Producer Dana Brunetti and actress Katie Cassidy arrive at the 87th Annual Academy Awards on Feb. 22, 2015, at the Dolby Theatre. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
The future of Ryan Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media, the beleaguered mini-studio that exited bankruptcy about nine months ago, is murkier than ever.
Relativity Studios President Dana Brunetti, the movie producer who was seen a key part of Kavanaugh’s plan to turn the struggling film and TV company around, has exited his post after less than a year, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.
Representatives for Brunetti did not respond to requests for comment.
A Relativity spokeswoman confirmed that “Dana has transitioned to a production deal with Relativity, but any report that Ryan and Dana are feuding, or have had any issues, or that there has been any dispute between them is simply not true.”
“The company, Dana and Ryan agreed that Dana’s greatest value to the company is to make the movies he wants to, giving him flexibility to make the films he enjoys, the spokeswoman said. “Dana remains a large shareholder of Relativity and still has a deal there.”
Brunetti’s departure, first reported by Deadline Hollywood, is the latest blow to the Beverly Hills company that has struggled to secure funding and has released a number of box-office flops since it won approval to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.
Creditors had already grown impatient with the progress of Relativity’s hoped-for revival. The company sought bankruptcy protection in July 2015, reporting nearly $1.2 billion in liabilities and assets worth $560 million after failing to pay down debts amid a string of poorly performing movies.
Kavanaugh in January tapped Brunetti and his producing partner, actor Kevin Spacey, to try to return the studio’s movie business to health. The move was meant to give Relativity some much-needed credibility as it tried to get back to the business of making movies and TV shows but was greeted with heavy skepticism in Hollywood. Spacey later backed out of the commitment, leaving Brunetti to take the reins of what the company at one point called “Relativity 2.0.”
Kavanaugh has since made flashy announcements about new financing deals, and plans to remake the classic Western “High Noon.”
But Brunetti eventually decided he’d had enough of the company and wanted to return to the business of producing movies independently, the source with knowledge of the matter said. His next movie is the R-rated sequel “Fifty Shades Darker,” from Universal Pictures.
“He’s been trying to get out for awhile,” the source said.
News of Brunetti’s departure comes shortly after the Beverly Hills company’s 30 or so employees learned that they will not be paid while the firm is closed for two weeks for the holidays, the source said. The furloughs have raised questions about Relativity’s ability to make payroll.
Adding to the turmoil, the status of Relativity’s high-flying co-founder, Kavanaugh, is shrouded in mystery after a wave of speculation. A Tuesday night report from the Wrap said that Kavanaugh had decided to step down as chief executive 12 years after he founded the company. A representative from Relativity’s outside public relations agency, Finsbury, said the firm had not been able to confirm the CEO’s status.
Kavanaugh, who first came to the film business with an intriguing plan for using algorithms to avoid flops, could not be reached for comment.
Relativity seemed to secure a pair of lifelines last month when it said it had received a $200-million production financing commitment from Los Angeles startup Storyoscopic. Earlier in November, Singapore-based tech company YuuZoo made the surprise announcement that it had struck a deal to buy a minority stake in Relativity for an initial investment of $50 million.
However, creditors and legal analysts at the time questioned whether the flurry of deals would be enough to get Relativity back on its feet. In the past Kavanaugh has boasted about major financing deals, only to have them fizzle or fall short of expectations.
Relativity has released two theatrical films this year. The first, the Kate Beckinsale horror flick “The Disappointments Room,” bombed with less than $3 million at the box office in the U.S. and Canada. To follow up, the ensemble comedy “Masterminds” fizzled with $17 million domestically. Other promised films such as “Before I Wake” and “Kidnap” have so far failed to materialize at theaters.
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