Employing numbers, statistics and advanced mathematical formulas, Relativity Media could change the way studios approach filmmaking.In his customized plane hangar at the Santa Monica Airport just outside of Los Angeles, 37-year-old, red-haired Ryan Kavanaugh is sitting, legs crossed, on a white, slipcovered couch and answering questions about his famous friends Gerard Butler and Leonardo ?DiCaprio. Or, as Kavanaugh calls them, “Gerry” and “Leo.” Both were at his wedding last year on the Italian island of Capri and at his bachelor party in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
So, too, was Bradley Cooper, star of The Hangover, with whom Kavanaugh is reportedly close. Kavanaugh’s movie ?studio, Relativity Media, produced, financed and distributed Cooper’s 2011 hit Limitless, making a $50 million profit on the film. And ?Cooper, along with other Relativity actors, has goofed around in this very hangar. “Talent working on our films … hang out here all the time,” Kavanaugh says. “It’s a fun space.”
It certainly looks it. In addition to the couches — Kavanaugh seems to have a thing for the white, slipcovered look, which he has also used to decorate his office at Relativity’s West Hollywood headquarters and his homes in Malibu and Maui — the hangar features a 70-something-inch flat-screen TV, several arcade-size video games and a basketball court. The toys are spoils of Relativity’s success. The company has been a major player in film finance since shortly after Kavanaugh founded the company in 2004. It has raised more than $10 billion in moviemaking money, which has helped it back, produce or co-produce and distribute more than 200 films, most made for major studios like Sony, Universal and Paramount, including The Fighter, The Social Network, Little Fockers and Bridesmaids.
But these days, Kavanaugh is more focused on Relativity’s own films, such as 2011’s Immortals and the surprise hit Act of Valor, as well as this year’s Julia Roberts/Snow White vehicle Mirror Mirror. Indeed, it’s Relativity’s own production and distribution slate that has brought Kavanaugh to the plane hangar today. Shortly after our chat, he’ll fly by private plane to New York to meet with the financiers who recently bolstered Relativity’s bottom line with a reported $200 million in direct investment and $350 million in debt financing. That money will help fund Relativity’s current and future projects, including the recently released House at the End of the Street starring Jennifer Lawrence.
The most important project, though, is refining Relativity’s business model — a data-driven and budget-conscious approach that’s drawn comparisons to Moneyball, the book and film about the Oakland Athletics’ embrace of statistical analysis in the team’s quest to win a World Series. The approach changed baseball, and Kavanaugh wants to do the same to the movie business: upending the big-studio, big-star, big-budget system that has been in place ever since Louis B. Mayer was chomping cigars at the helm of MGM. “We have the opportunity to set the benchmark for New Hollywood,” Kavanaugh says.