Veteran producers mulling film fund

Arnon Milchan, Terry Semel to finance studio projects

Despite ebbing interest on Wall Street for backing movies, two of Hollywood's veteran producers -- Arnon Milchan and Terry Semel -- are mulling the launch of a $1 billion-plus fund to finance studio projects.

The dynamic duo are fashioning a pitch that draws two key distinctions from past film-fund deals:

-- Milchan and Semel would be hands-on exec producers of the films that get funding.

-- The duo would pick and choose from projects all around town rather than strike an exclusive deal with any one studio.

Milchan and Semel purportedly believe the dearth of outside financing has Hollywood in a particularly receptive mood for their pitch.

"They think that with there being no slate financings around and with their specifice pedigrees and reputations in the business, it's a great time for them to do this," said a financial community insider familiar with the duo's plan. "All sorts of people are saying they don't want to invest in Hollywood anymore. So Arnon and Terry are saying to the studios, 'There is nobody better than us to do this for you; the fund will be run by the most experienced professionals this time.' "

The plan would see Milchan and Semel each contribute $200 million or more to set up the fund, while turning to banks and other lenders for additional capital.

"They would have some skin in the game and that would give them real credibiity," another source said.

Still, it's unlikely Milchan and Semel will be without competitors for long in this new game.

Bicoastal lender Ares Capital is among a handful of other parties laying the foundation for new film funds.

The Ares fund also is expected to top $1 billion when launched later this year.

"They're deep into the high grass of their research," a financial community source said.

The fund to be launched by Milchan and Semel also is expected to be unveiled in 2010.

It's unclear if the duo will tap significant hedge fund money. In the past, slate funds launched by financial-community execs greatly depended on hedge fund capital and were tied to single studios.

For example, Thomas Tull's Legendary Pictures kicked off a round of hedge fund-backed arrangements in 2005 with a Warner Bros. slate deal, and several similar ventures subsequently financed hundreds of other Hollywood productions on individual lots.

Legendary since has morphed into a co-producer. And by early last year; the economic downturn and growing uneasiness over deal structures had most hedge fund investors retreating from Hollywood.

The last big slate financing came in September 2008, when Relativity Media partnered with the Elliott Management hedge fund in a deal arranged for Universal.

Milchan's Regency Enterprises operates Fox-affiliated Regency Prods., whose recent "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" lists Milchan as an exec producer. A longtime co-topper at Warner Bros., Semel more recently served as CEO of Yahoo until June 2007.