Film veteran Michael Joe set as COO of startup that vows to expand profit participation and offer 'talent-friendly' working environment.
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Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are reuniting as business partners with the launch Artists Equity, a production venture backed by RedBird Capital Partners that vows to expand profit participation and provide a “talent-friendly” environment to creatives.
Media investor Gerry Cardinale’s RedBird is said to have committed at least $100 million to funding the venture. Affleck will serve as CEO while Damon is chief content officer. Michael Joe, an alum of Universal Pictures and STX Films, has signed on as chief operating officer of the L.A.-based company.
“Artists Equity was conceived from Matt’s and my longtime passion for the art of storytelling and our shared desire to help creators deliver on their vision, as we have been fortunate to do throughout our careers,” Affleck said in a statement. “Our goal with Artists Equity is to build a creator-focused studio that can optimize the production process with shared participation in the commercial success of projects. We are thrilled to partner with Gerry Cardinale and the RedBird team, who have a long track record of building notable scaled platform businesses around unique IP. Matt and I are looking forward to working together to empower the current and future creative minds in the entertainment industry.”
Artists Equity’s first project is already in production: a still untitled drama that Affleck wrote and directed about the birth of Nike’s willdy popular Air Jordan sneaker brand. Damon stars as the Nike executive who landed the endorsement deal with Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan. Artists Equity joins Amazon Studios, Skydance Sports and Mandalay Pictures as a producer on the film.
The partners said Artists Equity aims to release three projects in 2023 and a minimum of five projects annually thereafter. The New York Times first reported on the venture.
“Historically, the success of a film was based on its box office performance. Now, with the rise of streaming, the business behind filmmaking has intrinsically changed. However, Ben and I know that the power will continue to be in the hands of the creators, no matter which direction the industry evolves,” said Matt Damon, chief content officer of Artists Equity. “Artists Equity enables these visionaries to take ownership of their creative power, providing a platform for both established and emerging filmmakers to streamline the development of their content. Ben and I are lucky to have worked with some of the best in the business and our partnership with Gerry Cardinale and the team at RedBird continues us on that trajectory as we look to innovate and empower through the Artists Equity platform.”
There’s a long history in showbiz of artist-led companies vowing to build a better system than is found at Hollywood’s largest employers. Affleck and Damon’s pitch to creatives that they will find a more welcoming environment and more generous profit participation points may be well-received at a time when even top-echelon creatives are concerned about the fundamental realignment of the content business and how it is affecting the paychecks of writers, directors, actors and producers. The upcoming round of 2023 union contract talks in the first half of 2023 between the Writers Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA and Directors Guild of America will only exacerbate the A-list agitation about compensation formulas in the age of streaming.
RedBird has backed numerous media and sports partnerships since it was founded by Cardinale in 2014, including David Ellison’s Skydance Media, LeBron James’ Springhill Media and the New York Yankees regional sports cabler Yes Network, which Cardinale helped the team launch in 2002. The pact for Artists Equity is a big swing for RedBird at a pure-play content venture. Cardinale said he’d known Affleck and Damon for 20 years.
“Ben and Matt are two of the most talented entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry, and now we can add founders to their long list of accomplishments,” said Cardinale, who is founder and managing partner of RedBird Capital. “The investment thesis behind Artists Equity is consistent with RedBird’s track record in backing proven founders and entrepreneurs with scalable solutions-based capital to create innovative intellectual property monetization platforms.
Artists Equity is an independently capitalized studio that will enable content creators to navigate this evolving landscape and maximize value for their visionary storytelling. The premium today is shifting more towards quality which plays extremely well to Ben and Matt’s track record as filmmakers across writing, directing, producing and acting. Under their curation, Artists Equity will deliver projects that meet the growing demand for critically acclaimed content while also enabling broader profit participation throughout the production value chain.”
Variety's Cynthia Littleton and Matt Donnelly contributed to this report.