Magazine article Variety

Once-Swaggering Wild Bunch Confronts Big Debt, Big Flops

Magazine article Variety

Once-Swaggering Wild Bunch Confronts Big Debt, Big Flops

Article excerpt

Since its inception nearly 15 years ago, Paris-based Wild Bunch has prided itself as a bold player willing to embrace provocative films and unconventional ways of doing business. Its 2015 merger with Germany's Senator was trumpeted as a major step toward creating a pan-European distribution and sales giant, Wild Bunch AG.

A year and a half later, the once-swaggering company is struggling to raise capital, pay off its debt, and recover from a series of high-profile flops. Its share price has plummeted 83% from its post-merger high, producing partners have fled, and rumors are rife that company co-founder and creative force Vincent Maraval could exit within a year.

Wild Bunch's financial health has been the subject of speculation since results from the first half of the 2015-16 financial year showed net debt of euro84 million ($94 million). The company is months behind in releasing its latest numbers, which were due July 1; it now says it will publish them this month.

Although it remains a pillar of France's auteur film world, with nine Oscars and six Palmes d'Or under its belt, Wild Bunch had so much trouble securing financing for its 2016 lineup that over the summer it sought the help of a consultant to put together a deal, Variety has learned. Wild Bunch's French banking pool was reluctant to commit because the company failed to raise euro15 million ($16.7 million) in equity by the end of 2015; it just succeeded in doing so during the first quarter of this year, CEO Vincent Grimond says.

By then, Wild Bunch's ranks of partners had thinned. Past partners Dimitri Rassam ("Playmobil") and production firms such as The Film ("Lolo") have no projects lined up with the company Housekeeping deals with well-known French players Rectangle Prods. and Fidelite Films were not renewed last year, Variety has learned (though it is unclear which side chose not to continue the agreements).

"That delay in getting our credit line for 2016 acquisitions approved has certainly encouraged some producers to work with other companies," Grimond acknowledges.

In interviews with Variety, Grimond and Wild Bunch COO Brahim Chioua insist that the company is back on track and working on getting financing for its 2017 lineup. It is eager to raise euro20 million ($22.3 million), possibly from a significant Chinese investor - so eager, in fact, that "we'd be willing to lose some of our independence," Grimond says.

That would mark a major change for a company that has touted a maverick approach to the movie business. In its heyday, Wild Bunch sold "Fahrenheit 9/11" "Pan's Labyrinth," and "Blue Is the Warmest Color" (which it also produced and financed). On the distribution side, its slate boasted prestige indies such as "The King's Speech" and genre pics like "Paranormal Activity."

These days, the company appears both too cash-strapped for heavyweight movies and too mainstream for arthouse pics. Its international sales cupboard is mostly bare of the upscale English-language movies that helped it stand out from other French sales agents. And its distribution lineup has been reduced to smaller films and to comedies such as Nicolas Benamou's "À Fond."

In addition to "À Fond," the biggest films on Wild Bunch's slate are Jérôme Salle's "The Odyssey" (to be co-distributed with Pan-Européene) and Radu Mihäileanu's "The History of Love." They follow a string of big-budget flops: "Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia" and "Nicholas on Holiday"' Those fiascos - on top of the loss of Citibank as a significant financial backer in 2013 - have forced Wild Bunch to sharply rein in its ambitions. …

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