New Owners Look to Warm Up Weinstein Co.'s Film Leftovers

Toxic_Weinstein Company_Illo - THR - H 2019
Illustration by: Max Temescu

Lantern Entertainment, which acquired the disgraced mogul's company in 2018, is searching for a CEO and has been mired in lawsuits as it releases its first movie.

When The Upside, the new odd-couple dramedy starring Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston, opens nationwide Jan. 11, the Lantern Entertainment logo, an interlocked L and E, will hit movie theaters for the first time. It provides the first hints of how the Texas-based private-equity investors Andy Mitchell and Milos Brajovic plan to exploit the remnants of The Weinstein Co., whose assets they acquired for $289 million in a bankruptcy sale last May.

But however Neil Burger's The Upside fares — it's tracking at $10 million to $12 million, which, though a respectable number for a mid-range movie, would be one of Hart's lowest openings, arriving weeks after the comedian stepped away as this year's Oscars host — it's not likely to jump-start Lantern.

The company, which now consists of about 50 employees (down from about 150 at TWC's height), is mired in legal proceedings, is searching for a CEO and has yet to unveil any major plans. Mitchell and Brajovic, who declined to comment for this article, were show business novices when they became the sole bidders for TWC, which, having ground to a standstill in the wake of multiple sexual assault allegations against co-founder Harvey Weinstein, had a handful of unreleased movies and a library of about 270 films. Known for buying up distressed businesses like car dealerships and a zinc recycling plant, the closest they'd come to celebrity was investing in Bluejack National, Tiger Woods' first golf course, outside Houston.

"They're not movie people, but they are nice and respectful and open. They will tell you they don't know this part of the business and have been very receptive," says Todd Black, one of The Upside's producers, who watched anxiously when his movie, which debuted at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, saw its initial release postponed as the TWC bankruptcy played out.

Once Lantern began shopping the film around, STX Entertainment stepped up to partner on its release — STX is putting up P&A costs and distributing the film, which cost in the low $30 million range, for a fee. "All of us who saw it really responded to the film," which is based on the 2011 French hit The Intouchables, says Adam Fogelson, STXfilms chairman. "A number of us here, myself included, have a pre-existing relationship with Kevin, and this was a chance to be in business with him. It was a fairly easy and straightforward film for us to take on."

But cleaning up much of the rest of what the Weinsteins left behind has proven to be more problematic. Lantern struck a deal with NBCUniversal to move Project Runway back to Bravo, where it originated, after A+E's Lifetime, on which it's appeared for the past decade, canceled its contract. The show will resurface in the spring, with new hosts Karlie Kloss and Christian Siriano stepping in for Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, who are launching a competing show on Amazon.

And a number of TWC's orphan films are still without domestic release — Lantern contracted with international distributor and financier 13 Films to handle the foreign rollout of The Current War, the Thomas Edison biopic starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, and the horror pic Polaroid, although First Republic Bank, which provided financing for Polaroid, then moved to block that deal.

Meanwhile, sources say Mitchell and Brajovic have been meeting with agencies and studios to explore possible productions. Reaching into TWC's trove of unproduced scripts and books, they interested MGM in partnering to develop The Boys in the Boat, based on Daniel James Brown's best-selling book about the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team that Kenneth Branagh was once set to direct. But the process has been slow because Lantern hasn't yet inventoried all the IP it acquired — "as creative as they were, the Weinsteins were not very good at bookkeeping and tracking things," says one source who's been monitoring developments.

Complicating matters further is that a lot of the library titles have various dangling strings attached. Lantern had to shell out $6.1 million for various rights that it didn't fully control on three Quentin Tarantino movies: Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. But Lantern has drawn the line at compensating A-list stars such as Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts for what they claim they are owed in profits from TWC movies including Silver Linings Playbook and August: Osage County.

In a court filing Jan. 7 in Delaware bankruptcy court, Lantern argued that it purchased the copyright to the films independent of the talent agreements and any old debt, and that it's responsible only for any profit participation after July 2018, when it took over for TWC. Whether or not the judge rules in its favor, Lantern's stance could complicate its dealings with Hollywood. Says one onlooker: "What agent will want to do business with them? They owe half of CAA's clientele."

That, in turn, raises the question of whether, having had a taste of the business, Mitchell, 43, and Brajovic, 45, will look to quickly unload their assets or whether they will use them to build a real, ongoing company. Suggesting it could be the latter, Fogelson says: "Judging from the limited conversations that I've been privy to and how they've operated with us, I expect they are going to look for ways to take advantage of the opportunities."

This story appears in the Jan. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.