Newcomb financed scrappy best picture Oscar contender "Dallas
Buyers Club." In the category of film financiers, he'll be
joined by Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison's daughter Megan,
who provided funds for "American Hustle" and "Her," by "12 Years
a Slave" backer Bill Pohlad, whose family owns the Minnesota
Twins baseball team, and financiers who assembled investors in
Asia and the Middle East to back "The Wolf of Wall Street."
There have always been oil men and others eager to invest in
Hollywood, the last few years indicate they are playing an
increasingly important role in financing Oscar contenders.
Five of the nine films nominated for best picture this year made
it to the big screen with the help of investors who are outside
the Hollywood studios. It's a trend that's intensified in recent
years, as studios try to reduce their risk in making films.
"The studios' business model no longer accommodates a lot of
pictures that strive for the type of critical success that would
support an Oscar campaign," said Steven Prough, managing
director of investment banking firm Salem Partners.
"They want films that have a higher likelihood of appeal to
worldwide audiences, which is generated by large budgets and
Pohlad and Ellison have been among the hopefuls before. Ellison
financed last year's Oscar nominee "Zero Dark Thirty," while
Pohlad backed 2006 contender "Brokeback Mountain" and "The Tree
of Life," which was nominated in 2012.
Ellison's Annapurna Pictures emerged as the hot new player in
Hollywood in the last few years, and not only for her check
book, but also because of her willingness to take risks and
Ellison "just really believed in us and stood fast by us on a
project that may have scared many other people," said "American
Hustle" director David O. Russell. "She really trusted her own
instincts, and I'm forever indebted to her for that."
WHIP OUT BLACK AMEX
Newcomb came to the rescue of the team making "Dallas Buyers
Club," and stepped in when the original investors left the
project three days before shooting was set to begin. A delay
would mean the film would lose its star, Matthew McConaughey,
who was scheduled to begin shooting for the HBO drama "True
Detective," said Newcomb.
The one-time minor league pitcher heard about the film when he
was in Los Angeles with his friend and neighbor, Chicago White
Sox slugger Adam Dunn, discussing an investment in a new "Major
League" movie with actor Charlie Sheen, Newcomb said.
[to top of second column]
After reading the "Buyers Club" script, the Woodlands, Texas,
businessman said he whipped out his American Express black card
to help the film get started, then began contacting friends in
the oil and natural gas business.
His Truth Entertainment put together $1.6 million
from the investors, Newcomb says. The film also got a $1 million tax
credit from Louisiana and financed the remaining $3 million.
"It's fun, but it's also a great alternative investment for someone
who wants more than they can get from the stock market or a
financial institution," said Newcomb, who offered his investors a 20
percent return on their money.
They'll soon get their money back plus the return,
he said. The film is being distributed by Focus Features, a unit of
Comcast's NBC Universal group, and has collected more than $24
million in domestic ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo.
"After that they'll be getting mailbox money," Newcomb said, by
cashing checks in the future as the film continues to generate
revenues as it plays on TV and is sold on DVD sales and online
Red Granite, a three-year-old Los Angeles-based film finance and
production company, may not be sharing nearly as many profits for
the film, "The Wolf of Wall Street." The firm raised the equity for
director Martin Scorsese's film, which has a $100 million budget,
from wealthy investors in the Middle East and Asia.
"The Wolf of Wall Street" is nominated for five
Oscars, including for its stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. It
has ticket sales of more than $336 million worldwide, about half of
which goes to theaters. Fees are also paid to Viacom's Paramount
Pictures, which distributed the film in the U.S. and some foreign
Riza Aziz and Joey McFarland, Red Granite's founders, had no
comment, their publicist said. Megan Ellison and Bill Pohlad also
But even those who leave the Dolby Theatre without a statue won't
necessarily feel like losers, said Amir Malin, the former CEO of
studio Artisan Entertainment and the managing principal of media
investment firm Qualia Capital.
"Intangibles, primarily the sexiness and glitz of the business,"
said Malin, "matter far more than investors are willing to let on."
(Editing by Mary Milliken; editing by
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