Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, the acclaimed Hollywood producer behind Moonlight and The Big Short, has been bought by France’s Mediawan in a rare transatlantic deal that values the US group at more than $300mn in cash and shares.
Pitt told the Financial Times that the Oscar-winning company he co-founded in the early 2000s was “already bulging out of the seams of our little garage” and was ready to expand with the backing of Mediawan, a content group backed by three of France’s most prominent media investors.
“We weren’t going to do this unless we found like-minded partners. We certainly feel that way with Mediawan,” Pitt said. “We have always just concentrated on the craft, the art, the artisans, and the opportunity to be able to do that in a grander and more global way is exciting for us.”
Mediwan’s acquisition of one of the most prized assets in Hollywood’s independent production sector represents the most significant French dealmaking foray into Hollywood since Vivendi’s acquisition of Universal Studios in 2001.
The privately held Mediawan, whose titles include Call My Agent and The Three Musketeers, was founded in 2015 by the telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel, investment banker Matthieu Pigasse and television executive Pierre-Antoine Capton. It has grown rapidly in Europe in recent years by snapping up small to midsized production houses in places from Spain to Germany, and is now making its first foray into the US.
Capton, the chief executive, cast the deal as a strategic shift as Mediawan seeks to go global. “Plan B is the best independent producer in the US, so I wouldn’t have wanted anything else to help us grow,” he told the FT.
During a production boom when Hollywood has been awash with frothy takeover offers, Plan B has stood out as a much-envied asset with a consistent record of making high-quality, award-winning films, as well as television series for Amazon and Netflix.
Three of its movies — The Departed, 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight — won Oscars for Best Picture. Recent releases include the Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde for Netflix and the drama She Said on the fall of Harvey Weinstein.
Asked whether the recent spate of high-valuation deals had persuaded him to sell, Pitt replied “yes and no”.
“I feel like the gold rush has stagnated to some extent. It has gone the other way,” he said. “So many of those breathtaking deals still have to prove themselves. We wanted of course to be valued fairly. We felt Mediawan did that.”
Neither Plan B nor Mediawan would disclose details of the transaction. But people familiar with the matter told the FT that the deal valued Plan B in excess of $300mn, with Mediawan buying a majority stake in the group now and the rest at a later stage.
The sellers will be paid half in shares of Mediawan and half in cash. Mediawan’s existing shareholders, which include private equity group KKR and France’s BPI state-backed investment fund, will all take part in a capital increase to avoid dilution.
The deal structure means Pitt and his partners Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, who run Plan B on a daily basis, are incentivised to remain with the group since they will share in any value creation.
The payment in part in shares helped moderate the premium Mediawan paid for Plan B, which was valued at about 15 times its annual underlying profit of more than $10mn, said one of the people.
Capton acknowledged it was important for Mediawan not to “jump in blindly”, given the chequered history European investors have had in Hollywood over the decades. But he noted the rise of non-English language content on streamers, including shows such as Lupin, had opened new opportunities for European players.
“The key to the success of Mediawan is leaving all producers independent to do their work. Plan B has excellent results, they make the best movies . . . it is really working well without me!” he said. “I’m not dreaming of having an office in a tower in Hollywood or to be some sort of mogul.”
Kleiner, who joined Plan B in 2003, said there was “a cultural fit and understanding”.
“We do want to grow and we do want to make more stuff but we need to do it in an environment that preserves our DNA. Scale and quality is a challenging thing to manage and we like to think we have been decent at it in recent years.”
Like all independent movie producers, Plan B has been grappling with a more challenging market for independent films at the cinema. “Anyone looking at the box office this fall has to pay attention to what is happening,” said Gardner, the first woman to win two Oscars for Best Picture.
“We trained everyone to watch movies differently, from home, in order to get through the [coronavirus] pandemic. It is natural that it will take some time for that to go back . . . I hope it will.”
Pitt played down the prospects of Plan B making French-language movies. While he owns a winery and château in Provence and has spoken French in some movies, he stressed that was thanks to the wonders of lip sync. “That required looping my friend,” he said. “A lot of loops.”