Yesterday there was a major announcement establishing a new movie production studio coming out of Hollywood, with private equity investors from the US and from China. The new studio is the brain child of producers Gigi Pritzker and Robert Simonds and expects to invest over US$1 billion in filmmaking over the next five years.
In the 1958 musical movie of Collette’s novella Gigi, which was first published in 1944, Leslie Caron plays the role of the charming young woman Gilberte, whom everyone calls simply Gigi. Gigi, pushed by some fairly unsubtle social pressures around her to play the game and become a rich man’s mistress, eventually outsmarts everyone around her and defies the mores of the day. As a result, by the end of the movie she ends up happily married to Gaston the man she loves, played in the movie by Charles Jourdan.
In doing so Gigi completely refutes the cynicism of the era, expressed through the character played by Maurice Chevalier, and asserts the power of a young woman to in the end determine her own destiny. She does so, moreover, through the strength of her own qualities, and the impact these have on Gaston, rather than by specifically going out to do battle for them. Accordingly, Gaston is forced to turn from potential sexual predator to careful guardian, and eventually Gigi’s husband.
Would that it were always so easy as by going to see a warm and friendly musical. Other young woman have had to, and still have to, fight to achieve acceptance and success on their own merits in what in so many areas of life and professional activity has been a man’s world, even until today.
Nowhere is this more true than in Hollywood itself, where the movie Gigi was made to begin with. That makes the history to date of Gigi Pritzker even more remarkable, in that she has already achieved substantial artistic recognition and success as a Hollywood film producer and, perhaps equally important, has made quite a lot of money doing it.
Whilst it is true that, as a daughter of the fabulously wealthy Pritzker family of Chicago which founded the Hyatt hotel chain, Gigi Pritzker was to some extent born with a silver spoon in her mouth, nevertheless that is no guarantee that productive things will come of it – there are plenty of heirs and heiresses who have merely wasted their lives while remaining umbilically attached to their trust funds.
As proof of the quality of Gigi Pritzker’s success we need look no further than yesterday’s announcement of the founding of the major new, star-driven, mid-market film studio in which she will play a key role both as an investor and as a film maker.
Setting up a new film studio is far from a trivial effort; it takes talent, money, a road map for movie making, financing, distribution, partners, international relationships and plenty more besides.
Accordingly we learned many things at once yesterday from the launch of the new studio. Taking most of these one at a time, therefore, producers Robert Simonds and Gigi Pritzker are launching the new studio, which will initiate, develop, produce and distribute its own film content.
Simonds will be the Chairman and CEO of the, yet to be named, new studio which expects to make up to ten, star driven, mid-budget movies each year to supply to global markets. To achieve this goal the studio intends to invest substantially more than US$1 billion in film production over the next five years.
Co-investors in the new project include giant private equity firm TPG Capital, led by co-founder David Bonderman, Hony Capital a leading Chinese private equity firm and Gigi Pritzker herself. Her existing film production company OddLot Entertainment will contribute both debt and equity to the venture, including both her own money and, one can reasonably infer, likely also some from her family. Gigi will also sit on the board of the new company, as will David Bonderman of TPG and John Zhao of Hony Capital.
As an anchor investor, Hony Capital brings both deep pockets and its connections in China, today the world’s second largest movie market, to the new venture. Indeed this is one of the most significant investments ever made by a mainland Chinese company in a U.S. film studio.
Moving further down the chain a little, the new company also announced a strategic partnership for film and television production with SMG Pictures, a leading existing Chinese film production studio, which is backed by some of China’s largest entertainment conglomerates.
In the international world that movie making is today Hollywood is no longer the dominant force in the actual physical making of films. Canada, the UK and other countries including China, have proven themselves to be financially highly economic locations, both for on-set and on-location shooting, to actually film many of the films which are now only nominally made in Hollywood.
As another essential link in the complex chain of movie making, film-financing commitments were also announced for the new studio yesterday, though only in broad terms. J.P. Morgan Chase have been structuring and arranging senior debt financing for the new business, underwritten by themselves and Band of America Merrill Lynch.
Finally the studio intends to control its own domestic theatrical distribution, within North America, through direct distribution agreements with leading North America theater chains AMC Theatres, Regal Entertainment Group, Cinemark and Carmike now on-board. Cutting out the middle man in movie distribution has always made sense in today’s industry, where ownership of screens is highly concentrated and this is a good example of it.
Additional announcements will follow about further distribution deals concerning pay TV and home entertainment channels. The studio is also exploring digital distribution partnerships with leading online entertainment providers around the world as well, while aiming to keep its copyrights intact along the way.
You can’t make star-studded films without movie stars but with his own strong leadership, and the strong team Robert Simonds has put together, and with plenty of money to throw around, stars will inevitably be attracted to the movies made by this nascent studio.
In talking about the deal CEO Bob Simonds pointed to shifts taking place in the entertainment which have, in his view, opened things up to new entrants, “The seismic shifts in the entertainment industry have produced exciting new opportunities in content, production and distribution. Together with our partners, we are creating a studio with the flexibility, global scale, and experience required to seize this opportunity, ” adding “Star-driven, mid-budget films are an underserved market and with our proven track record in this area, we are uniquely positioned to successfully partner with traditional distributors in North America, expand in the vast Chinese market, and capitalize on new, still developing digital channels.”
Gigi Pritzker concurred saying, “I am confident in Bob’s vision for this company and the partnership he has assembled. I look forward to seeing it thrive. As both a filmmaker and an investor, I look forward to finding strategic opportunities to work with him on upcoming projects.”
The new studio’s international partner Hony Capital is also excited by the deal, with John Zhao, CEO of Hony Capital saying, “This is the first investment a Chinese company has made into a Hollywood studio; and it is a perfect example of how investors bring in various but unique resources to create a new-age studio, ” adding: “Together with its strategic partners like SMG and PPTV, Hony Capital will bring in the best mix of China’s market resources to help Bob and his veteran team execute the first global-market focused, vertically-integrated studio that Hollywood has seen in a decade.”
All that is a complicated series of interlocking elements to have been put in place. So all the studio now needs to get going is a name, and a place to hang up its shingle and actually start to make movies. And for Gigi Pritzker it is an opportunity to even more firmly establish herself as one of Hollywood’s leading movie producers, together with her new partners.
About Gigi Pritzker
Gigi Pritzker, who today is 40 years old, was born and grew up in Chicago, the daughter of Jay Pritzker and Marian Cindy Pritzker (née Friend).
Gigi is an accomplished film and stage producer, businesswoman, and an active philanthropist, who serves as CEO of film production and financing company OddLot Entertainment. She has teamed with leading filmmakers to produce a range of high-quality motion pictures.
Her filmography includes the film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s futuristic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game; 2013’s critically acclaimed comedy hit The Way Way Back starring Steve Carell; 2012’s noir favorite, Drive with Ryan Gosling; and 2010’s Academy Award-nominated adult drama Rabbit Hole.
Pritzker’s previous productions also include “Million Dollar Quartet, ” the musical that went to Broadway, and “The Wedding Planner, ” starring Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey and made in 2001.
In her spare time Gigi Pritzker is also President, and a trustee of, the Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation and of the Chicago Children’s Theatre. She is married to Michael Smith and they have one child.