* Strikes multi-year distribution deal; first movie expected
by end of 2013
* Deal likely a prelude to Eisner raising money for film
* Eisner working with JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Blackstone,
Moelis on venture
By Peter Lauria
Nov 13 Former Walt Disney Co Chief
Executive Michael Eisner has struck a distribution deal with
Universal Pictures, a likely prelude to the media mogul raising
money to fund film development.
Terms of the multi-year deal call for Universal, owned by
cable giant Comcast Corp, to market and distribute
movies developed and financed by Eisner under the auspices of
his privately-owned media holding company Tornante Co, Eisner
In a phone interview with Reuters from Los Angeles, Eisner
was cagey about precisely how he planned to finance the movies.
Rumors began circulating first in Variety in January and
then on CNBC in May about Eisner trying to raise an $800 million
film fund, broken out into $400 million of equity and $400
million of debt.
Eisner declined to give specific details on any fundraising
efforts that may be taking place.
Eisner said he will be investing his own money into
development and plans to bring partners into the venture. He
said JPMorgan Chase & Co, Morgan Stanley,
Blackstone Group LP and Moelis & Co were working with him
on behalf of the venture.
"Obviously, I wouldn't be making a distribution deal if I
wasn't confident that the films would be financed," he said.
Despite having spent more than two decades at the helm of
Disney, Eisner said he did not have any discussions with the
company regarding this deal and described Universal as a
"I made about 400 movies with Disney and I figured that was
enough," joked Eisner. "I thought I'd try my hand working for
Eisner is no stranger to Universal's parent company,
Comcast. Steve Burke, CEO of Comcast-owned NBC Universal, ran
Disney's theme parks under Eisner. And Burke was one of the main
champions behind Comcast's failed $49 billion hostile takeover
bid for Disney in 2004.
"Michael Eisner has been a powerful creative force behind
some of the world's greatest films and we're confident that with
Tornante, he'll continue that tradition," Universal Pictures
Chairman Adam Fogelson and Co-Chairman Donna Langley said in a
Eisner, 70, said he hopes to have the first film under the
deal in theaters by the end of next year or early in 2014. He
declined to comment on the number of movies expected to be
released annually, saying only that the plan was to develop "a
significant number of films over the whole period" of the
In terms of production budgets, Eisner said they will vary
depending on the movie but that the venture was unlikely to make
any "incredibly expensive, bet-the-house" investments on any one
Without being precise, he said he would aim for budgets in
line with his track record while at Disney and, before that,
Paramount Pictures, which he said consistently averaged about 20
percent below the industry norm.
"I never did a $200 million or $250 million movie, that's
not my kind of thing," Eisner said.
After leaving Disney in 2005, Eisner launched Tornante Co,
which has produced shows for the Internet and television but has
until now shied away from motion picture production. Through
Tornante, Eisner founded digital production studio Vuguru and
owns sports trading card company Topps in partnership with
private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners.
Among the projects produced by Vuguru are the animated
series "Glenn Martin DDS" on Nickelodeon, "The Booth at the End"
on Hulu, and "Little Women, BIG CARS" on AOL.
While the aim of the Universal deal is to produce new
original content, Eisner said movies could grow out of existing
Still undecided is whether Tornante will control the new
venture or if it will operate under another name and simply be
housed under the Tornante umbrella.
The latter structure could mean that Eisner would be
eligible to collect producer fees from Tornante for films he
develops - in essence, getting paid by his own company.
Eisner declined to comment on the potential of collecting
producer fees, saying only that the venture's financial
structure is still being worked out.
"My goal is to have a good time and make films. Hopefully,
it will be a success and out of that success will be some
financial rewards," he said.