Ventures into Hollywood: Sandlot Venture Group

Sandlot Venture Group managing director Don Herman has been a technologist and investor in Silicon Valley for many years. Now, he, like an increasing number of other local investors, has gotten into the movie business.

Sandlot’s goal is to “hone projects at the development phase,” Herman tells me. The analogy here is that good movie ideas, like many early-stage startups, need financing and networking assistance from investors.

The Los Gatos, Calif. firm hires script writers and actors, and provides legal assistance on negotiating rights, and a network to help with distribution. Then it works with professional producers to get its movies made. Writers and actors are paid on an individual contract basis, and get a percentage-based upside if their movies do well.

The firm is structured like a typical Silicon Valley venture capital firm. Sandlot puts money into a portfolio of movie ideas; a successful exit is a movie that lots of people pay to watch.

Sandlot’s biggest, publicly announced project is a partnership with film production company Red Bird Cinema to back Red Bird movies. The first will be a feature film about boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard. The script writer is Pulitzer Prize-winning author H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger, a former investigative reporter who among other things wrote the book (and eventually movie) “Friday Night Lights.”

Six months ago, Herman says, he viewed Sandlot as a relatively small, opportunistic move, but now he’s seeing an increasing amount of interest from traditional Hollywood types, once they understand Sandlot’s model. The movie industry is generally getting more open-minded, he says, as it explores new forms of distribution.

Sandlot is focused on getting great ideas made into movies, but will later expand to look at new ways of distributing digitally in the coming year. Besides the Leonard movie, it has two other movies with completed scripts, while a third is still being written.

Sandlot has raised $25 million from individuals with backgrounds as investors and entrepreneurs in technology, entertainment — even professional sports, in the form of St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

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