Will Smith and Director Marc Forster Buy German Rights Group Telepool

Will Smith, Marc Forster Split - Getty - H 2018
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They are eyeing the German company to repurpose it as a vehicle for their own projects.

Will Smith has joined forces with Swiss director Marc Forster (World War Z) to acquire German licensing giant Telepool with an eye to repurposing the company as a vehicle for their own projects.

Elysian Fields, a group of investors associated with Forster, together with The Smith Family Circle and Will and Jada Smith’s Family Office, groups that manage the assets and business dealings of the Smith family, acquired Telepool's assets from a consortium of German and Swiss regional public broadcasters. Financial details of the deal, announced Tuesday, were not disclosed.

Telepool, founded in 1963, is one of Europe's oldest, and largest, film licensing groups. Set up by German regional pubcasters BR, SWR and MDR together with the Swiss Broadcaster Corp., it has focused mainly on licensing U.S. films and TV series for distribution in German-speaking Europe. Recently acquired titles include Jessica Chastain-starrer Molly's Game and actioner Olympus Has Fallen.

In addition to maintaining and expanding that business, Smith and Forster said they plan to repurpose Telepool to become a development, financing and distribution partner for their own projects. Swiss-based Zetra International acted as exclusive financial adviser to the sellers in the Telepool sale.

As a part of the deal, Smith's? and James Lassiter's Overbrook Entertainment will have the option to develop and distribute film and television projects through Telepool. Forster and Renee Wolfe’s independent production entity 2dux² will have a similar option to develop and distribution projects through Telepool. Both Overbrook and 2dux² will remain independent of the German group, however. Smith is also a co-owner, with Jada Pinkett-Smith and their partner Miguel Melendez, of management, branding and digital production company Westbrook Entertainment.

“Marc and I took a close look at Telepool and discovered a company that has an incredible reputation and a lot of potential,” Smith said in a statement Tuesday announcing the deal. “We look forward to working together and with the Telepool team to create unique opportunities and content to strategically growing the business.”

Forster added that the company “is well positioned for continued success and growth in our rapidly changing media landscape. I believe Will and I will be able to contribute our combined energies and global relationships to the company’s advantage.”

Long-time Telepool boss Thomas Weymar stepped down ahead of the deal, replaced by Andre Druskeit, who has been company CEO since June 1.

“The new shareholders are very much committed to continuing our business model,” Druskeit said in a statement. “All management positions at subsidiary companies and all other management functions will remain unchanged for the time being.”

Telepool has been on the block for some time now. The company, which relied heavily on licensing U.S. film rights to German broadcasters, has been hard hit by the rise in SVOD services such as Netflix and the decline in the number of films networks, particularly German public broadcasters, have been willing to acquire. The group has also suffered from a lack of a strong theatrical arm, relying on cooperation with third-party distributors such as Universum and Senator Film in Germany.

On the plus side, the company has a solid reputation and an extensive rights library to draw on, as well as business contacts to all of the major players in the German industry. The company has its own production division, Europool, an international sales arm, Global Screen; a home entertainment division, EuroVideo; and a VOD company, Videobuster.