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Though they might be the most reviled figures among Hollywood’s liberal crowd, the Koch brothers have been a silent investor in Warner Bros.’ slate of movies for four years.
Sources say Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch — who are worth a combined $96.2 billion and wield enormous power in political circles as major backers of right-wing politicians — took a significant stake valued at tens of millions of dollars in RatPac-Dune Entertainment. Now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin brought the brothers in as investors as part of a $450 million deal struck in 2013 — a move that was never disclosed because RatPac-Dune is a private company.
Though Mnuchin is no longer involved with the slate financing facility, having recently put his stake into a blind trust in order to avoid a conflict of interest, the Koch brothers continue to be stakeholders in such films as Wonder Woman, Dunkirk and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Ready Player One.
A RatPac spokesperson didn’t respond to a request. A spokesperson for Koch Industries says, “Charles Koch, David Koch and Koch Industries do not have any involvement with this investment.”
The brothers aren’t the only unlikely billionaires who have sunk money into the Warner Bros. deal. Sources say Mnuchin also brought in Bill Gates for an amount similar to the Koch brothers’.
Gates, still the world’s richest man despite a brief stint at No. 2 late last month, might seem an odd investor in the volatile business of slate financing. In fact, the facility is currently just slightly underwater, having endured such misses as the Will Smith star vehicle Collateral Beauty, the Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler pairing The House and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which stands to lose as much as $150 million for Warners, offsetting the studio’s big earners like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and American Sniper (though it is expected to bounce back this year).
Outside of Microsoft, Gates has invested conservatively in such blue-chip companies as UPS, Walmart and Coca-Cola. The closest his portfolio gets to Hollywood is an investment in Grupo Televisa, a major media, cable and pay TV company in Mexico. A request to Microsoft for comment was not returned.
Unlike Mnuchin, you won’t see the trio of uber-billionaires listed as executive producers on any of the films they’ve backed. As for why the Kochs and Gates have kept their involvement secret, a source familiar with the deal says it’s simple. “They’re in it to make money. They’re not in it for the recognition,” says the source.
The idea of the Koch brothers as Hollywood stakeholders might be difficult to swallow for some of the industry’s more liberal-minded power players like Spielberg and Ben Affleck, whose 2016 drama Live by Night was one of the films co-financed by RatPac-Dune.
After all, the brothers own 84 percent of Koch Industries, which is considered a prolific polluter and has engaged in a decades-long lobbying campaign to weaken environmental regulations. Headquartered in Wichita, Kan., Koch Industries is a sprawling firm that focuses on fossil fuels, fertilizers, and synthetic fabrics and materials but also has an investment arm.
The Kochs served as the titular subjects of Carl Deal and Tia Lessin’s 2013 documentary Citizen Koch, which chronicled how the brothers funded the rise of the Tea Party.
“I don’t think the Kochs have spent a dime of money out of altruism. It’s all toward advancing their bottom line, whether it’s in politics or the private sector. I don’t think it would be too cynical to believe that this was not calculated. It doesn’t bode well for Hollywood,” says Deal.
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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