The following article appeared in Screen International, the weekly, on August 4.
The news that Jere Hausfater is leaving the Walt Disney Co to join Intermedia, is a neat mirror of the way that Hollywood business itself is changing, writes Mike Goodridge.
Hausfater, a popular face on the international circuit, has spent years as a powerful representative of the corporate studio world in the messy, opportunistic independent scene. By shifting his allegiance into the independent camp, he will be seeking partnership opportunities within the studios - a world where he is eminently well-connected, but one that is cutting back so dramatically that entrepreneurial executives like him are feeling the pinch.
"The balance of power is shifting away from the studios," said Cassian Elwes, the co-head of William Morris International Film Group. "They're making fewer films and not looking to acquire that many independent films. I think Jere is at a point where he wants to stretch himself and do something more exciting. Intermedia is an amazing opportunity for him to go and extend the business with the enormous resources they now have."
Intermedia is at the forefront of the new wave of German publicly-funded companies with which Hollywood producers and studios are anxious to ally. Formed in 1996 by Guy East and Nigel Sinclair, Intermedia merged in January 2000 with Moritz Bormann's Pacifica. During this year's Cannes Film Festival, the merged company floated on the Frankfurt Neuermarkt racking up a valuation of $1.27bn - Hausfater wisely has stock options in the new company, which was floated under the name Internationalmedia.
Even before going public, East and Sinclair had existing partnerships with Los Angeles-based producers including Mark Johnson, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, and Ridley and Tony Scott. But whereas these deals so far have generated only small-scale pictures like Up At The Villa, Sliding Doors, Where The Money Is and Clay Pigeons, Hausfater could bring a new level of project into the company. After all, at Buena Vista International he was the one who acquired international distribution rights from Lakeshore for Runaway Bride, from Cinergi for Die Hard: With A Vengeance, from Beacon for Air Force One and from Paramount for Face/Off.
"Guy East and Tim Haslam [Intermedia's London sales chief] know all the foreign distributors," says Neil Friedman, who represents European buyers such as Advanced Medien and FilmAuro, "so Jere will be charged with bringing studio product in. Now that [the studios] are all owned by large corporate giants, they are working with increasingly-restricted budgets. These German companies - and Intermedia is one of the biggest - are giving the studios a run for their money in who controls the worldwide film business."
Hausfater, meanwhile, had exercised his entrepreneurial chops about as much as he could within the Disney fold and its increasingly-tight purse strings. While Joe Roth was chairman of the studio, Hausfater reconfigured the old ABC Distribution Co - inherited from the Disney-ABC merger - into Buena Vista Film Sales (BVFS). BVFS quickly became one of the market's pre-eminent sellers, with product fed from Disney's Touchstone Pictures such as The 13th Warrior and Summer Of Sam; from outside suppliers like Beacon Pictures (Family Man) or APG (Sidewalks Of New York); and movies packaged by Hausfater himself, such as Duets, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gun Shy, with Liam Neeson and Sandra Bullock.
Many were perplexed that Hausfater had become one of the market's chief sellers as well as one of its chief buyers, but he insisted that he kept both activities separate. "We are serious about maintaining our credibility with the buyers," he said at the time.
And Hausfater's links to film-makers are longstanding: after buying Air Force One he continued to do business with Beacon, taking multiple territories on End Of Days and The Hurricane, and finally selling and servicing their product; after buying Face/Off, he brokered a deal between BVFS and Newmarket Capital Group to finance action movies under $20m from producers John Woo and Terence Chang. It was also Hausfater who acted swiftly to secure domestic rights to David Lynch's The Straight Story when USA Films hesitated and it was Hausfater who worked closely to repair the relationship between film-maker Bruce Paltrow (father of Gwyneth) and Disney when the studio decided that Duets was too violent to release. Paltrow subsequently has cut 10 minutes from the picture.
He also forged a strong working relationship with Disney sister company Miramax Films, which often sold him movies for BVI territories or co-acquired titles with him such as Shine. "He's a great partner with a creative mind," said Beacon's COO Tom Bliss, "and a tough negotiator whether he's acting for you or against you. He was our key international relationship at Disney and it was a deep relationship on a lot of levels in sales and servicing as well as in acquisitions."
So what will happen at Disney without Hausfater' "What do they really need'" asks Summit Entertainment chief Patrick Wachsberger, an old friend of Hausfater who has been doing business with him for years. "If they are not going to launch a massive acquisitions drive, it makes sense to get somebody much more junior to cut down on expenses and concentrate on the core business of making big movies."
Most suspect that BVFS, so much Hausfater's baby, will be closed down, certainly now that Disney's co-financing partner, Spyglass Entertainment, is actively sharing costs on many of its movies. "If BVFS closes, we will be looking for another partner for our distribution and servicing," said Bliss. You can be pretty sure that Intermedia will be one of his first ports of call.