Canadian mining tycoon Robert Friedland, who made billions from discoveries in Labrador and Mongolia, is embarking on a new career: Hollywood film mogul.
The flamboyant entrepreneur, famed as a master showman and pitchman at mining investor conferences, is now venturing into a different kind of show business. This time he’ll be fielding pitches from movie producers as he helms a new Hollywood-based company, Ivanhoe Pictures, to indulge what he calls his “long-held love of film and storytelling.”
His company has already acquired its first hot property, a film called Crazy Rich Asians, based on the bestselling comedic novel by Kevin Kwan, described as one of the most eagerly pursued titles in the industry. His partner on the project is the company that produced the blockbuster Hunger Games series.
But he’s also planning a film that’s much closer to his mining obsessions. “We’re teaming up with a major Hollywood studio and we’re making a movie called Copper,” Mr. Friedland announced at a mining conference in Johannesburg on Tuesday.
“It’s set on Mars in the 24th century,” he told the stunned mining delegates, who eventually reacted with laughter. “By then we’ve got 27 billion people in the world, copper is the world’s most valuable metal because everything runs on electricity and there’s no more burning of hydrocarbons. And we have to go mining on Mars, and the drama happens on Mars.”
Mr. Friedland, once a mentor to computer guru Steve Jobs in his pre-Apple days at Reed College in Oregon, said the science fiction film will be aimed at popularizing his ideas about the global importance of mining. “It’s a little like Star Trek, where you have somebody from every nation there, and the drama occurs on Mars. But it’s meant to explain to people who don’t understand mining that if you don’t grow it, you have to mine it.”
Mr. Friedland’s self-described love of “storytelling” has been famous in mining circles for decades. He routinely promotes his mineral discoveries with vivid accounts of their world-beating size and quality, earning a reputation as a popular and entertaining speaker.
He made his first fortune when he struck it rich at the Voisey’s Bay nickel deposit in Labrador, which he sold to Inco for $4.3-billion in 1996. Later he found the massive Oyu Tolgoi copper deposit in Mongolia, one of the biggest in the world, but last year he lost control of the $6-billion project to his partner, Rio Tinto, in a deal that required him to step down from his company, Ivanhoe Mines Ltd.
His current net worth is about $1.15-billion (U.S.), according to Forbes magazine. But while he continues to develop mines in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he is also pumping some of his wealth into the movie business, using his private family-owned firm, Ivanhoe Capital Corp., based in Singapore.
Mr. Friedland declined to give an interview in his Johannesburg visit. But his film company has announced it will have offices in Los Angeles, New York and Beijing, with Mr. Friedland as its chairman. The chief executive officer will be a veteran U.S. film producer, John Penotti, and the executive vice-president will be Ray Chen, a Beijing-based film and television producer.
The company says it will produce films and television programs with “broad appeal to a global audience.” It aims to bridge the production opportunities in Asia and the United States, with a focus on China, India, South Korea and Japan.
It’s a logical niche for Mr. Friedland, who has done mining deals with Japanese and Chinese companies for many years. He already has media experience as an early investor in U.S.-based Sirius Satellite Radio and in the Shanghai-based online media giant, Sina Corp.
Mr. Friedland is not the first Canadian mining entrepreneur to leap into the movie business. Frank Giustra, who spent most of his career as a mining financier in Toronto and Vancouver, became the founder of the Vancouver-based film studio, Lionsgate Entertainment, which today is one of the world’s biggest independent film companies. He was reportedly an early backer of Mr. Friedland’s mining ventures in the 1980s and 1990s.
After losing control of his Mongolian copper mine, Mr. Friedland has focused primarily on African mining projects. At the Johannesburg conference on Tuesday, he sang the praises of Africa’s business potential. “This is the beginning of Africa’s decade,” he told the conference.
Mr. Friedland is now developing a platinum mine in South Africa, which he expects to create about 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. He is also developing copper and zinc mines in Congo, and he has plans for a gold project in Gabon.
Despite widespread skepticism, he insisted that the “super cycle” of soaring commodities prices is still very much alive. “A lot of people are telling you that this super cycle is dead. They’re completely idiotic.”