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Ryan Kavanaugh's Theory of Relativity

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Kavanaugh's team will need all the inspiration they can get as they move from investing into producing and distributing their own films. Kavanaugh's goal is to "grow a full-size studio slate of our own movies. If we could really scale what we had been doing up to 10 or 20 movies a year in this risk-adjusted model, rather than needing a movie to do $80 million [at the box office] to break even, we would only have to do $30 million."

It's a grand vision, a mogul's way of thinking in an era that has little room for moguls.

There are doubters, of course.

"The performance of his slate deal at Universal to date has been miserable," says one Hollywood financier. "He says his plan is to make money by laying off most of the risk, but that is completely implausible. He is doing all this with smoke and mirrors, and Elliott has bought into it, but it will catch up with him."

Kavanaugh seems unperturbed. "People like to speculate, twist and turn," he says. While he acknowledges that Sony, like Universal, has had bad years as well as good during his time with them, he adds, "It approximately equals out. Of the last five Universal movies, all but one made money, and we made a fortune on 'Despicable Me.' "