By DANIEL TAUB
Kip Hagopian seems like the last person who would make a jump into the movie business, which he himself admits is “not even a real business.”
Hagopian, along with two partners, formed Brentwood Associates in 1972, and helped it grow from a $6 million fund to one of the nation’s largest high-tech venture capital firms. In doing so, a key part of his job was making smart financial decisions.
But 10 years ago, Hagopian decided it was time to try something new and perhaps not so smart.
He wanted to get into show business.
Hagopian took entertainment-industry acquaintances out to breakfasts and lunches to pick their brains, and he read half a dozen books on the business.
His conclusion? “Studied the economics of the business, decided it was a really bad place to put money,” he says. “Economically speaking, it was a stupid place to put money.”
But by then it was too late he already had the bug.
The move was something of a return to his roots. Hagopian had studied industrial design at UCLA in the 1960s partially because he had an interest in the arts. Instead of pursuing that career, he decided it was more important to become financially independent “and I didn’t consider myself the Michelangelo of design anyway,” he says so he went on to get an MBA.
His interest in industrial design had since waned, but he still wanted to try his hand at something artistic like the film business. Besides, he figured, he already had found financial success through Brentwood Associates. This was the time to have some fun, whether or not there was money to be made.
“I took my wife out to dinner and said, ‘I’m about to waste some of our money on this idea. What do you think?’ And she said, ‘You know, go for it. If you want to do it, it’s great.’ So I set aside a few million dollars that I was willing to lose in the business not planning to lose it, but kind of expecting I’d lose part of it, and certainly not expecting to make a lot of money,” he said.
Hagopian looks more the part of a math professor than a Hollywood insider. But the “Halliwell’s Film Guide” on his bookshelf and a poster for the 1996 film “Ransom” on the wall of his office at Brentwood Associates (he’s still a special limited partner with the firm) hint at a second career, Segue Productions Inc.
In fact, it was “Ransom,” a thriller starring Mel Gibson and directed by Ron Howard, that was Segue’s biggest success. The movie, for which Hagopian had a “produced by” credit, is based on a 1956 MGM feature starring Glenn Ford and Donna Reed that Hagopian had seen as a kid.
He spent a year and a half negotiating to get the rights, another year working on a script with screenwriter Alexander Ignon, and then shopped it around to studios. It eventually was picked up by Walt Disney Co.’s Touchstone Pictures and wound up grossing more than $300 million worldwide.
Segue’s only other film, the 1995 period piece “Restoration,” did not do as well. Although praised by critics and the winner of two Academy Awards, “it did not attract an audience,” Hagopian says.
He has now relegated Segue Productions to the back burner. Although he is “still hoping to make one or two more movies,” he says he hasn’t accomplished as much in the movie business as he had hoped.
“I’ve been at this over seven years. We got two movies made,” he says. “My goal was, I was going to do this for five years, I was going to make three to five movies. So na & #271;ve old me or let’s say I overestimated my ability, or whatever. We were lucky to get two made and I still think we’ve got a third or fourth possibly we could make.”
These days, Hagopian spends most of his time working with Alhambra-based Property First Marketplace Inc., an Internet start-up on which he serves as chairman. Property First is an online listing service for commercial real estate being sold or leased, and Hogopian is helping put together its second round of private-placement financing.
Though he again finds himself in an entirely new industry, Hagopian says he doesn’t consider developing the Internet start-up to be his third career.
“To call it a career is maybe a little bit of a misnomer, because it implies that I’m doing it to earn a living,” he said. “I don’t need to earn a living anymore. To me it’s about what is interesting and fun and stimulating.”