Hollywood veteran Jeff Robinov is preparing to produce 24 movies over the next five years through his Chinese-funded Studio 8, which he unveiled to a select group of media in a briefing on Tuesday.
“Contractually, I have the greenlight,” Robinov told TheWrap at the briefing, which was also attended by Fosun Group Chairman Guo Guangchang and Sony Pictures Entertainment co-Chairman Amy Pascal and Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton.
The deal bringing together Chinese financing, Robinov’s industry experience and Sony’s marketing and distribution infrastructure is a sign of the times as China continues to rise at a time when major studios are trimming their staff and slates.
Robinov is armed with up to $1 billion in financing and while his company has no current development slate, it expects to announce its first project in 4-6 weeks, with pre-production starting between January and March, he said.
Studio 8 will have a staff of 14-16 people, including four development executives counting Robinov, who said he aims to make filmmaker-driven movies with global appeal that are visually unique, citing “Inception,” “Gravity” and “The Matrix” as such examples.
Fosun is a Shanghai-based company that manages a few different types of business, including industrial operations, insurance, direct investment and asset management. It has already invested in Bona Film Group, a leading Chinese film company.
With Studio 8 joining Sony labels such as Columbia Pictures, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Animation and TriStar, Sony expects to release 18-22 movies a year, though Lynton isn’t worried about a crowded calendar. “You can get to be as big as that as long as everyone behaves in a collaborative fashion. You can always find the right date for the right movie.”
Pascal said she won’t play favorites among the divisions. “These are going to be Sony movies. We’re going to treat everyone equal. It’s not like, this division gets this and this division gets that,” she said.
Once Studio 8 is fully up and running, Robinov expects to release two films in its first year and four films in its second year, with six films expected in each of the following three years.
Robinov said he’s thinking “less in terms of budget and more in terms of what’s unique,” pointing to his own success at Warner Bros. working with filmmakers “with real vision and visual style.” Christopher Nolan and Alfonso Cuaron are two such directors, and since Robinov has maintained his relationship with each, a reunion could be in the cards down the line.
Robinov had an acrimonious departure after two decades as a top executive there. He was not allowed to take any projects from Warner Bros., though he aims to make movies budgeted between $45 million and $100 million like box office hits “Argo” and “Gravity.”
Studio 8 will be relying on Fosun to leverage the company’s knowledge of the Chinese marketplace as well as its relationships overseas, including those within the Chinese government.
The company will try its best to secure distribution in China for all of Studio 8’s movies, with Guo pointing out that “the door opens a lot and it’s going to open more and more.”
“We’re going to be opportunistic,” said Robinov, which could mean Chinese co-productions for Studio 8, or simply shooting in China.
In the end, Robinov, Fosun and Sony hope to build a global production and cultural platform, an ambitious plan but one that the enterprising Robinov could certainly pull off given his experience.
Speaking of which — while Guo said that Fosun has experience in the film industry, having invested in China’s Bona Film Group, he admitted that the company is not a Hollywood expert — it just invests in those who are.
“Only the most excellent team will make the most excellent investment,” said Guo, who predicted Studio 8 could have the same success as Chinese online giant Alibaba one day.
To that end, Guo and Robinov met only three months ago and hit it off immediately. “It was love at first sight,” said Guo, “after realizing that all the movies he made are my favorite movies.”
And what might his favorite movie be? “‘Inception,’ but it’s really hard to understand,” Guo said with a laugh.
Guo said he admired Robinov’s spirit of entrepreneurship and said that “the key for investment is the team, and Jeff’s team stands out in Hollywood.” The Fosun chairman said he does not expect another investment on the Hollywood studio front, but that the company could invest in other areas of entertainment such as sports.