Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer Talks Expansion, Courting Entrepreneurial Talent

Stephen Galloway and Jon Feltheimer -The Hollywood Reporter's Power Business Managers Breakfast 2018 - Getty - H 2018
Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

The studio chief spoke with The Hollywood Reporter executive editor Stephen Galloway at the eighth annual Power Business Managers breakfast.

Lionsgate's big-ticket purchase of Starz and recent majority investment in management company 3 Arts are just the beginning of a new phase of business, in which the studio seeks to become the ultimate destination for entrepreneurial talent, according to CEO Jon Feltheimer.

The exec on Wednesday sat down with The Hollywood Reporter executive editor Stephen Galloway for a keynote Q&A during the publication's eighth annual Power Business Managers breakfast at Cut in Beverly Hills.

Galloway led off by asking whether vice chairman Michael Burns' recently purchased 50,000 shares of the studio signals a potential buyout or an impending sale. "He's bullish on the company," said Feltheimer. "Last time Michael bought stock, it was $6."

Although Feltheimer and Burns don't always agree — especially politically — the two are equally optimistic about the company's future as a premier destination for talent. The CEO says recently a "hot director" took 15 meetings before picking Lionsgate because he "loved the entrepreneurial feeling he got." 

"They can do virtually every kind of content, edgy, premium, commercial," said Feltheimer. "We want to do everything and be involved with [talent] from soup to nuts."

He's not seeing everything through rose-colored glasses, however. When asked about the company's biggest failure, Feltheimer pointed to Lionsgate's 2015 multimillion-dollar investment in Telltale Games, the recently shuttered maker of narrative video games based on Hollywood properties like The Walking DeadBatman and Guardians of the Galaxy. "Gamers now want to play Fortnite, not something that involves thinking," said the exec. 

He's not worried about the studio's longevity because it has a safety net: its library. "It's hard to compete in this business without evergreen cashflow," Feltheimer said, adding that Lionsgate's library of 16,000 titles still brings in "hundreds of millions each year."

Martha Henderson of City National Bank, the presenting sponsor of the annual event, kicked off the lineup of speakers that also included Matthew Belloni, THR's editorial director. Belloni introduced the inaugural Business Manager Icon Award, explaining that top business managers who have great clients tend to stay loyal. The honor, Belloni said, was created to acknowledge someone "extraordinary, who goes above and beyond." The award's first recipient is Harley Neuman, whose A-list clients include Ellen DeGeneres, Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Murphy. 

Talent lawyer Kevin Yorn, who shares clients with Neuman and has known him for 25 years, presented the honor. While preparing his speech, Yorn said the word "mensch" jumped out at him, so he looked into the exact definition. "'Mensch' means 'a person of integrity and honor,'" said Yorn, quoting Wikipedia and getting a big laugh from the crowd when he added, "The opposite of a 'mensch' is an 'unmensch,' meaning an utterly unlikeable or unfriendly person."

The lawyer then got serious, explaining why Neuman's humanity and his ability to make each of his clients a priority despite their incredibly complex lives is remarkable. "His clients feel safe that they can give their opinions and there will be discourse," said Yorn. 

DeGeneres sent her congratulations via video message. "Of all the Business Manager of the Year awards, in my opinion, this is the most prestigious," she said, getting the first of several laughs from the crowd. "I wish I could be there in person. I really do. Anyone who knows me knows that I would never miss an opportunity to have breakfast with a room full of business managers, bankers and attorneys. But today happens to be the breakfast for Money magazine’s Accountant of the Year, and I committed to that months ago. I’m kidding. That sounds like a nightmare.”

Event sponsor Zenith presented Neuman with a Defy El Primero 21 Titanium Chronograph watch. Ermenegildo Zegna also sponsored the event.