EXCLUSIVE: A significant shakeup in the European indie film space is underway with the formation of new studio Vuelta Group, Deadline can reveal.
Headed by French media vet Jerome Levy as Group Chairman, Vuelta has $50M+ backing from an unnamed U.S. private equity firm and has recently acquired Paris-based international sales firm Playtime Group (in a deal closed in the past week), German distributor-producer SquareOne and Nordic distributor-producer Scanbox.
Talks are underway for companies to join from Italy, Spain and Benelux, as well as another from France.
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Amid the proliferation of platforms in Europe and consolidation from fellow U.S.-backed indie studios such as Leonine and Mediawan, Vuelta’s partners have taken the view that they’ll be stronger together.
The joint venture will focus on distribution as well as film and TV production. Each company will continue to operate autonomously and with their former branding but they will sit within the Vuelta Group, of which they become shareholders.
Levy, the former Archie Comics, Houlihan Lokey, MESA, Canal Plus and Goldman Sachs executive, is spearheading the operation alongside longtime Backup Media partner David Atlan-Jackson who will serve as Chief Content Officer. Scroll down for our interview with them.
Former Fremantle Finance Director Allen Duffy is Chief Finance Officer. Playtime’s Sebastien Beffa, Square One’s Al Munteanu and Scanbox’s Thor Sigurjonsson serve on the Management Board, alongside an unnamed member of the U.S. private equity firm. Vuelta HQ will be in Dublin for tax purposes.
Levy said: “We are thrilled to launch this ambitious project to help the European industry create its own stories and distribute them internationally. The European market is singular and rich; our ambition is to double down on European commercial productions.”
Atlan-Jackson, Chief Content Officer, added: “With development, finance, production, and distribution with a European DNA, we will become a pan European one stop shop for all talents. Vuelta Group is the only group to merge unique local distribution expertise with international production capabilities.”
Scanbox has been ramping up its acquisitions in recent months and we can reveal that the company most recently pre-bought Jason Statham starrer The Bee Keeper, big-budget Sylvester Stallone reboot Cliffhanger and Vin Diesel sequel Riddick: Furya, as well as Cannes competition films May December and Ken Loach’s The Old Oak.
Thor Sigurjonsson, Scanbox CEO, said: “Being part of a European group in today’s landscape will boost our local and global endeavours. We have a plethora of rich stories we wish to tell, while growing our distribution business locally. We are happy to be part of a family of likeminded entrepreneurs.“
Distributor-producer SquareOne most recently picked up Cannes market movies including Breakout starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Lords Of War sequel with Nicolas Cage, and Daisy Ridley starrer The Cleaner.
Company founder and former MTV host Al Munteanu commented: “We are excited to be the co-architects of an exciting new venture that builds on our long expertise bridging Europe with the US. Embarking on a venture with likeminded colleagues across Europe is a fantastic opportunity to build a powerhouse in entertainment across all media.”
Playtime was most recently at the Cannes Film Festival with Competition titles About Dry Grasses by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Homecoming by Catherine Corsini. It is currently financing and pre-selling Monsieur Aznavour with Tahar Rahim.
Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, founder and co-CEO, said: “Joining Vuelta is the best way for Playtime to bring its international expertise to a group of distributors and producers who are like us, entrepreneurs at heart, with distinctive taste and talent and who have to ambition to grow worldwide.”
Check back in shortly on Deadline for interviews with the heads of Scanbox, Playtime and SquareOne in which they discuss the venture in more detail.
Jerome Levy & David Atlan Jackson Interview
DEADLINE: What is the ambition behind the company and how did it come about?
JEROME LEVY: The ambition is create a European studio with likeminded entrepreneurs coming together with a strong focus on distribution, European content and the building of a film and TV library over time. We started conversations last year. David and I thought there was a need for a European player focused on multi-territory distribution who could act as a financing partner.
DAVID ATLAN-JACKSON: At Backup, we partnered with The Jokers and Cineart as distributors. With the proliferation of the platforms, things have became even more competitive. We’ll be co-developing, co-producing and co-acquiring together with our partners at Vuelta, but also co-developing and co-producing with third parties.
DEADLINE: Where is the U.S. funding from?
LEVY: We have a relationship with a fund in the U.S. but the main shareholders are the companies we acquire. We want to be aggressive in our future acquisitions and we’re also looking to raise European capital from third parties. That’s in process.
The U.S. fund has interests in a number of media ventures, including some that are bigger than us. They are savvy and have a lot of experience in helping companies do acquisitions but they prefer not to be named in the press. It isn’t KKR. They’re more discreet than that.
DEADLINE: How much is their outlay and how much of the company do they control?
LEVY: We see ourselves as a European company. We have 51% backing from Europe and 49% anchor backing from the U.S. We wanted to have more European backing behind us than some of the other large studios in Europe today. In terms of amount, they’ve committed tens of millions to the project. It’s more than $50M.
DEADLINE: What’s your background, Jerome?
LEVY: I co-founded investment bank MESA in 2003. That was sold to investment bank Houlihan Lokey in 2015. We advised film, TV and music companies, including Endemol, Banijay, Tinopolis, and others. I more recently invested in and served as Vice Chairman of Archie Comics Publications, which helped produce shows like Riverdale and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and are doing a large Indian Netflix original later this year. I sold my stake in Archie last year to a private equity group to focus on this project.
DEADLINE: Why did you call the company Vuelta?
LEVY: We wanted a European name with Latin origin. Vuelta means ‘to go around’, which reflects our content going around the world.
DEADLINE: Why is there no UK element and could there be growth beyond Europe?
ATLAN-JACKSON: The idea is to have one company in each western European territory, though UK isn’t a priority now. We definitely want to work with UK talent but we feel we don’t have to be set up in the country to do so. The UK distribution market is very challenged too. Next year we’ll work out if we need to expand to Eastern Europe, Latin America and/or UK. We don’t want to grow too quickly.
LEVY: It’s also true that many producers want to hold onto the UK and U.S. for the upside.
ATLAN-JACKSON: The priority is to consolidate in western Europe. We’re in advanced stages with an Italian company and with a French production and distribution company; we’re in early discussions with companies in Benelux and Spain. There is caution about who we bring in to make sure they’re the right companies. We have our targets and so far we’ve agreed deals with each of our targets on our list.
DEADLINE: Is it a concern that they’re not all aboard already?
ATLAN-JACKSON: It takes time to identify the right partners. We’re very advanced with most companies on our list. This has moved fast. In 12 months, we hope to have achieved most of our targets.
DEADLINE: Do you foresee the Hollywood strikes impacting the company?
ATLAN-JACKSON: Not significantly so far. Acquisitions may be an issue around markets if things continue. None of us want a strike. We want a healthy ecosystem. But the impact isn’t as significant for us as U.S. companies. There may in fact be non-English language projects that travel better during a U.S. strike.
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