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Legendary Pictures chairman engineers takeover

Thomas Tull brings in two new investors to buy out those who helped launch the film financing and production company in 2004. The deal gives him free rein to expand into video games and digital media.

October 05, 2010|By Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times

Thomas Tull is taking control of Legendary Pictures.

The chairman of the film financing and production company has quietly led a buyout of its original investors in order to more directly steer an expansion into video games, digital media and other businesses.

Under the deal that closed last week, Tull brought on two new investors to acquire nearly all the stake held by investors who backed the company's founding in 2004, according to several people familiar with the situation.

A representative for Legendary declined to comment.

The transaction resulted in Tull becoming Legendary's largest controlling shareholder, making it easier for him to push the company beyond its current business of co-financing films with Warner Bros. Tull hired former Electronic Arts executive Kathy Vrabeck last year to lead Legendary's digital business, and he previously weighed buying video game developer Epic Games but has yet to make a major move in the area.

Legendary's new backers are Fidelity Investments and Fortress Investment Group, one person close to the deal said. Fortress was part of an unsuccessful bid this year with Ron Burkle and Bob and Harvey Weinstein to acquire Miramax Films from Walt Disney Co.

Fidelity and Fortress, along with Tull, acquired the stakes held by Abry Partners, AIG Direct Investments, Bank of America, Columbia Capital, Falcon Investment Advisors and M/C Venture Partners. Those original partners had invested about $400 million in Legendary at a time when it was focused solely on financing movies.

They sold their stakes at a profit, people close to the situation said. In a document posted on its website, M/C Venture Partners reported "a very successful exit" from its association with Legendary.

Unlike other private equity-backed film investment companies that have struggled, Legendary has been associated with several successful pictures, including "The Dark Knight," "The Hangover" and "Inception," although it has had some flops, such as this summer's "Jonah Hex."

At the time that the buyout closed last week, Legendary also formed a strategic partnership with Hong Kong movie company Orange Sky Golden Harvest Entertainment to explore business opportunities in China. Orange Sky also invested $25 million, which Legendary used for a small portion of the buyout.

A company representative said Legendary declined to disclose the buyout of its original investors last week because it doesn't discuss private financial matters.

Specific financial details of the buyout were not available, but people familiar with the matter said Legendary is now valued at more than $1 billion.

The company's deal to co-finance movies with Warner Bros. expires in 2013.

ben.fritz@latimes.com

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