MGM’S RELANI BELOUS DISCUSSES THE LION’S NEW ROAR!
Mychal: Hello Relani. I hope you are well. So, as an attorney for MGM’s Business and Legal Affairs Department, what are your job duties?
Relani: Primarily, I negotiate and draft various licensing agreements related to the MGM catalog in conjunction primarily for rights related to television and new media. I also negotiate and draft deals for the acquisition of new product.
Mychal: Over the years, MGM has gone through several restructuring periods. Can please briefly describe the company’s current state of affairs?
Relani: Yes. Essentially, MGM is back in the role more of a distribution company. These days, MGM is more focused on distributing as opposed to the traditional studio approach of primary capital investment in development and production. Basically, MGM is now leaner and meaner, but continues to have a strong catalog with recognizable names and branding. MGM owns the world’s largest library of modern films, comprising approximately 4,000 titles, and over 10,400 episodes of television programming. Its film library has received 208 Academy Awards, one of the largest award winning collections in the world. MGM’s library also includes numerous successful film franchises, including “James Bond”, “Pink Panther” and “Rocky”. Also, MGM is owned by an investor consortium comprised of Providence Equity Partners, TPG, Sony Corporation of America, Comcast Corporation, DLJ Merchant Banking Partners and Quadrangle Group.
Mychal: So, I recently read in “The Hollywood Reporter, Esq.” that you negotiated an innovative deal for MGM with HDNET regarding the television series “Sports Action Team.” Congratulations!!!!! Now, without breaching any professional duties of confidentiality, can you please describe some of the deal points which are innovating?
Relani: Well, I think that this deal is innovative in that the deal combines many entities and involves them in their strength. One of which is HDNET for whom MGM works with on various matters. The deal is unique in that it involves various channel formats such as syndication, tiers, and in its program marketing approach.
Mychal: Any negotiation tips for our readers?
Relani: Yes, I think people need to focus more on the business and financial aspects of how the deal(s) will benefit them. Also, they need to know and understand how the market is rapidly changing and the effects the “new media” have on the marketplace. They need to understand both the financial and market demands. Simply, go online or read the trades and one should do their own independent research to be able to separate the hype from reality.
Mychal: Great point! Any other innovating deals coming down the MGM pipeline?
Relani: Yes, we are working on a few great ones…..but mum is the word! (LOL)
Mychal: (LOL) At one point, I remember MGM CEO Harry Sloan stated that MGM would concentrate on content distribution and not content production. Is this still true?
Relani: I believe that this is still the case. The company is still focused on its franchises but it is also selective on production. MGM is aligning itself with partnerships with name recognition to distribute product as opposed to focusing heavily and primarily development where money is spent and many projects remain incomplete or shelved.
Mychal: OK…So, then how feasible is it for the creative community to approach MGM? Do you have to be a proven talent or can you also be a newcomer?
Relani: Hmmmm…I think that like anything else, if the project is good, then it is possible that MGM will review and consider it. MGM is constantly looking for innovative projects to get involved in.
Mychal: What about the new production deal with Cruise/Wagner and United Artists (“UA”)?
Relani: Well, the deal is a “resurgence” of UA and its proven catalogue. It’s more of taking the traditional deal and making it more non-traditional. As this is set up, the talent has an equity stake—– which means a true financial partnership where Cruise and Wagner have stakes in the outcome.
Mychal: Speaking of UA, it was co-founded by D.W. Griffith along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and Charles Chaplin. D.W. Griffith was a pioneer and innovator of American Cinema noted by his epic titled “Birth of a Nation” (1915). The motion picture is known for elevating American cinema through Griffith’s use of new film techniques and story telling. However, he was also an outspoken racist and a very controversial figure who still resonates in the same vein as Leni Refenstahl and the Third Reich. With the foregoing in mind, any comment on the rebirth of UA? (LOL)
Relani: (LOL) Well, you can’t judge a tree by one bad apple……so let’s focus on current events.
Mychal: (LOL) Oh come on, I am not the late great Ed Bradley, but lets explore this issue as it relates to UA.
Relani: (LOL) Uh…no comment.
Mychal: (LOL) OK. What about new production deal with Salma Hayek to form the Latino themed and/or talent based Ventanazul Label? That deal appears to be pretty groundbreaking and promising for the Latino market.
Relani: Yes, it is another great opportunity for MGM to work with talent who knows the marketplace, bringing content to the table and working with the talent. The deal is about setting things up as opposed to gambling on unknowns. More importantly, Salma has the relationships and knowledge to add to the partnership.
Mychal: What are MGM’s plans for its vast library in emerging markets? It has recently partnered with heavies such as ITUNES and BitTorrent. Is MGM open to consideration for other partnerships in the digital realm?
Relani: We do have a specific digital team working in the area of digital technology and new media.
Mychal: Would that be Doug Lee? (MGM’s EVP, Worldwide Digital Media)
Relani: Yes, Doug Lee runs the division. Again, it’s about doing things the right way, and thinking things through as opposed to just throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks….thinking like an entrepreneur essentially……
Mychal: What about emerging markets in territories such as China? Currently, there is a lot of foreign interest and investment in China. Especially, since 2008 Beijing Olympics are around the corner. In fact, our firm just negotiated a revolutionary deal to release a film in China next month. But, mum is the word here (LOL).
Relani: Great question! Yes, MGM does business throughout the world. Recently, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. (MGM) has signed a licensing agreement with Hong Kong’s Tengxun Entertainment and Management Ltd., with the participation of Shanghai Tianhong Real Estate Investment Co. Ltd., which allows for the development and construction of MGM STUDIO WORLD, a lifestyle center built around the MGM brand and its intellectual properties.
Mychal: Wow….sounds very interesting! Ok, last question. What separates MGM from other distribution and production companies? Why should the creative community choose MGM?
Relani: Although MGM has gone through some changes, the one thing that has stayed in tact and been consistent is the MGM brand. MGM has one of the largest catalogs among the studios along with highly regarded franchises. MGM’s brand recognition comes from the quality of its product which is exemplified in such products as the James Bond, Pink Panther and Terminator franchises…..just to name a few…..