EXCLUSIVE: Endeavor Content co-CEOs Graham Taylor and Chris Rice woke up today with new majority owners. Hatched under the Endeavor umbrella four years ago, Endeavor Content financed, packaged and sold over 100 series and films that included La La Land and Killing Eve. Endeavor, which owns WME, was forced to divest 80% of the production company, per a truce signed after a brutal battle with the WGA that put percenteries out of the packaging and affiliated production company businesses. CJ Entertainment, the Korean colossus best known here for making the Best Picture winner Parasite, stepped up last November with a pledge to spend $775 million. That deal closed last night. Here, Taylor and Rice discuss the company’s future under new backers. CJ is bullish: its public filing stated an expectation that Endeavor Content will generate making 40 movies and TV series by next year.
Said Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel: “Chris, Graham and the entire Endeavor Content team have built an incredible business, and the opportunity to combine the complementary strengths, resources and assets of CJ and EC is immense. Both companies share a vision of continuing to build EC into the world’s leading independent global studio, and this deal provides us with further connectivity to the valuable South Korean content marketplace.” Added CJ Group Vice Chairman Miky Lee: “Chris and Graham and the team at Endeavor Content have amassed an incredible track record in just a few years. Together, with our shared vision for premium global entertainment, we look forward to combining the best of East and West, and doing much more.”
DEADLINE: The CJ Entertainment deal is closed and you’ve got new backers. What are your immediate thoughts as you prepare to build EC out as its own entity?
GRAHAM TAYLOR: Well, it means we’ve built a billion-dollar studio. We feel like we’re the studio of tomorrow. Chris and I we’ve been partnered up for over a decade, I think we feel like we’ve just completed the first inning. We still feel like we’re in start-up mode, and we’re excited about building and taking creative risk in storytelling, supporting and making things we hope resonate with people around the world.
CHRIS RICE: Graham and I are grateful for each other, our incredible team, for the trust that Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell and Mark Shapiro put in us through Endeavor Content 1.0. And grateful for CJ and this next journey. As Graham said, and to steal from Jeff Bezos, it does feel like day one again. But every day quite frankly has felt like day one, from the beginning, and I hope we’ll continue feeling that for a long time. We are unbelievably excited for this next phase and for the potential growth and for being able to come and continue to work trying to make great pieces of content and empower artists and tell stories that can have an impact. Whether that impact is purely entertaining or can have a sort of wider cultural impact. I think almost everyone in the company wakes up on a daily basis excited for all those missions.
DEADLINE: This was a move necessitated by the Writer’s Guild truce, which stripped away agency packages and affiliated production companies. What do you see for Endeavor Content 2.0 under CJ?
RICE: We’re incredibly excited about CJ as a partner. It is a company that invests in the long term, so that is obviously very attractive. We built this company brick by brick, Graham, myself and the team. To have somebody you know who’s interested in the long term rather than a sort of short-term exit is very appealing. They believe in content first, in the artists, and they’ve backed many of the best directors out of Korea and out of the Southeast Asian region. They believe in investing in infrastructure in order to support the creative, to support great art and great filmmaking. There’s an exciting philosophical overlap; our whole business has been built on the back of, how can we create a studio that could empower creative freedom and share financial upside with producers and IP owners and filmmakers and talent.
Another philosophical alignment and overlap between Endeavor Content and CJ is that from day one, we’ve never been an American focused company. We’ve never been a British-focused company, necessarily. It’s always been a kind of global focus right from the beginning. A lot of our film and TV projects speak to that. Having an investor that has a huge strategic presence in Asia, and what that can bring to the table in accelerating our global business, is very exciting.
TAYLOR: Miky Lee is a visionary, an architect and one of the most wonderful people in entertainment. We wanted to win with great people, and that sense of humanity and decency and care, which is rare in this business. It’s certainly something we aspire to; having partners that are of that ilk is paramount.
RICE: We’ve known her for years and Ari has known her even longer, so there’s a great level of comfort in who the team is, what the company is, what it stands for.
DEADLINE: Have you any recent business with them?
RICE: Yes, we have a partnership with one of their companies in Korea. We’ve been developing multiple TV shows through that partnership over the last almost three years now.
DEADLINE: In the initial announcement of this, CJ said this would support their launch of the OTT platform TVING globally. How will that mix and match with all the streamers that gobble up world rights on most of the big packages these days?
TAYLOR: It won’t change the way we work. We will continue to be working with all the streamers on a global basis as well as deficit financing film and TV and working on a territory-by-territory basis. Other than giving us deeper strategic insight into the Asian market and an even closer relationship with the CJ-owned networks – who we already do lots of business with – CJ’s ownership position will not shift how we work with the streamers.
DEADLINE: How has it been, separating EC from Endeavor? Graham, it wasn’t that many years ago when I haunted you late nights at Sundance hoping for dish on an acquisition. Can’t say I’ll be sorry if that has gone by the wayside, it feels like a young person’s game.
TAYLOR: We might have those late nights, only it will be with movies we have invested in, versus doing it on behalf of third parties. It has been exciting to watch Deb (McIntosh) and Alex (Walton) and their team that has matriculated and should be in that spot driving an interesting independent business for WME. It’s a great opportunity for them and I think it brings further clarity that this is the final step of our completion as a full, stand-alone global studio.
DEADLINE: How many people are you bringing? Will you continue to be based in the old UTA space behind Wilshire?
TAYLOR: Just over 200 people. For now, we’re still in Beverly Hills. We’re still in Beverly Hills, New York, London, and some other and a few other countries.
DEADLINE: How will the CJ deal help you figure out where this fractured content business is headed? Where is it headed?
RICE: We can certainly give you some stats of where we are. On the television side we have 21 television series, green lit or in production right now, right, and that’s with us as the studio. Lots of people talk about independent studios, but really they’ve incentivized non-writing Eps. These are shows where we handle the production like a Sony or Warner Brothers, where we own the underlying IP, where we control distribution and rights.
So, 21 green lit or in production. We have another more than 30 behind that, sold to networks, in active development, and a slate of 150 plus behind that in development inside the studio. We have green-lit 16 movies that we’re financing, over the last couple of years, and we got 75 plus active features in development. We’re financing multiple docs; either fully financing production and we certainly have a good development slate and we’re selling to all of the major streamers and premium cable networks. We do fantastic business with Apple, Amazon, Netflix, HBO, HBO Max, Disney, Hulu, and every major network we’re in business with that has a third party independent studio…
TAYLOR: As well as Warner Brothers, Universal, Paramount, etcetera.
RICE: On the film side, we are playing both strategies, of supplying to streamer but also fully financing or negative pickup or playing the independent route with studio distributors and independent distributors. We see a huge space for a scaled studio. It’s really Sony and us that are scaled independents at this point.
TAYLOR: In terms of a platform agnostic company selling to and supplying everyone.
RICE: Independent as in not owning your own major streaming platform. We think there’s a huge space there, for developing and producing high-budget, hot talent-driven, authored pieces of content whether film or TV.
DEADLINE: What are some of the projects?
TAYLOR: We launched Nine Perfect Strangers; we just wrapped a show called Severance, which Ben Stiller directed with Adam Scott, Patricia Arquette, Christopher Walken starring that launches on Apple this year. We’ve just wrapped Life & Beth, with Amy Schumer writing, directing, starring and producing. Also launching is Tokyo Vice with Michael Mann directing Ansel Elgort. We have Raw, which is an anthology series for Apple with Nicole Kidman. Lady in the Lake is in early prep with Natalie Portman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Alma Har’el. We’re in production of The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart with Sigourney Weaver, Samo Lives, with Cyrano’s Kelvin Harrison Jr reuniting with Luce director Julius Onah, the first film on Basquiat to be written, directed and produced by a Black filmmaker. There is much more coming. We have the Michael Bay movie Ambulance in post with Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen and Eiza Gonzalez, which releases wide through Universal President’s Day weekend. I think it’s one of the best movies Michael has ever made, and people are going to be surprised at the scale of it relative to the cost. We have a movie in post with Amazon called My Best Friend’s Exorcism, a fun mash-up of genres that we’re really excited about.
DEADLINE: There would have to be advantages being under the roof of one of the biggest talent agencies for material, show runners, filmmakers and talent. Give a sense of how you evolved from that cozy relationship into being a separate entity.
TAYLOR: First off, a little over 50 percent of our business is actually at CAA and UTA and all the major agencies and management companies. Our terrific relationship with WME continues. Chris and I have decades invested in relationships that will continue to expand as this business grows. Ultimately either you’re a good place to do business with, or you’re not. We’ve spent the last several years showing people that we’re good partners, we do what we say we’ll do, that we do care about the creative, and we care about helping talent and helping producers own and control. Versus the entire system moving to a work-for-hire model.
DEADLINE: Chris, what about the structure of your company best positions you to succeed in a time when everyone is rushing to build streaming platforms? Why should I take my series to Endeavor Content as opposed to someplace else?
RICE: I think that not having a streamer is part of the selling point. We do a very particular thing. We try to develop highly distinctive, highly authored, talent-driven, filmmaker-driven prestige pieces. And sometimes those shows need more of a development cycle, a building process before they’re ready to go to market. The fact that we sell everywhere, that we have a flexible model and that we don’t sit on precedent, means we can work everywhere. What that means is those types of projects have a place that they can come and gestate, come to market only when they’re ready and find the right home once they truly know what they are. We think this is a great route for many projects to come to market.
In terms of what Graham said about the philosophical approach, we’ve been lucky in that we’ve been able to build a studio from scratch today, that is appropriate for today, and benefits from Graham, myself and our team spending years being able to see things from a talent, producer, financier, IP perspective. We think we’ve built a business model, a development and production process that respect and elevates and supports talent. And just to be clear, WME has never owned Endeavor Content. It’s Endeavor that owns 100 percent of WME and owned 100 percent of Endeavor Content. We don’t expect anything to change at WME or the other talent agencies we work with, because so much of that has been built on a philosophy of good partnership and dealing with both clients and representation in a way we hope that they appreciate, and makes this a good home for them.
TAYLOR: The other thing is the advantage of being platform-agnostic. I think it’s very hard or it’s very rare that talent or producers feel comfortable just supplying one ecosystem, just being at one streamer or one studio. What we have certainly found is we work with hundreds of artists and producers who want to make something at Netflix and then Apple and then Universal and then Hulu. Better to have that flexibility to build stuff and protect the creative sanctity of it, and then much later in the process figure out what’s the right end user.
DEADLINE: Do you see yourselves expanding your roster of overall deals?
RICE: That’s not a future thing, we’re already there. In television we have approximately 30 film and TV producer partnerships that are either first look deals or investments we’ve made. Deals with Stephanie Allain, Jessica Chastain, Alan Poul and other big producers in the US.
TAYLOR: There is Brad Weston. Eric Feig. Lynette Howell Taylor, Joel Stillerman. Bruna Papandrea, Scott Budnick.
RICE: Outside of the US we’ve made investments in Motive Pictures, which is Simon Maxwell in the UK, who made an investment in Ink Factory. We recently launched a Scandinavian production company called The Nordic Drama Queens. In Canada, we have our investment in Blink and John Morena. We have been making significant investments in production businesses around the globe. That was part of our plan for years and will continue. CJ will bring a great additional component into that business too.
TAYLOR: Last thing. We’re aggressively building an anti-racist and feminist studio. I see a big corporate responsibility both in the stories we tell of how to move culture, but also, there’s a seat at the table for everyone. We hope to serve as a leader in driving the entertainment business to a better place, right. This is not our parents’ studio.
DEADLINE: What exactly does that mean?
TAYLOR: We feel like we’re a studio with a soul. Something we always say here is, it’s everyone’s responsibility to leave this business better than how we found it. We came here as young people with a love of movies and television and entertainment and somewhere along the line many people fall into becoming cynical, or apathetic or become narcissistic. It should be a place of joy and it’s a privilege to get to work in entertainment. But it’s also a responsibility and we take it seriously.
DEADLINE: Of the 200 people working for you as you start this new iteration of Endeavor Content, what percentage is white, and what percentage is minority?
TAYLOR: We are a gender balanced studio, with 55% White, and 45% non-White. It is a moral imperative as well as a business imperative. When we launched four years ago, you might remember we told you a goal was to do this. As Chris and I over the last decade have been raising capital and selling, we have tried to convert diverse filmmakers, female filmmakers. The independent film space is kind of ground zero for creating more access for voices and all this is something that we drove and have a personal affinity for. We’ve learned how to be far more intentional and strategic and thoughtful about everything from our processes to the diversity of our outside suppliers. We were involved in co-authorizing the Inclusion Rider, and partnering in lusion writer, to partner into #Change Hollywood. It is intentional seven-day-a-week work that we say to people, we’re going to spend our lifetimes trying to build an anti-racist studio. This is not getting from point A to point B, and it’s always a work in progress, but if you work here, this is priority number one.
RICE: There are two pieces to it, and one is diversity within our US and UK businesses. The other is a belief that we’ve had for more than a decade, that we’re at the end of the absolute dominance of Anglo-American content as the sort of sole view point for the world. That has come to pass. Everything from Squid Game and you know La Casa de Papel [Money Heist] and all these shows that are coming out, and Parasite as finally a non-English language movie to win Best Picture. This is what we’ve been working on for a decade, that great stories come from filmmakers all around the world, cultures all around the world. We will continue to try and build a company that can accelerate and empower and support this, because, that’s the future.