The Raine Group, a New York–based boutique investment bank that specializes in media and entertainment investments, has invested $60 million in exchange for a 20 percent stake in Important Studios, a new production company being formed by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
James Schwab, chair of the media and entertainment practice at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York, is leading a team from the firm advising Parker and Stone. The deal by the South Park duo represents a departure from the entertainment industry standard of 50 or so years ago, when brands were owned by the studios that employed them.
“Some creators can rise to the next level and become a brand,” says Schwab, who once advised film executive David Geffen on the formation of DreamWorks. “And we think that’s certainly the case here.”
Paul Weiss was introduced to the deal through its connections with Raine, which was founded three years ago in partnership with powerhouse Hollywood talent agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. Schwab and Samuels were part of a team of lawyers from Paul Weiss that represented Endeavor on its merger with William Morris in 2009. The firm also worked with Raine in representing successor entity WME last year on its sale of a 31 percent stake to private equity firm Silver Lake Partners, according to our previous reports.
On the current deal with Parker and Stone, Raine is being represented by a team of lawyers from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton that includes corporate partner Neil Whoriskey, tax partner Jason Factor, investment funds partners Robert Raymond and Michael Gerstenzang, finance partner Amy Shapiro, finance counsel Penelope Christophorou, IP counsel Daniel Ilan, and associate Justin Seery.
Whoriskey declined to comment on his firm’s role advising Raine when contacted by The Am Law Daily, but Cleary has enjoyed close ties to the boutique merchant bank founded by former Goldman Sachs partner and global media cohead Joseph Ravitch and Jeff Sine, a former vice chairman and media and technology head at UBS.
Sine once worked at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York and London, while Ravitch worked in Cleary’s offices in London, New York, and Moscow, where he helped found the firm’s robust Russia practice. Former Cleary associate Brandon Gardner is a partner and COO at Raine, while another ex-associate at the firm, Peter Vassilev, currently serves as Raine’s general counsel and chief compliance officer.
Cleary’s website shows that the firm has previously advised Raine on its investment in Colombian-inspired dance program Zumba Fitness, as well as Vice Holding, the parent company of Vice magazine, which used the cash infusion in 2011 to announce partnerships with several entertainment industry bigwigs, including WME co-CEO and entertainment industry titan Ari Emanuel.
As it happens, Vice is a client of Paul Weiss, and the deal was another opportunity for the firm to work on a transaction with Raine, which has been advising Parker and Stone for the past few months in their effort to launch their own production company. When it came time to find an investor, Raine dropped its role as financial adviser and decided to join the enterprise, say sources familiar with the matter. (WME’s Emanuel—the brother of current Chicago mayor and former top Obama administration aide Rahm Emanuel—also represents both Parker and Stone.)
Parker and Stone’s Important Studios is expected to have a value of $300 million based on revenues from the duo’s Broadway hit The Book of Mormon, as well as South Park, an animated series now in its 16th season on Comedy Central, according to various news reports. Besides Schwab, other Paul Weiss lawyers working on the deal include tax cochair Jeffrey Samuels, employee benefits partner Lawrence Witdorchic, IP counsel Claudine Meredith-Goujon, tax counsel Alyssa Wolpin, and corporate counsel Sarah Mudho.
A press release announcing the deal with Raine states that Parker and Stone were also advised by their longtime lawyer Kevin Morris, a name partner at Los Angeles–based boutique Morris Yorn Barnes Levine Krintzman Rubenstein & Kohner. (The firm has gone through several changes over the past few years, according to a report by sibling publication The National Law Journal.)
Morris, who is considered one of Hollywood’s top entertainment lawyers, previously advised the South Park pair on their landmark advertising-sharing deal with Comedy Central several years ago and a 2011 agreement to extend cable’s longest-running animated series through 2016. Morris is also listed as a coproducer for The Book of Mormon, which won Best Musical and eight other Tony Awards in 2011.
Schwab calls Morris a “brilliant strategist and visionary” in the entertainment industry, noting that he reconnected with Morris on this deal after the two used to play basketball together when they both attended New York University School of Law about 25 years ago. (Schwab was a year ahead of Morris in law school, so the pickup games frequently featured third-year students versus second-years.)
With the formation of Important Studios now behind them, Schwab says he and Morris have discussed cooperating on other future entertainment endeavors.