Los Angeles construction magnate Ron Tutor and his embattled film financier partner, David Bergstein, will enter into exclusive negotiations Monday with Walt Disney Co. to acquire Miramax Films.
Tutor told The Times that the parties reached a handshake agreement Thursday night, adding that documents were being reviewed by lawyers. The exclusive negotiating window expires at midnight June 17, Tutor said, though such deadlines are often extended.
A Disney representative did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment.
The surprise development came shortly after supermarket tycoon Ron Burkle and Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein failed in their attempt to buy the specialty movie company and its 611-film library for about $600 million.
The Tutor-Bergstein team had been one of three original bidders for Miramax, submitting the highest offer — between $650 million and $700 million — and trumping the Weinsteins and investor brothers Tom and Alec Gores. But Disney chose to hold exclusive negotiations with the Weinsteins and Burkle, in part because the brothers already owned sequel rights for many of the films in Miramax's library, including "Scary Movie" and "Scream." On paper, that appeared to be the less complicated route.
However, those talks, after dragging on for more than a month, broke down without an agreement two weeks ago. Disney then turned its attention to the remaining bidders.
The Tutor bid emerged as the front-runner because it was closer to Disney's asking price of $700 million, said a person close to the situation.
Many in Hollywood, and even some inside Disney, considered Bergstein a dark horse, given his troubled business dealings. This year, several companies controlled by Bergstein have been pushed into Bankruptcy Court and a trustee was appointed to oversee the assets. Bergstein has said he is acting solely as an advisor to Tutor and an offshore investor, whom he declined to identify, in the Miramax transaction.
Tutor, chief executive of Sylmar-based construction giant Tutor-Saliba Corp., began investing in Bergstein project more than five years ago. The Hidden Hills neighbors sought to build a global digital distribution business, betting that Internet and television on-demand services would create new opportunities for film libraries.
Miramax was a pioneer in independent film through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, with such hits as "Pulp Fiction" and best picture Oscar winners "Shakespeare in Love" and "Chicago." However, libraries, once coveted assets, have diminished in value in recent years as sales of DVDs and international television rights for films have weakened.