the potential to put Relativity further in debt if found guilty .
Amongst Relativity Media and Kavanaugh’s slew of shortcomings and failures to fulfill many of its early bankruptcy pledges, Judge Michael Wiles shockingly granted Relativity Media approval to exit bankruptcy status after many negotiations and a successful $400 million refinancing plan with UK investment firm, Maple Leaf Films (of Maple Leaf Capital Group) . While the investment company has an oddly shady past and limited credits in the film industry, Maple Leaf Films proved to be a significant life saver for the drowning Relativity Media. In the meantime, as they begin the post-bankruptcy reorganization phase, Relativity must face RKA Film Financing and FTI Consulting in court. In the coming months, Relativity will attempt to resolve RKA’s ‘Ponzi Scheme’ claim against the company, and FTI’s fee dispute that began in the summer of 2015 and could cost Relativity an added $4 million of debt .
PROJECTION & CONCLUSION:
Upon Relativity Media’s ultimate emergence from bankruptcy, Ryan Kavanaugh and his newly diminished team of industry professionals will continue in their attempt to regain the reputation that was lost in the summer of 2015. With the help of Maple Leaf Films’ convenient endorsement and Judge Wiles’ thoughtful compassion in bankruptcy court, Relativity looks to rebound with its upcoming films Masterminds (which was postponed from its original 2015 release), The Disappointments Room, Before I Wake, Kidnap, and Strangers 2. After a full year without a release, Relativity needs a break. While these upcoming releases do not necessarily ensure a future of success for Relativity, the big-named high-profile comedy, Masterminds, looks to be the company’s one saving grace. With Kristen Wiig, Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, and Jason Sudeikis as the headlining cast, the 2016 comedy earned a 96% in the “Want to See” category on Rotten Tomatoes . While it falls under the throw away genre of stupid comedies, it is likely to make Relativity some much needed cash. Check out the trailer below.
There is no certainty when it comes to the future of Ryan Kavanaugh and his brainchild, Relativity Media, but on Relativity’s website dedicated to the company’s reorganization, the CEO and Chairman of the board said it best. While their shaky past two years have further diminished the reputation of a company once recognized as a revolutionary force in the film industry, Kavanaugh promised that “the Relativity that emerges from the Chapter 11 process will be better capitalized and have greater financial flexibility” .
Finally, here’s a sneak peek of Realtivity Media’s upcoming film slate directly from their website.
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