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Cannes: Former EMI Boss Launches Entertainment Finance, Production Venture

Eric Nicoli - H

Wentworth Media & Arts, from Eric Nicoli and three partners, wants to become a player in independent film and beyond.

CANNES - Former EMI chairman and CEO Eric Nicoli and three partners from the entertainment, finance and brand worlds on Friday unveiled a new entertainment finance, production and distribution venture here.

Wentworth Media & Arts, based in London and backed by British private equity sources, including high net-worth individuals, wants to become "a major new player in the world of independent film," but also play in other parts of the media and entertainment sector.

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Its founders said in a statement that the company is looking to "produce, develop, exploit and fund various products and productions across the whole of the media and entertainment space, including film, television, social media, computer games, CGI animation, theater, live entertainment, education and publishing, as well as associated and emerging technologies." It will look to strike distribution deals for all territories and platforms, the venture partners said.

“We believe content, in all forms, is increasing in value around the world," said Nicoli. "The strategically vetted approach to financing new films and properties is appealing to us. We’re aligning high-quality content with funding and business execution in a way that can maximize the exploitation and commercialization of that content for the content owner, distributor, investor and WMA alike.”

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On the production front, the company will initially look to develop and produce three to four feature films per year in various budget ranges. WMA also plans to acquire completed films for domestic, international and/or worldwide distribution and pre-buy rights to "well-packaged projects that have or are likely to have meaningful distribution."

Wentworth will focus on raising from investors the necessary financing for projects - up to $15 million (£10 million), then help produce them and decide how to best distribute them. Asked if there wasn't already a glut of other financiers and players, Nicoli told THR: "There is virtually limitless supply of content and a global audience." Added consumer brands expert and partner William Lewis: "Film is an industry that continues to grow in spite of the challenges."

But Wentworth won't be run as a film fund, instead using Britain's Enterprise Investment Scheme, set up by the government to encourage rich individuals and businesspeople to put money into small companies that might otherwise seem too risky, to line up financing for projects.

How is Wentworth different from other financiers? The partners said they plan to over-deliver instead of making big promises. "We don't think we are smarter than everybody, but we are cautious," Nicoli said. "Everybody is doing some of [what we do], but not holistically."

Asked about the balance between a focus on creativity and financials, he said: "Without excellent content, we don't stand a chance. But we also need sound economics and financial discipline. If you have too much of one, you will go bust." In a statement, the company also emphasized that it is "dedicated to providing an artist-friendly environment for top filmmakers and talent with a mandate to create entertainment content that is commercially viable."

Discussing distribution strategies, Nicoli said they would depend on each specific project. "We see eye-to-eye on the opportunity to marry the traditional approach with new approaches. We want to exploit excellent creative content more fully, because the traditional approach is quite narrow." Among other things, the firm wants to use digital and social media and other new technologies to its advantage in marketing and distribution. "With digital media, the world is the market," Nicoli said.

Nicoli's and Lewis' partners in the new venture are John Stanley, who has worked at EMI and as an artist manager, among other things, and finance expert Dean Goldberg.
 
Wentworth Media & Arts (WMA) has also taken a stake of close to 20 percent in new sales company Filmagine, headed by veteran film financier Beau Rogers (Gods and Monsters). It was formed in partnership with Morris Ruskin’s Shoreline Entertainment.

Among WMA's first projects, the company and Filmagine are jointly developing The Raven of St. James's Park. The project is described as a "modern-day Downton Abbey-meets-Love Actually. It is about "a lovable but cantankerous and misunderstood octogenarian (and former war hero) [who] steals and releases a famed raven from the Tower of London," according to a plot description. That sparks a "class-conflicted comedic romance between a fourth-generation coachman who serves the royal family and a poor but proud Romanian immigrant waitress."

Another early project is a six-part TV music documentary series called Time of Our Lives, which could be expanded if successful. The documentaries are dramatized and focus on concept albums that had social impacts and the DNA of their creators. The Wentworth partners said the series will get broadcast and DVD distribution, among other things, but didn't immediately provide further specifics.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai