Mark Gill, Andrew Gunn, Guy Botham and Vincent Bruzzese have teamed to launch Solstice Studios, a Los Angeles-based theatrical producer and distributor that will focus on mid-budget movies for wide release.
The company opens its doors today with $400 million in capitalisation, including $150 million through Ingenious Media, and will be involved in fully financing, producing, developing, selling internationally and distributing feature films in the U.S. on a wide-release basis. The plan is for Solstice to produce 3-5 movies a year for a global audience in the $30 million – $80 million range, while acquiring another 2-4 titles a year.
For its productions, Solstice will target movies with global appeal, primarily in the action, thriller and action-comedy space. In the American acquisitions arena, the company will consider any film that merits a wide U.S. release including action, thriller, comedy, romantic comedy, science fiction and horror. Solstice Studios is expected to grow to 65 people in its first year with plans of also launching an in-house foreign sales division.
Between the co-founders they possess a $5 billion production track record. After exiting Millennium Films in January 2017 as president, Gill, the former production chief at Warner Bros Independent and Miramax whose credits includes award-winning hits Pulp Fiction and The English Patient, began putting a plan in place to build a studio over the course of 20 months and reached out to those with whom he had long-standing business relationships. Gill has known Bruzzese –a MarketCast vet, OTX president and former head of STX’s strategy and analytics– since his marketing days at Columbia Pictures, over the last 20 years. Bruzzese will serve as Solstice’s Marketing and Strategy Head.
Botham, who will serve as co-head of production with Gunn, is a leading VFX entrepreneur of 15 years. His credits include Wonder Woman, Avatar, The Social Network, Benjamin Button, Wolverine, The Avengers and The Revenant, and most recently he was the founder and owner of Vitality VFX. Gunn has a 20-year $1.2 billion track record as producer and production executive. He has produced such films as Freaky Friday, The Haunted Mansion and Race to Witch Mountain for Walt Disney Pictures and is a producer on its upcoming Cruella starring Emma Stone.
With such mid-budget features as Warner Bros’ Crazy Rich Asians and New Line’s The Nun excelling at the box office, it’s proof the fare works at the domestic and global box office and that’s where Solstice Studios comes in. “If the movies are good, people will go,” says Gill, who has also had success with mid-budget action fare such as Olympus Has Fallen and London Has Fallen, which together minted close to $400M at the global box office. Over the past 12 years, the number of studios’ wide releases have dwindled by 26%, while the number of mini-major/independent releases have dropped by 42% over the past three years. Meanwhile, the international box office has jumped 72% over the last decade and domestic has hit banner levels north of $11 billion over the last three years. That’s an incredible disconnect between supply and demand, and it serves as perfect timing in the marketplace for Solstice.
“The demand is still there, but the supply has gone down,” says Gill of the bottleneck. “Our focus will be those wide-release films, which U.S. theaters want, Americans still go to see, and which drive international independent distributors’ slates,” he adds.
Ingenious, founded by Patrick McKenna in 1998, has facilitated funding for films including Avatar, Life of Pi and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Said Will Harrison, Managing Director of Ingenious Media: “We couldn’t be happier to be supporting Mark and his team of industry veterans in this enormously exciting production and distribution initiative. The independent feature film space has been increasingly underserved and producers everywhere will be delighted to find a new distribution buyer and production partner in the market. Ingenious has a proud track record of bringing together top creative talent and the very best commercial partners, a tradition which this new venture will help us continue.”
Christopher Milburn and Gareth West curated and brokered the Ingenious funding and will have an ongoing role in sourcing projects and co-financing opportunities at Solstice. The deal was negotiated by Gill and Botham for Solstice and Peter Touche, Ingenious Media’s head of film.
Neil Sacker and David Eisman of Skadden repped the company. Lindsay Conner, partner and Chair of the Media and Entertainment Group at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP and his partner Sarah Fergusson Chambless represented Solstice’s equity capital and P&A financier, a private U.S. family office. Anders Erdén, Director of Legal and Business Affairs acting for Ingenious.
Joining the four co-founders on the Solstice team include Physical Production Head Rene Besson (Driven, The Expendables); Head of Distribution Elliot Slutzky, most recently from Open Road; SVP and CTO Ed Churchward, formerly of Vitality VFX; SVP Strategy Miriam Brin, formerly of STX and OTX; and SVP Production & Development Beth Bruckner O’Brien, who was formerly with Millennium as VP Production where she worked on such movies as Olympus Has Fallen, London Has Fallen, the Expendables franchise and Hitman’s Bodyguard.