Entertainment Industry

Category: Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures forges into comic books

Looking to expand its inventory of intellectual properties, Legendary Pictures is launching a new comic books division to publish original graphic novels that can be adapted into film and television projects.

The unit, dubbed Legendary Comics, will be headed by veteran comic book editor Bob Schreck, who most recently worked at IDW Publishing, and previously spent nearly a decade at DC Comics after founding Oni Press and also working at Dark Horse Comics.

As editor in chief for Legendary Comics, Schreck will oversee the publication of four to six graphic novels a year both for digital and traditional print distribution. The first project will be published in the first half of 2011. Schreck will work closely with Legendary Digital President Kathy Vrabeck in helping to shepherd some of the newly created comic-based properties onto the big and little screen.

Hollywood's fixation with comic books led to Walt Disney Co.'s $4 billion for Marvel Entertainment in 2009 and to Warner Bros.' reboot of rival DC Entertainment.

Legendary Chairman and Chief Executive Thomas Tull said in a statement that Legendary Comics will be "committed to being a new home for groundbreaking artists and the characters and stories they create, in an art form we love."

Tull has forged close relationships over the years with such comic book artists as Frank Miller, whose graphic novel "300" became the basis of Warner Bros.' 2007 movie hit of the same name, which Legendary co-produced.

Legendary also co-financed Warner's Batman comic book to big-screen blockbuster "The Dark Knight," which amassed $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales in 2008.

The 6-year-old company likes to say that it focuses on movies targeted at mainstream audiences with a special emphasis on "the powerful fandom demographic."

-- Claudia Eller

Photo: A customer pores over graphic novels at the Golden Apple comic book store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times




The Morning Fix: Oscar working on timing. Hasbro and Discovery not toying around. `Superman' has its director.

After the coffee. Before yet another flight to New York.

The Skinny: Discovery's and Hasbro's new kids channel doesn't premiere until Sunday, but the critics are already pouncing. Can't Google everyone with Google TV. "Superman" has its next director. The FCC wants more dirt from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review

Oscars on the move. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences wants to move the annual Oscar Awards telecasts from its current home of the end of February or early March to January or early February. The motivation is to make the Oscars one of the first awards shows instead of the last so there is less chance of awards-show fatigue impacting the telecast's ratings. The challenge is finding a new home that won't get run over by football. Huh? That's right, football. See, the NFL wants to expand its regular season to 18 games (that's a debate for another day) and if (when) that happens, it will mean the Super Bowl and probably some of the playoffs will get pushed well into February. That means the Oscar folks (and host network ABC) have to find a home where they won't bump up against all that football hype on rival networks and still get ahead of other shows. The scoop from the Los Angeles Times.

Not toying around. On Sunday, Discovery and Hasbro will launch "The Hub," a new cable channel aimed primarily at kids age 6-11. Not only will it face tough competition from entrenched channels such as Viacom's Nickelodeon and Disney's Disney Channel and Disney XD, it will also be scrutinized by media watchdogs. That's because there are concerns that Hasbro will try to make the network into nothing but ads for its toys. The channel's boss, respected kids TV executive Margaret Loesch, says that won't be the case and that only about 20% of Hub shows are based on Hasbro products. But will that be enough to silence the critics? More on The Hub from the Los Angeles Times.

Google this! Google, the search engine that wants to become the connector between the Internet and the television, unveiled its content partners, but the list was more notable for who wasn't on it. While several cable networks, including CNBC, HBO and Turner Broadcasting are on board, the big broadcast networks are steering clear of Google -- for now anyway. To get Google TV, at least in its early incarnation, you'll need either a Sony high-definition TV set, a Blu-ray player or a special set-top box. In other words, it may take a little while for this thing to take off. More on Google's small-screen dreams from the New York Times.

Peace accord. Mexican broadcaster Grupo Televisa is shelling out $130 million for a 5% stake in Univision and an additional $1.07 billion in convertible debt that translates into 30% of Univision's shares, according to the Wall Street Journal. Besides giving Univision a much needed infusion, it ends years of acrimony between the two media giants.

And the backlash begins. Although many critics are worshiping "The Social Network" and already talking about how many Oscar nominations it should get, gripes about the portrayal of women in the movie are starting to surface. Missing from the movie, says Rebecca Davis O'Brien in the Daily Beast, are women who aren't "doting groupies, vengeful sluts, or dumpy, feminist killjoys." 

He's baaack! Former NBC Enertainment chief Ben Silverman is back to doing what he does best -- making new versions of successful shows. He's near a deal to make a sitcom for ABC based on an old Latin American comedy called "I Hate This Place." Not sure what's more ironic, that ABC -- whose old entertainment chief Steve McPherson loathed Silverman -- will be home for the show or that Deadline Hollywood, which relished in Silverman's downfall at NBC, was where the story was leaked.

Super Director. Zack Snyder, whose credits include "300" and "Watchmen," has been tapped to direct the latest version of "Superman" for Warner Bros. and Legend Pictures. Chris Nolan will produce. Deadline Hollywood on the choice and what Snyder's thoughts are about taking on the franchise.

Where's mine? The Wrap makes the shocking discovery that even in a field as challenged as journalism, there are some people pulling down huge salaries. Next you'll tell me there are hockey players making big bucks too. The hook for the story is that Michael Ausiello, an Entertainment Weekly writer best known for his television casting scoops, is launching his own website, backed by the owners of Deadline Hollywood. Hey, if someone wants to pay top dollar for content, you'll get no complaints from me.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Thomas Tull, the chairman of Legendary Pictures, is buying out his original investors and has new partners in Fortress Investment Group and Fidelity. The Federal Communications Commission wants more inside information from Comcast and NBC Universal as part of its review of their pending merger. 

-- Joe Flint

Follow me on Twitter and I'll tweet you something special. Twitter.com/JBFlint

Tull gets control of Legendary Pictures in buyout of original investors

Tullvrabeck Thomas Tull is taking control of Legendary Pictures.

The chairman of the film financing and production company has quietly led a buyout of its original investors in order to more directly steer an expansion into video games, digital media and other businesses.

Under the deal that closed last week, Tull brought on two new investors to acquire nearly all the stake held by Legendary's original investors who backed the company's founding in 2004, according to several people familiar with the situation.

A representative for Legendary declined to comment.

The transaction resulted in Tull becoming Legendary's single largest controlling shareholder, making it easier for him to grow the company beyond its current business of co-financing films with Warner Bros. Tull hired former Electronic Arts executive Kathy Vrabeck last year to lead Legendary's digital business and previously weighed buying video game developer Epic Games, but has yet to make a major move in the area.

Legendary's new backers are Fidelity Investments and Fortress Investment Group, one person close to the deal said. Fortress was part of an unsuccessful bid earlier this year with Ron Burkle and Bob and Harvey Weinstein to acquire Miramax Films from Walt Disney Co.

Fidelity and Fortress, along with Tull, acquired the stakes held by Abry Partners, AIG Direct Investments, Bank of America, Columbia Capital, Falcon Investment Advisors and M/C Venture Partners. Those original partners had invested about $400 million in equity into Legendary at a time when it was focused purely on financing movies.

They sold their stakes at a profit, people close to the situation said. In a document posted on its website, M/C Venture Partners reported "a very successful exit" in the deal.

Unlike other private equity-backed film investment companies that have struggled, Legendary has been associated with several very successful pictures, including "The Dark Knight," "The Hangover" and "Inception," although it has had some flops, such as this summer's "Jonah Hex."

At the time that the buyout closed last week, Legendary also closed a strategic partnership with Hong Kong company Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment in order to explore business opportunities in China. Orange Sky also invested $25 million, which Legendary used for a small portion of the buyout.

The company didn't disclose the buyout of its original investors last week. A representative said that Legendary doesn't discuss private financial matters.

Specific financial details of the buyout were not available, but people familiar with the matter said Legendary is now valued at more than $1 billion.

The company's deal to co-finance movies with Warner Bros. lasts until 2013.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Legendary Pictures' chairman, Thomas Tull, and digital president, Kathy Vrabeck. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

Legendary Pictures signs strategic partnership with Hong Kong company

Hong Kong movie company Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment has made a minority investment of $25 million in Legendary Pictures in a deal that will enable the Hollywood film financing and production company to move into the Chinese market.

Founded in 1970, Orange Sky has produced and financed more than 600 movies and operates 29 multiplexes with 229 screens in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

In a regulatory filing, the company said it made the strategic alliance with Legendary in order to explore possibilities for co-productions of local language films and developing video games.

Legendary said in a statement that the deal could enable the two firms to work together on television and online media as well and for it to consider new partnership opportunities in the fast-growing Chinese market.

This is the first such publicly disclosed strategic investment for Legendary, which is led by chairman Thomas Tull. In 2007, it raised $1 billion to co-finance and produce movies with Warner Bros. as part of a five-year deal. While many other private equity-backed film finance ventures have struggled or shut down in recent years, Legendary has fared well, with a string of hits including "300," "The Dark Knight," "The Hangover" and this summer's "Inception."

According to a regulatory filing, the investment gives Orange Sky the right to appoint one member to Legendary's board of directors.

The deal implies a valuation for Legendary's common stock of $825 million. A person familiar with Legendary's finances said the company has other stock and value considerations beyond its common stock that put its total value at more than $1 billion.

-- Ben Fritz


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