LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Ronald Tutor has always loved going to the movies.
As a child growing up in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, he not only saw films but got a taste of business through his mother, who once headed the ladies’ wardrobe department at Universal Studios. Eventually, however, he followed his father into the construction business, where he went on to make his fortune.
Now Tutor, the 69-year-old chairman and CEO of Tutor Perini Corp, will personally invest about $200 million in partnership with Colony Capital and others to purchase Miramax Films from Disney for more than $650 million.
While careful not to go into detail about Miramax because of a nondisclosure agreement as the deal awaits settlement, he said he believed it would be a good business deal.
“Am I excited about making movies? No!” he said. “Will we have no alternative but to make a certain level of movies? The answer is yes because a library of this magnitude will require it. But I’m still not enamored of the ‘movie business.’ What I like is that in a business sense, this is a particularly good library, and I like it.”
Tutor has been investing in movies and movie companies for the past seven years with his now-estranged friend David Bergstein, a controversial financier who will not be involved in the Miramax deal.
In 2006, the duo bought the venerable London-based Capitol Films and the smartly run indie ThinkFilm, which netted an Oscar for the documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side” and a nomination for “Half Nelson.” However, what started out as a grand vision spiraled into controversy, losses, lawsuits and a federal involuntary bankruptcy proceeding, costing millions — most of it money Tutor invested or guaranteed.
Now, although he vowed just nine months ago that he was done with movie investments, Tutor is plunging in deeper than ever.
“I was always fascinated with the business and developed a curiosity,” he said. “Now a lot of that curiosity was put to bed, frankly, with David Bergstein and our role together. Really, and unfortunately, a lot of negatives came out of it. But as a result of what I learned, most of it the hard way and expensively, I suppose that’s what led me to valuing the Miramax library as I did.”
When news of the bid broke in March, it was Bergstein who was seen as bidding, with Tutor again his silent partner. As opposition mounted to their involvement, Bergstein shifted to adviser. In mid-June, Bergstein’s role was quietly diminished again when Tutor brought into the deal as a partner his friend of two decades, Thomas Barrack Jr. Barrack is the CEO of Colony Capital, a well-heeled investment firm he founded in 1991, most famous in Hollywood until now as a lender to Michael Jackson and later to photographer Annie Leibovitz. (Bergstein did not return a call seeking comment, while Colony declined comment.)
The price has raised eyebrows after a parade of earlier potential investors walked away because of Disney’s demand for a price close to $700 million for assets several sophisticated buyers felt were hardly worth $500 million. Even that valuation seemed high without the participation of Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the brothers who founded the company and were pushed out in 2008 by Disney. Sources close to the Weinsteins insist they have an iron clad exit agreement that requires any buyer to get their cooperation in order to make sequels out of the two dozen or so franchise movies in the library.
The Weinsteins, backed by L.A. investor Ron Burkle, came close to a deal for Miramax themselves until Burkle at the last minute reduced what he was willing to pay to about $575 million because he didn’t think the assets were worth what Disney was demanding. That prompted Disney to end the talks.
Sources who discussed it with the Weinsteins said they have no intention of working with the Tutor-Colony group. That apparently doesn’t faze the new buyers, who according to sources don’t believe they need to work with the Weinsteins to do the deal or to make sequels.
Tutor has proved he knows how to build a business. After attending the University of Southern California, he grew his dad’s small construction company into a giant enterprise. A recent report put the twice-divorced magnate’s personal worth at more than $700 million, and that’s probably conservative. His 2009 salary was $1.5 million, but a bonus and stock grants inflated that total to more than $11 million.
One of the perks of being CEO is that Tutor jets around the world in a specially outfitted Boeing 737. Don’t look for a computer in Tutor’s office; he doesn’t like using them and has assistants print out whatever he needs.
Tutor Perini is ranked by Fortune as the 432nd largest U.S. company, and it is one of the two or three largest contractors doing business with private industry and government, both at home and abroad.
Known as a workaholic, Tutor nonetheless found time each May to attend the Cannes Film Festival with Bergstein, staying aboard Tutor’s yacht Pegasus, which sports six staterooms named after Greek isles and an eight-foot, drop-down projection screen.