Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns: ‘We Don’t Want to Be the New Major’

Lionsgate has enviable tentpoles like "The Hunger Games" and "Twilight," but it wants to remain nimble

Armed with box office franchises like “The Hunger Games,” “The Expendables” and “Twilight,” Lionsgate has tentpole films that would make any studio drool.

Yet studio Vice Chairman Michael Burns rejects any suggestion his studio wants to be the next Universal or Sony.

“We don’t want to be the new major,” Burns, in conversation with Gary Lucchesi at the fourth annual Produced By Conference, said Saturday. Instead, Lionsgate wants to be “the smallest studio with the largest library.”

Since Burns, CEO Jon Feltheimer and other investors like Harry Sloan purchased Lionsgate, the company has purchased a series of companies like Mandate Pictures and Trimark. Earlier this year, it bought Summit Entertainment, the studio behind “Twilight.”

In the process, Lionsgate has built a library of more than 13,000 titles that provides $155 million in cash flow a year, Burns said.

As it grew, Lionsgate got into the tentpole business and built more modest franchises like the Tyler Perry movies.

It also developed a successful television business with productions like “Mad Men,” “Nurse Jackie” and “Boss.”

Yet even if Lionsgate’s ambitions have grown, Burns reiterated its focus on building a library and benefiting through deals with Netflix. 

He also ticked off a list of movies Lionsgate won’t make, reflecting an aversion to risk. 

“I doubt we’ll be big in the animated space. Maybe one a year,” Burns said.

What about adult dramas?

Not after the failure of “Warrior.” Though a critical darling that earned Nick Nolte an Oscar nomination, the movie cost $30 million and took in just $13 million at the box office.

Scratch off most other movies with a similar budget, one between $20 million and $50 million.

That’s no-man’s land according to Burns, referencing the spot on the tennis court between the baseline and the net that every player is taught to avoid.

Lionsgate’s efforts to minimize risk are best seen in its approach to the international market, where it sells the rights to recoup money before a movie even opens.

That strategy won’t change.

“It’s too difficult,” Burns said. “In some countries, we can’t even fire anyone.”

“I’d rather be in business with international distributors we’ve had a long relationship with making money.”