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James Packer: Vale the most powerful Chinan in Hollywood

Godzilla 2014. Warner BrosWhen we think of ns who have made it in Hollywood, it’s usually the actors who spring to mind: Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Geoffrey Rush and the scores of younger stars who have followed in their trailblazing footsteps.
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The more studious might, perhaps be able to name a few directors – the pioneering Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi, Gillian Armstrong, Phil Noyce and Bruce Beresford; the blockbuster helmers George Miller and Baz Luhrmann; the new breed that includes Patrick Hughes, James Wan and Joel Edgerton.

But who, when pressed to identify the most powerful n in Hollywood, would think immediately of James Packer? In all likelihood, only those who read the trades.

But short of Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation owns Fox, no other n has left such a mark on the business as has Packer, and certainly not in such a short space of time.

The Hollywood adventure that began less than four years ago has now come to an end with the sale of his stake in RatPac Entertainment, the company he launched in 2013 with director-producer Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand).

Packer has sold his stake – to Access, a multi-industry conglomerate headed by Ukraine-born, London-based Len Blavatnik, Britain’s richest man – for an undisclosed sum, and for reasons we can only guess at. If I were a betting man, I’d be putting some money on “cash-flow issues related to a downturn in the casino business”, though given Packer’s history of blow-ups I might also put a small stake on “rumoured breakdown of relationship with Ratner”.

How big a deal was Packer? Well, RatPac didn’t just produce films and TV, it also partnered with former Wall Street banker Steve Mnuchin – now Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary – to provide finance for the Warner Bros production slate. And it is arguably this deal that made him one of the biggest players in Hollywood.

The deal RatPac-Dune struck was to provide $US450 million to finance of up to 75 films; according to reports, $US300 million of that was in loans, the rest in equity, which suggests a major punt on Packer’s part.

According to the company’s website, RatPac has to date funded more than 50 films, with a combined box office of more than $US10 billion.

There have been hits and misses, but RatPac could hardly have got off to a better start: the first film it helped finance was Gravity, which took $US723 million globally on a budget of $US100 million, winning seven Oscars – including best director (it was pipped for best picture by 12 Years a Slave) – along the way.

Financing deals, and the credits that come with them, are complicated, but James Packer is listed on imdb as a producer or executive producer on 24 titles, starting with The Lego Movie in 2014 and ending with the still-in-production second sequel, The Lego Ninjago Movie.

On the plus side of the ledger, his credits include Jersey Boys, Black Mass, The Revenant and, depending how you feel about Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner. On the not-so-successful side of the ledger, there’s the Colin Farrell stinker Winter’s Tale (Crowe was in that one too; mateship clearly has its costs) and Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, which opens in this week.

Through the funding facility, RatPac Dune is involved in upcoming titles including Wonder Woman, Guy Ritchie’s update of King Arthur and Christopher Nolan’s epic WW2 drama Dunkirk, all of which should be strong performers.

Now, though, the Hollywood dream is over.

Packer was first reported to be looking to offload his stake in RatPac back in February, though a company spokesperson denied the rumour. The previous month, Steve Mnuchin had announced he would divest his holding in Dune if confirmed as Treasury Secretary, to avoid any conflicts of interest. Still, that didn’t stop him getting into hot water last month for telling a room full of reporters that they “should send all your kids to Lego Batman”.

If things between Packer and Ratner really have deteriorated, Mnuchin no longer playing the role of buffer may have been a factor in his desire to exit the business.

At any rate, as a Hollywood mogul Packer has generally avoided the spotlight, that failed romance with Mariah Carey aside. From outside the tent, it’s hard to know to what degree, if any, he was a creative force in RatPac’s development slate. But as a money man, he was no doubt a player.

We can, with good reason, decry an industry in which it is the depth of a man’s pockets rather than the breadth of his imagination that elevates his standing in what we still call, with less and less justification, a creative industry. But in a town where money speaks, James Packer was heard, loud and clear.

Whatever you think of him, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that, for a brief moment at least, the big man was the biggest n in Hollywood.

Facebook: karlquinnjournalist Twitter: @karlkwin

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