Media Rights Capital has carved a place in Hollywood as a provider of major movies with aggressive deals for talent. Jeremy Kay speaks to co-founder Modi Wiczyk

Media Rights Capital (MRC) has come a long way since Harvard Business School graduates and co-chairmen and co-CEOs Modi ­Wiczyk and Asif Satchu launched the company in 2003. In 2008 it closed a three-year $350m revolving creditfacility with a syndicate of banks led by JPMorgan Chase and Comerica. And at the start of this summer, the film, television and internet content supplier signed a five-year deal with Universal Pictures for 20 features which kicks in next year. The films have not yet been identified but the pact cements a relationship which has existed for some years and was punctuated by Universal’s $42.5m acquisition several years ago of North American and English-speaking rights to MRC’s Brüno.

It will release Devil from writer­producer M Night Shyamalan later this year, as well as The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, most likely in 2011. For Universal, the deal brings a string of A-list titles with top talent on board. For MRC, it offers a vital theatrical channel to consumers at a time when slots have become scarcer.

“That’s one of the reasons why we did the Universal deal, because we wanted to have that control and relationship with a major studio,” Wiczyk tells Screen. “We now have access to 20 slots over five years. That’s a value to us and that’s a decision we made to adjust to reality. It doesn’t prohibit us from pre-selling to other studios.”

MRC will strike deals with international buyers on certain titles and in these cases Glen Basner’s FilmNation is the exclusive sales agent. “We aren’t driven by the studios or the international independents,” Wiczyk says. “We work hard to try to find the right buyers on a case-by-case basis. We don’t arrive at a market with a slate.”

Commercial bent

When the specialty space became one of the first high-profile casualties of the financial crisis, MRC adjusted its business accordingly. “Whereas our slate was once a 50-50 mix of specialty and commercial projects, now it’s almost 100% traditionally commercial projects.” The irony is that Babel, which opened through Paramount Vantage in 2006 and grossed $114m worldwide, is exactly the type of package MRC can no longer afford to get involved in. “Brad Pitt in anything gets something made, but Babel might not get made today,” says Wiczyk, who constructed the Babel package around the key talent on the project. “There doesn’t seem to be a market for specialty films that cost more than $30m.”

MRC prides itself on the value it brings to talent and has a close relationship with William Morris Endeavor; Wiczyk left Endeavor to set up MRC in 2003. It works with multiple studios, signing a three-film deal with Warner Bros, for example, for the Ricky Gervais comedy The Invention Of Lying (Universal had international rights), Richard Kelly’s horror tale The Box and Robert Rodriguez’s family film Shorts. The company recently announced 30 Minutes Or Less from Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer which starts shooting soon and will go out worldwide through Sony.

MRC is rumoured to have a deal in place with David Fincher to create thrillers and there is talk of early discussions with Baz Luhrmann on an undisclosed project. Wiczyk is excited about working with District 9 creator Neill Blomkamp on an untitled sci-fi project which goes into pre-production later in the year and is available for distribution. There is also a second Shyamalan-produced project in the works, and Universal has the comedy Ted from Seth MacFarlane.

MRC prefers to eschew large upfront deals in favour of profit participation. The talent deals are renowned for their potentially rich rewards, but Wiczyk declines to go into specifics. “Our deals are fair to everyone, which is why we keep on making them… When a movie goes under, it’s part of [the talent’s] money and when a movie goes over, it’s part of their money.”

As the Universal deal implies, Wiczyk and Satchu have faith in the theatrical model and are looking to increase their feature production to around five titles a year. At time of writing, the co-chairmen were scouting for two senior executives following the departure of production chief Tory Metzger, yet they are dabbling in and watching closely the growth in digital and VoD. “We’re very hopeful about that because it’s a relatively new distribution model. The margins are better and there are no consignment costs.”