Lionsgate Spinning Off Studio Business Into Standalone Public Company

Lionsgate Dec. 22 announced it has reached a deal with Screaming Eagle Acquisition Corp., a special-purpose publicly-traded company formed to merge with existing businesses, to take the studio business, including television, motion picture and home entertainment, among others, into a separate standalone Lionsgate Studios Corporation.

As a result of the transaction, 87.3% of the total shares of Lionsgate Studios are expected to be held by Lionsgate, while Screaming Eagle and third-party investors are expected to own 12.7% of the combined company.

The deal, which does not include the Starz streaming platform, is expected to generate $350 million in gross proceeds to Lionsgate, with the new studio company having an enterprise value of about $4.6 billion.

Net proceeds from the transaction are expected to be used to enhance Lionsgate’s balance sheet and facilitate strategic initiatives, including those related to the eOne acquisition, which is scheduled to close by calendar year end.

“This transaction creates one of the world’s largest publicly-traded pure play content platforms with the ability to deliver significant incremental value to all of our stakeholders,” Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer and Vice Chair Michael Burns said in a joint statement.

Lionsgate will hold a call to discuss the transaction on Jan. 4, 2024.

Former Screen Media Execs Launch Blue Harbor Entertainment

Industry veterans and former Screen Media executives Amanda Sherwin, Mike Messina and Seth Needle have launched Blue Harbor Entertainment, a new distribution, marketing and consulting company. 

The company aims to support 10 to 15 feature film releases per year, as well as provide advisory services to third parties, according to a release.  The trio are currently negotiating multiple deals.  
“Blue Harbor provides an alternative path for filmmakers — the opportunity to hire their distributor, and work with them — collaboratively and transparently — to bring their films to audiences,” Needle said in a statement. “Whether that’s something they decide once they have a completed picture, during the packaging stage, or somewhere in between, we are here to help them craft a strategy for success.”
Blue Harbor Entertainment offers a full-service marketing and distribution solution that encompasses theatrical, home entertainment, digital streaming platforms and television on a service fee basis, according to the release. Sherwin, Messina and Needle together bring a combined 75-plus years of industry experience across hundreds of releases.
“One of the unfortunate challenges facing filmmaking teams today is that too many well-made movies are falling through the cracks as filmmakers struggle to find distribution deals that make sense for them,” Messina said in a statement. “Blue Harbor offers a compelling solution for those looking to bring their movies to market while unlocking and capturing the economic upside in their projects.”  
Having collaborated together often during the past decade, Sherwin, Messina and Needle spent the past five years working together at Screen Media. Their recent releases include Rod Lurie’s feature film The Outpost, based on Jake Tapper’s The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor; the Nicolas Cage starrer Willy’s Wonderland; and the documentary Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.
“Mike, Seth and I come to a project from three different vantage points with complimentary skills in acquisitions, marketing and distribution. While working together at Screen Media we built a filmmaker friendly process that led to our fair share of successes,” Sherwin said in a statement. “We couldn’t be more excited to take this next step together and look forward to putting more films in front of the audiences they deserve.”
Sherwin has more than two decades of experience working in independent film. She most recently served as SVP of marketing at Screen Media running the campaigns for 20-plus releases annually, including Willy’s Wonderland, Poker Face and Maggie Moore(s). Prior to joining Screen Media, Sherwin consulted for PBS Distribution and managed theatrical service provider Paladin, overseeing the releases on an array of films from the comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” to the Oscar-nominated documentary For Sama. Sherwin began her career at CFP, a precursor to Lionsgate, where she later assumed the role of VP of marketing. She then went on to help start THINKFilm, where she served as SVP of marketing and distribution and orchestrated the campaigns on more than 80 films, resulting in eight Academy Award nominations and two wins. Sherwin is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Messina has worked in independent film for more than 25 years. In his recent role as EVP of distribution at Screen Media, he oversaw the distribution, marketing and sales of 100-plus movies, including The Outpost, Till Death and The Ritual Killer, and was an executive producer on the Emmy award-winning documentary Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street. Previously, Messina spearheaded independent film distribution and acquisitions at Starz and managed global streaming sales of Starz Original Series, including “Spartacus” and “Power.” He was also a senior executive at New Amsterdam Entertainment, where his producing credits included Dawn of the Dead (2004) which opened No. 1 at the U.S. box office and was a Cannes Film Festival selection. Messina holds an MBA from Columbia Business School and is a Dartmouth College graduate. 

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Needle is a leading content acquisition and creative executive, having previously served as EVP of global acquisitions and co-productions at Screen Media for the past 12 years. During his tenure, he was responsible for such acquisitions as The Outpost, Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the Emmy award-winning Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, The Lifeguard starring Kristen Bell, and Stephen King’s A Good Marriage, which King penned himself. He also established strategic business relationships with Focus Features, Starz, Roadside Attractions, and more. In addition, Needle oversaw all content licensing for the company’s streaming platforms that included Crackle, Popcornflix and Redbox. Needle also served as an executive producer on Willy’s Wonderland, Maggie Moore(s), Fast Charlie, Girl and several other titles. Prior to joining Screen Media, Needle worked in the acquisitions department at Lionsgate and in the research department at Marketcast.

Gravitas Ventures Hires Danielle Gasher as Senior Director of Acquisitions

Gravitas Ventures, an Anthem Sports and Entertainment company, has hired Danielle Gasher as senior director of acquisitions.

Gasher will report to CEO Nolan Gallagher and will co-lead the acquisitions department with Bill Guentzler. Gasher and Guentzler will identify titles for the Gravitas Premiere label and ongoing slate of more than 250 films a year.

Danielle Gasher

The Gravitas Premiere label will release approximately four cast-driven, high production value films per year and release them wide theatrically with significant marketing support. The first title under the Premiere label, Mack & Rita starring Diane Keaton and directed by Katie Aselton, debuted exclusively in more than 1,500 theaters in the United States and Canada on Aug. 12.  

Before joining Gravitas, Gasher held the role of VP of International Sales at Voltage Pictures. While at Voltage, Gasher reported directly to president and COO Jonathan Deckter. She worked across various cast driven titles including Last Seen Alive, starring Gerard Butler and Jaimie Alexander; The Yacht, starring Frank Grillo, Ruby Rose and Patrick Schwarzenegger; and Per Tutta La Vita (For All Life) from the producers of Perfect Strangers, one of the most remade films of all time. While at Voltage, Screen International recognized Gasher in “Future Leaders 2021: Sales and Acquisitions Executives to Watch.”

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“I couldn’t be more thrilled to join a team as innovative, reputable and entrepreneurial as Gravitas,” Gasher said in a statement. “I look forward to bringing my years of sales experience to the acquisition side of the business, especially during such an exciting time for Gravitas with the recent launch of its theatrical label, Gravitas Premiere.”

“We are excited to add such a well rounded, well liked and results oriented executive as Danielle Gasher,” Gallagher, founder and CEO of Gravitas, said in a statement. “As a global distributor her expertise and relationships will be essential in our mission to find new audiences for our filmmakers.”

Prior to joining Voltage, Gasher worked on the sales team at the Canadian sales and production outfit Double Dutch International, where she worked across various territories and sold titles such as The Doorman, starring Ruby Rose and Jean Reno; The Virtuoso, with Anthony Hopkins, Anson Mount and Abbie Cornish; and Sometimes Always Never, with Bill Nighy, Sam Riley and Alice Lowe.

Lionsgate Motion Picture Group Names Horizon Media Agency of Record for Theatrical, Home Entertainment

Lionsgate’s Motion Picture Group has named Horizon Media its media agency of record for its theatrical and home entertainment business, the studio announced.

Horizon Media, the largest U.S. media agency according to AdAge Data Center 2022, will be responsible for developing and executing innovative, creative media strategies, planning, buying, data and analytics across all media channels, according to Lionsgate.
“Among the factors in making the decision, Lionsgate was impressed and persuaded by Horizon Media’s blu., the agency’s proprietary data platform, empowering their advanced analytical capabilities to target individuals, personalize messaging, and engage moviegoers based on more than 11,000 deterministic attributes, resulting in actionable intelligence across all media and marketing channel,” according to Lionsgate. 
“Horizon’s data-driven approach, coupled with their experience in theatrical and entertainment marketing as the driver behind many innovative and successful campaigns, made the difference for us,” Adam Fogelson, vice chair of Lionsgate’s Motion Picture Group, said in a statement.  

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“Lionsgate has a history of challenging convention — of cutting against industry norms — to distinguish themselves in an increasingly crowed entertainment industry,” said Karen Hunt, president, Western region, at Horizon Media, in a statement.  “Lionsgate has produced some iconic films and has an amazing slate ahead. We’re excited to start work with Adam and his entire team — putting our ‘Business is Personal’ approach to work.” 

Electric Entertainment Promotes Christina Keller to VP of Finance

Electric Entertainment, the Los Angeles based production, distribution and post-production company headed by producer Dean Devlin, has announced the promotion of Christina Keller to the newly created position of VP of finance.

She will be working closely with CFO Jeff Gonzalez on fostering Electric’s banking relationships and preparing and reviewing financing documents and forecasts.

Prior to becoming VP of finance, Christina was controller for the company. She has been with Electric for more than 12 years.

“Christina has shown immense dedication, ingenuity and acumen in achieving our far-reaching goals at Electric,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “She has become an undisputed asset within not just the accounting department, but the company as a whole. I am excited to see her  move into this newly created and well-deserved role.”

As the controller for Electric Entertainment, Keller oversaw the entirety of the accounting department, maintained loan compliance, created GAAP basis financial statements, set up accounting controls, managed entity creation and dissolution, handled post-production accounting, and liaised with the company CPA for annual tax return filings. In addition to these duties, she handled all matters relating to human resources and payroll. She managed both international and domestic tax credit filings. 

Prior to joining Electric in 2010, Keller obtained her CPA license and worked with tax firm Talley & Company, reviewing corporate and individual multi-state income tax returns. 

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Electric Entertainment is an independent studio headed by veteran producer Devlin along with his partners Marc Roskin and Rachel Olschan-Wilson. Electric Entertainment also houses acquisitions and sales divisions, with domestic sales headed up by Steve Saltman and the international division headed by Sonia Mehandjiyska. Electric also has a satellite office located in Vancouver, Canada.

Among Electric’s television series are “The Librarians” and “Leverage,” which ran for four and five seasons respectively on TNT; “The Outpost,” which premiered its fourth season on The CW in 2021; and “Almost Paradise,” which is currently streaming on IMDb TV after having premiered on WGN America. Season two of “Almost Paradise” begins shooting this summer. Electric’s new series “The Ark” begins shooting this spring for the Syfy channel. Electric’s spin-off continuation of “Leverage,” “Leverage: Redemption,” is currently streaming in the United States and the United Kingdom on Amazon’s IMDb TV, as one of the platform’s first original programs. Season two of “Leverage: Redemption” begins shooting this spring.

Electric’s feature films have included Bad Samaritan, starring David Tennant and Robert Sheehan; Say My Name, starring Lisa Brenner and Nick Blood; the  documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?; and most recently The Deal, starring Sumalee Montano and Emma Fischer. Electric also acquires, distributes and sells worldwide rights to Electric’s produced and acquired content, as well as theatrical films from around the world, including Blood on the Crown, starring Harvey Keitel and Malcolm McDowell; Heavy, starring Sophie Turner and Daniel Zovatto; Rob Reiner’s historical biopic LBJ, starring Woody Harrelson; and Book of Love, starring Jessica Biel and Jason Sudeikis. The company’s domestic distribution division, headed by Steve Saltman, is a full-service operation serving all significant outlets with various rights to films and series including TVOD, EST, AVOD, SVOD, PTV, Linear Basic Cable and Broadcast.

Q&A: Garson Foos on the Ever-Expanding Universe of Shout! Factory

Garson Foos is CEO of Shout! Factory, a leading independent film distributor that since its launch in 2003 has branched out into streaming while doubling down on its commitment to physical media. A cousin to the legendary Rhino Records label, co-founded by older brother Richard and sold to Warner Music in 2001, Shout! is known for its lavish boxed sets and collections like last year’s award-winning collection of “Friday the 13th” movies as well as its support of anime and other niche genres.

Media Play News spoke with Foos as part an ongoing series of conversations with home entertainment leaders past, present — and future.

MPN: At a time when the big studios are still suffering from the lack of fresh product resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of movie theaters, you seem to be releasing more content, both digitally and on disc, than ever. Can you put a number on how many titles you’ve released over the past year and how that compares to the prior year? And what’s the driver?

Foos: Our deal and release flow is stronger than ever. We had a lot of titles in the pipeline prior to the pandemic, and we benefited from the vast majority of our releases not requiring a theatrical release. We released two to four new films a month, and another 10 to 15 library releases. Beyond that we released a good number of library films and shows digital only. We released hundreds of episodes of both “The Johnny Carson Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show” only digitally. We have broadcast rights to the entire Stephen J. Cannell library worldwide, and we have other digital rights on a smaller number of those shows. We also started releasing seasons of the “Ultraman” series for digital streaming, largely on our TokuShoutsu channels. So a large amount of content is released physically, as well as a lot of additional content coming out digital only.

MPN: Shout! Factory continues to be particularly strong in anime. What prompted this, and how do you market your product to anime fans?

Foos: We’ve always been really good at playing in the niches. We’re pop culture junkies from way back, and we got into the kids business big in 2009 with Hasbro and their animated “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” series, as well as “My Little Pony.” There were several rare Japanese-made “Transformers” series that we distributed.  We also had big success with the the “Power Rangers” series years later, and uncovered the Japanese versions — “Super Sentai” — and did well with those series. It made sense to move into anime from our roots. Melissa Boag is our head of Kids & Family and she had her eye on the anime business for years. She helped us acquire the film In This Corner of the World, which was beautiful and exceeded our expectations. Soon after that we struck up a relationship with GKIDS, who are the best in the business in anime film. Through them, we got the Studio Ghibli library in late 2017. Together with GKIDS we released new deluxe versions of the films on DVD and Blu-ray, and the sales were far beyond expectations. In late 2019 GKIDS was able to make the titles available for the digital transactional business and we worked with them on that. We’ve (via GKIDS) put out many other new and library films, including Promare and Weathering With You last year, which have performed extremely well. We also work with Eleven Arts, which had the film Silent Voice in 2019, which did very well, and we have several more really good projects coming with them. Anime is one of the best categories that is not dominated by the major studios, and it’s a growing category for us that we see continuing.

MPN: Despite your obvious commitment to transactional and, in particular, physical media, Shout! does have other business models. Can you give us a brief rundown about other distribution platforms you have under the Shout! umbrella?

Foos: We distribute directly to just about every account in all revenue streams. We’ve been highly focused on growing our digital and broadcast business in the last many years. Our combined non-physical businesses have doubled each of the past two years and will again this year. Our TVOD business and ad supported streaming are the two biggest areas. Licensing sales for streaming services and broadcast is growing rapidly and is also significant. The Shout! Factory TV business, including our Mystery Science Theatre 3000 channel, The Carol Burnett Show channel, Johnny Carson TV and TokuShHOUTsu channels are a big part of the ad-supported digital streaming business. They are FAST channels on some platforms and on demand on others, and they’re everywhere you’d want to be. We see a lot of growth potential in our channel business, and in our digital distribution business in general. As we continue to get more and better content both on the library and new film side, and see the number of platforms and market size grow, we’re going to see big growth for Shout.

MPN: What’s next for Shout, other than the growth areas you mentioned already?

Foos: We’re starting to do some of our own original productions and see a lot of opportunities here, while doing it with a low-risk approach. We partnered on the production of the Western Old Henry starring Tim Blake Nelson. It comes out in October and premiered at the Venice Film Festival to a fantastic response. We’ve made deals in all the major international territories thanks to the Venice success.  We had seen indie Westerns succeeding transactionally, and thought that it would be a good genre to produce ourselves. We had been trying to get one made for years, and finally with Hideout Pictures we were able to get Tim Blake Nelson to take the lead role, and it came out extremely well. We’re going to do another one with them.

With our partner Joel Hodgson we had rebooted “Mystery Science Theater 3000” after buying the rights to the library and brand in 2015. Given the passionate loyalty of the audience we had crowd-funded to raise the money for the first reboot season (11). We then sold it to Netflix, which ordered a second season but didn’t continue after that. We crowd-funded again this year and raised $6.5 million so we’re making another 13 episodes. The first one should premiere in February for the Kickstarter “backers” initially.

We also just completed a remake of the Roger Corman classic Slumber Party Massacre for the Syfy channel. It comes out in October. We own 270 films from the Corman library and have remake rights, so we’re working on films and series born out of that fertile I.P. We have other films and shows in the works as well, and it will be a growing part of our business.

We’re highly focused on buying film and TV libraries. We’ve bought a handful over the years and are looking to do a lot more in that area. We have a number of large library film distribution deals in the works and we’ll be announcing several soon, and more as they close.

We’re doing bigger new film pre-buys and pick-ups. The recent Mark Duplass/Natalie Morales film Language Lessons is a good example. It’s getting excellent reviews and we’ve licensed it to a major streamer to start next year. We intend to continue to up our game in genre films, and in smart and quirky indie films as well.

We see opportunity in the international business. Our business is growing there and we’re having good success with Cannell library, our Corman films and other content that we control internationally. We see continuing to partner with strong independent companies in each territory, and eventually having our own staff, or investing in local companies locally to make sure that we really understand the nuances of each significant territory.

MPN: Tell us about the Shout! Factory backstory — starting with the name.

Foos: We had a really hard time coming up with a name. Every time we liked one we couldn’t get the URL, or it was already taken. We wanted something that sounded active, and a little retro. We were coming off of our success at Rhino Entertainment, which was mainly a retro music business, and we thought that we would be a music, film and TV company. Shout! felt classic and then there’s the Isley Brothers song that everyone loves. We were going to be Shout! Entertainment then we had trouble getting that trademarked. We were told to add something to it to distinguish it so we came up with Factory.

MPN: And now tell us the Garson Foos backstory.

Foos: I grew up in Los Angeles, and went to college at U.C. Berkeley. I was entrepreneurial early on and started several cafes in Oakland with a friend. I realized that the restaurant  business wasn’t for me, and thought that maybe I’d like the entertainment business. I had worked at the Rhino Record Store that my brother owned in high school, and he had started the Rhino label years later. He gave me a paid internship at the label and my timing was great. Rhino was starting to take off, and I was able to learn the business and move up the ranks as the company expanded. I eventually became the EVP of marketing and one of the key executives. Richard and his partner Harold Bronson sold the company to Warner Music Group in 2001, and Richard decided to leave in 2002 and start another company. He asked me and our other partner Bob Emmer, who had been our head of BA at Rhino and later became an EVP of BA at Warner Music, to join him in his new venture. We started Shout in 2003, and over the years Richard has stepped out of the day to day of the business, and Bob and I are co-CEOs.

More Fox, Disney Layoffs — Five Months After Closure of Sale

Two days after Media Play News reported head of marketing Julia Howe as the latest high-profile 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment departure, multiple sources Aug. 29 said the company — now owned by the Walt Disney Co. — has been racked by more layoffs, including division veterans Jennifer Chai and Kavita Smith.

Jennifer Chai

Chai held the title of SVP of worldwide brand marketing for the home entertainment arm. She led worldwide brand marketing and strategy for the entire Fox new release theatrical slate and third-party titles for both the physical and digital business. She also was involved with the cross-studio Movies Anywhere service as well as other digital strategic initiatives. Chai has been at Fox since 2000, joining after three years as brand manager at what was then Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the Walt Disney Co.’s home entertainment arm.

Smith was VP, global marketing communications and publicity. According to her LinkedIn profile, she joined Fox as director of publicity in November 2005 and was elevated to executive director in September 2012. She was promoted to VP in August 2014. She will stay on through October, sources said.

Reports say the layoffs — nearly 60 — have occurred in both the home entertainment and TV distribution divisions, encompassing both Disney and Fox employees. 20th Century Fox TV Distribution EVP of worldwide marketing Greg Drebin also is exiting.

Fox president of worldwide home entertainment Keith Feldman is staying on with Disney, sources told Media Play News, although his contract has not been finalized.

Howe is said to be leaving the company in November.

The new departures come on the heels of previous high-profile exits in the wake of the Disney acquisition.

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Mike Dunn, for years the top home entertainment executive at 20th Century Fox, was among a handful of high-ranking studio executives to leave the studio on March 21, a day after the acquisition closed.

A short time later, Janice Marinelli, head of home entertainment at Disney, set up an office at Fox, reportedly to acquaint herself with the studio’s home entertainment team and see how they operate. But July 16 the 34-year Disney veteran announced her exit.

Also in July, veteran division publicist James Finn, who recently had become co-head of marketing, quietly announced his departure in an email to friends and colleagues. “For nearly 20 years I’ve called Fox my home,” he wrote. “Thank you to my colleagues, my mentors, my family, my friends and my team for making it so much fun.”

After Fox’s sale to Disney closed in March, reports surfaced that as many as 4,000 people could ultimately lose their jobs.