An editor at a large publishing house whose name you would certainly recognize forwarded me a quick link to a New York Times article on the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Henry Winterstern. Winterstern follows a long line of outsiders with big Hollywood dreams. The sidewalks of Hollywood are littered with the impressions of their broken bodies left in concrete sidewalks, remnants of the high-energy impact created by their massive falls from grace. Says the Times in what should have been the article's opening sentences (subscription required unless you use bugmenot):
The 49-year-old Mr. Winterstern, who has the craggy looks and hunched-over affect of a street fighter, never claimed to have much movie experience. But convinced that distribution was the place to make money, he planned to build a studio using his talents at raising money and strategic thinking that were successful in his turnaround of the Wet Seal, a maker of clothing for teenagers, in collaboration with Prentice Capital earlier this decade.
You have to love an article that manages to work the phrase "earlier this decade" into the mix. And, of course, the first person I would search for to lead such a project would be the former manager of "Wet Seal," fine purveyor of slutty apparel for tweenagers of all ages, the mothers of said tweenagers seeking to re-live the golden years of promiscuity and home of the "Shark Bite Halter Dress" (pictured right) priced at an ultra-reasonable 7.588 Toyota Prius miles. (I think I will check out their Hello Kitty intimates collection when I'm done with this post).
The studio he endeavored to rebuild was First Look Pictures. Of course, this wouldn't be a true Veritable Capital story without the dumb money. In this case it came in the form of the hedge fund Prentice Capital that put $70 million into the project and Merrill Lynch, which issued a tasty line of credit for another $80 million.
Winterstern dove right in to the
cashbusiness. There were warning signs right away. Like the firm's mission statement: "First Look is a maverick. We are primarily accountable to ourselves...." Not enough warning? Let's hire 140 people and put $4 million into the Century City headquarters offices. That will impress our visitors. Yep. It did. Said one:
[The headquarters are] excellent, really fantastic, but you kind of go, ‘Wait, this isn’t Paramount, where you’re expecting to do a $70 million movie...'
They’re an independent, and they’ll come back and say, ‘Make it for less.’ And we’ll say, ‘The amount less you want us to spend to make the movie is what you spent on the receptionist station."
$50 million in losses (that's the rumor anyhow) didn't impress, apparently, and our hero is politely invited to leave after he argues for more acquisitions. Now what will he do?
Asked about a rumor that he might attempt to reacquire the studio, the deposed mogul laughed and said, “Absolutely not.” Then he called back to say, “It’s possible.”