After many months of pursuing strategic alliances, acquisitions and mergers, Artisan Entertainment has closed a deal, merging with Landscape Entertainment, the production company founded by former DreamWorks executive Bob Cooper and backed by Canadian conglomerate Bell Globemedia.
The deal, closed last Wednesday, sees Canadian broadcaster CTV, a division of Bell Globemedia, and Cooper's group of shareholders contribute Landscape stock and funds previously committed for investment in Landscape to Artisan in exchange for an aggregate 20% interest in Artisan.
Proceeds from the cash balance associated with the merger will be used by Artisan to retire debt loads and continue its current growth initiative. Investment banking sources told Screen Daily that Bell Globemedia was bringing $20m and $13.6m in assets to Artisan - valuing the company with its 6,700-title library at more than $160m.
The merger gives Artisan an immediate entree into TV production and increases its film development and production capabilities. Landscape has about 15 feature films and an extensive slate of TV programming in various stages of development and production.
Cooper will head up film and TV production for Artisan as chief executive officer of Artisan Pictures; he will also serve as vice chairman of Artisan Entertainment, under Amir Malin who remains CEO. He also remains in charge of Landscape Pictures - the film production arm of Landscape Entertainment - which will operate as an independent production company.
Cooper will develop movies with budgets under $20m to be produced by Artisan Pictures and distributed domestically by Artisan Releasing. He will also be responsible for physical production, theatrical marketing and distribution. Meanwhile Landscape Pictures will continue to develop movies in the over $20m range with Hollywood studios. Existing projects include Romantic Comedy with MGM and Cyber Love Story written by Ron Bass and to be directed by Roland Emmerich.
"To grow Landscape, we realised we needed to get into distribution," Cooper told Screen Daily on Friday. "Artisan was uniquely positioned for that. They also produce the kind of off-centre movies which I like, so it was a good match in terms of enhancing and amplifying the Artisan brand."
Cooper also said it was conceivable that he would co-finance Landscape Pictures films with studios, using Artisan's international sales partner Summit Entertainment. "Summit could enable us to do that," he said.
In addition to Cooper, David R Ginsburg, currently president and chief operating officer of Landscape Entertainment, becomes president and chief operating officer of Artisan Pictures and executive vice president of Artisan Entertainment. Existing Artisan Entertainment chief operating officer Ken Schapiro will remain in his position as will Artisan Home Entertainment president Steve Beeks.
As part of the transaction, CTV will obtain three seats on Artisan Entertainment's Board of Directors. Ivan Fecan, President and CEO of Bell Globemedia, Cooper and John Josephson, a managing director at Allen & Company, Inc will be appointed.
Investment banker Allen & Co represented Artisan in the transaction. Josephson has a longstanding relationship with both Malin and Fecan, who first met at Allen & Co's annual Sun Valley Conference for media executives in July 2000.
"I had a lot of problems to address about a year ago," acknowledged Malin on Friday. "One of those issues was what to do on the content side. I could bring in another senior production executive but that would just be a band aid on the problem. The great thing about Bob is that he is already a content provider on TV and has great relationships and a phenomenal understanding of the business.
Landscape recently completed production on Sins Of The Father, the first TV movie under its overall deal with FX, and currently has projects in development at NBC, CBS, ABC, Court TV, VH1, Disney Channel, USA Networks, TNT, Sci-Fi Channel and Lifetime. Cooper's background is in TV as founder of Citadel Entertainment in 1978. When that was sold to HBO, he became president of HBO Pictures, later moving to become president of TriStar Pictures where he oversaw films such as My Best Friend's Wedding and As Good As It Gets. Before forming Landscape in 1999, he was head of production at DreamWorks SKG where he oversaw films including American Beauty.
Ginsburg became a partner at Citadel in 1986, then served as its president until it was acquired by Alliance Communications in 1997. Ginsburg then served as president of the motion picture group at Alliance Atlantis Communications before joining Landscape.
"Bob will oversee all theatrical and TV content," said Malin. "I will now continue my mandate to grow the company and am already looking at other companies to buy. I've spent the last year stabilising the company and addressing the issues I've had to address. I knew that people said we weren't producing any movies but I knew I had to suck that up and not deal with perception issues. I think this deal lays to rest a lot of those issues. We have an extremely responsible executive overseeing that now and he has a huge mandate to rev up on."
Malin said that he had weighed up any number of combinations for Artisan but had decided early on not to sell it. "After we made the decision that we weren't interested in selling, that we wanted to be acquirors and not acquirees, we rejected offers from the interested parties who wanted the assets but not the overall company."
Artisan subsequently entered into discussions with groups as diverse as the World Wrestling Federation and Lions Gate Entertainment, but they came to nothing.
"There are no specific discussions with Lions Gate at the moment," Malin confirmed. In the meantime, Malin's former partners Mark Curcio and Bill Block both left Artisan, leaving him as sole CEO.
Malin said that sales partner Summit will now have access to new pictures from Artisan Pictures as well as possible Landscape Pictures titles. "There are many possible combinations. A Hollywood studio could take a Landscape Pictures film on the domestic side, Summit could sell the foreign and trigger our output partners overseas [including Alliance Atlantis in Canada, Momentum Pictures in the UK, Highlight in Germany and Lauren Films in Spain] or it could be handled by the studio worldwide. The world of filmed entertainment is a small one and every day we see new announcements about various companies partnering up."
In addition to CTV, Bell Globemedia's interests include Canadian national newspaper The Globe And Mail, interactive content provider Globe Interactive and internet portal Sympatico-Lycos. Headquartered in Toronto, it is owned by BCE Inc (70.1%), The Thomson Corporation (20%), and The Woodbridge Company Limited (9.9%).