Jared Underwood and Bobby Paunescu's Solar Entertainment Launches Investment Bank

Jared Underwood

The duo have partnered with Alexandra Lloyd and Peter Hoffman in Solar Entertainment HLB, which will be run by chairman Michael Blum, a former Merrill Lynch banker.

Bankers who in the past have been involved in deals such as the refinancing of Lionsgate, Filmyard Holdings' $650 million acquisition of Miramax and the financing for Ivan Reitman and Tom Pollock’s Cold Spring Pictures have formed Solar Entertainment HLB, a new media and entertainment industry investment bank.

This is the latest in a series of moves that began March by Jared Underwood, former Group Manager at Comerica Entertainment Group, and Bobby Paunescu under their Solar Entertainment Group.

For this investment bank, they are partnering with Alexandra (Sasha) Lloyd, formerly of Goldman Sachs, and Peter Hoffman, a New York-based banker who had held positions with Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch Global Markets, among others.

Paunescu is majority owner of a large industrial conglomerate in Central and Eastern Europe, with businesses such as wind energy parks, insurance, transportation, hotels, agriculture, mining, real estate development and media.

In the movie business, Paunescu has produced, financed, written, directed and distributed about a dozen movies to date. Through Mandragora International Group, formed in 2004, he produced The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), which won a prize in Un Certain Regard at Cannes; and Francesca, which in 2009 was the opening-night film in Venice. He also has production studios in Romania, which he operates with an Italian partner.

At Comerica, Underwood was involved in deals to provide financing for The Weinstein Co., DreamWorks, Relativity Media, Participant Media, IM Global and others.

Michael Blum, who spent 16 years with Merrill Lynch, was also named Tuesday as chairman of the new investment bank. That reunites the team who did major transactions in the past for Marvel Entertainment, ICM, Summit Entertainment and others.

Blum most recently was managing director and head of Hedge Fund Platforms and Strategic Initiatives at G2 Investment Group. Before that he was CEO of Orix USA Asset Management LLC. He spent 16 years at  Merrill Lynch, where he managed trading teams in New York, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore for origination, financing and special situation principal transactions, according to the announcement.

Their business plan is to link wealthy individuals and companies, many of them from outside the U.S., with Hollywood studios, production companies and producers to provide movie and TV financing. That could include very large slate financing deals for the major studios as well as financing for individual filmmakers, indie film companies and mini-majors. Underwood said they would offer “a full spectrum of financial products ranging from debt to equity, single picture to slate financing and corporate financing to studio co-financing.”

Underwood and Hoffman declined to say how much seed money they have raised or how much money their clients have to invest. However, a source with knowledge of the venture said to start they can access between $500 million and $1 billion, and that amount is expected to grow, especially if they have any success in the near future.

The backers of the investment bank, besides Underwood and Paunescu, include Edward Lawson Johnston, founder of the London-based merchant bank LJ Group, and the New York-based Shu family, with major holdings in real estate and energy in the U.S., Romania and China.

Solar Entertainment Group is a holding company that previously has announced plans to make and finance a number of movies. At the American Film Market in October, the company said its Solar Pictures division will make about four or five movies a year with budgets up to $40 million. One of those announced was Paunescu’s feature The Girl Who Knew Too Much, which Paunescu is doing with China Film Group Corp. Paunescu is writing and directing the suspense thriller about the international fashion world.

Solar Pictures has also closed deals to finance and produce other projects to shoot in early to mid-2013. These include the suspense thriller Dark Corners, the drama Jonestown and the action thriller Jet Black.

In November, Underwood also announced the launch of Solar Media Capital, headed by former Comerica Entertainment executive Andrew Robinson, to provide lending alternatives for entertainment projects such as single picture financing, bridge lending, tax credit financing, foreign rights sales, P&A funding and special situation lending.

Solar Entertainment has offices in Los Angeles (where Underwood is based), New York (where Hoffman is based), London, Bucharest, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan.