Adam Fogelson to head film group at Robert Simonds' new studio

Robert Simonds' new studio plans to finance, produce and release up to 10 movies a year with mid-range budgets

Adam Fogelson, the former chairman of Universal Pictures, has been tapped to run the movie division of the new film and television studio founded by producer Robert Simonds. The hire elevates the profile of a fledgling venture that doesn't have a name yet but boasts $1 billion in funding.

Fogelson will be chairman of the company's motion picture group, overseeing production, marketing, distribution and home entertainment strategy for the studio's films.

The new company plans to finance, produce and release up to 10 movies a year with mid-range budgets far shy of the hoped-for blockbusters that major studios routinely spend $150 million or more to produce. Financial backers include TPG Growth, a division of private equity giant TPG Capital.

In an interview Wednesday, Fogelson and Simonds outlined their strategy, saying they want to produce and distribute the sort of pictures that major studios are increasingly turning away from to instead focus on expensive franchise films. The company, which is based in Westwood and has about 35 employees, would like to fill the void with projects that would generally cost $20 million to $60 million.

"There will be an ongoing desire to balance the creative and business elements of any given project," said Fogelson, 47. "That was a guiding principle at Universal, and a guiding principle I intend to have here."

The track record for start-up studios has been spotty.

Most famously, DreamWorks SKG, founded in 1994 by the power troika of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, struggled to achieve its goals. The company had big aspirations, a sterling pedigree and strong financial backing, but by 2005 it had abandoned its ambitions to be a full-fledged studio.

"It is a reasonable strategy to go against the big franchises, but let's see what the studio's projects are," entertainment business analyst Harold Vogel said. "We've heard these things many times before. They start out with great intentions and ideas but what they don't have is this: When they were sitting in the chair at Fox or Universal, they had … major advantages."

Vogel said the new studio faces another significant "head wind" — declining box-office returns. Indeed, this year the movie industry experienced its worst May-to-Labor Day season since 1997, after adjusting for inflation.

Fogelson, who had a 15-year stint at Universal, said he would apply lessons learned at the NBCUniversal-owned studio, which under him released hits including "Ted," "Bridesmaids" and "Les Misérables." Although Universal had a strong 2013 anchored by blockbusters "Fast & Furious 6" and "Despicable Me 2," Fogelson was ousted from the studio last September in a dramatic shake-up that saw the company appoint television business veteran Jeff Shell as its new top film executive.

Fogelson said he had "an amazing, rejuvenating year" in which he reflected on his time spent at Universal, where he assumed the chairman post in 2009.

"I hope that I have learned lessons about my own particular strengths and weaknesses and evolved as a person and as an executive," he said.

Simonds, the producer behind films including "The Waterboy" and "Cheaper by the Dozen," said that he had long followed Fogelson's performance at Universal, and believes that under him that studio produced more successful films with mid-range budgets than its competitors.

"Major studios are making fewer but more expensive movies, which is exactly what they should be doing, playing to their global competitive strengths," Simonds said. "That migration created a vacuum in this $20-million to $80-million range. That vacuum created what seemed like a really cool opportunity."

Fogelson isn't the only high-profile executive to join Simonds' company in recent weeks.

Oren Aviv, former chief marketing officer for 20th Century Fox Film, this month was named president and chief content officer of the new venture's movies unit. Also, among the studio's employees is Fogelson's brother, Noah Fogelson, the company's general counsel and strategy chief.

The company's board includes Frank Biondi, former chief executive of Viacom and Universal Studios, and Tony Vinciquerra, former chief executive of Fox Networks Group, among others.

Simonds began developing the studio more than a year ago and officially launched it in March. In addition to TPG Growth, whose parent TPG Capital is an owner of talent agency CAA, the new studio has funding from Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital.

The new studio is moving quickly on the television front: It is a producer of the new Katherine Heigl-starring drama "State of Affairs," which will debut on NBC in November.

The company, however, has moved more slowly on coming up with a name for itself. "We are working on it," Fogelson said.

Hollywood observers said they're hopeful that Simonds' studio will help fill a void in the marketplace left by the major studios' increased focus on franchise pictures. David Saunders, partner and film agent at talent agency APA, believes that there's a "hole in the marketplace for more star-driven movies that are not just super tent-pole, CGI-driven films."

"There are only so many famous graphic novels and superhero characters that exist," said Saunders, who has known Simonds for decades and attended Yale University alongside him.

But Vogel, the entertainment business analyst, noted that audiences are increasingly being lured from multiplexes by television and digital entertainment offerings, making it harder than ever to entice people into seats for less flashy fare.

"There is room for this, but I maintain it is limited room," he said. "I hate to be too cynical, but come back in three years and tell me if you still have cash."

Staff writer Ryan Faughnder contributed to this report.

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