Ryan Millsap sells Blackhall Studios, plans new venturesRyan Millsap, founder of Blackhall Studios (Photo by Maria Saporta)
By Maria Saporta
In the end, Blackhall Studios was really just a real estate play.
Ryan Millsap, founder of Atlanta-based Blackhall Studios, announced Wednesday morning he has sold controlling interest in the company to a Los Angeles-based private equity firm – Commonwealth Group.
Blackhall has been developing one of the largest studio complexes in world, including projects in the pipeline in London and Los Angeles. It recently completed a controversial land swap next to its DeKalb studio to expand its local sound stages.
The reported sales price for Blackhall’s Atlanta assets is $120 million.
“This has been in the works for about a year,” Millsap said about the sale in a telephone interview Wednesday morning. The negotiations “evolved in different phases” because of the COVID pandemic, and the decision was made to have an outright sale rather than for Millsap to continue to have a controlling interest or an ongoing management relationship with Blackhall.
Millsap does plan to stay in Atlanta, where he intends to start other businesses tied to the entertainment industry. He retains the right to use the Blackhall name for non-real estate entities.
“I’m very entrepreneurial, and they are very institutional,” Millsap said. “In the end, that makes for a great transaction. Entrepreneurs like a lot of freedom.”
That said, Millsap will still have an ownership slice in the studios.
“It’s a substantial minority interest, but it’s a passive interest,” Millsap said. “I’m still involved with them strategically. But I have no veto power.”
When asked about any pledges he made to the community during the controversial land swap negotiations, Millsap said honoring those commitments will up to “the guys who bought it.”
“They bought this with no conditions,” Millsap said. “Being a good community steward is intelligent business.”
Millsap entered the movie studio business through real estate.
In a statement announcing the sale, Millsap explained how he viewed Blackhall Studios.
“I’m an entrepreneurial, opportunistic real estate developer,” Millsap said. “I’ve made my career seeing things early and executing early and exiting when the larger funds are ready for big trend opportunities. I’ve carefully managed to make great returns for my capital and the capital of my investors my entire career this way.
“It is both an excellent time for an entrepreneur to exit and for private equity to take a run at the next leg of the race. Everyone wins.,” Millsap continued. “The building of the studios was a real estate development for me, just like building and selling apartment complexes. My team and I built sound stages to lease to film companies. I learned a huge amount about the film business in my days watching Disney, Warner Brothers, and Universal Studios execute their craft. And I see some incredible opportunities ahead for Georgia capital to take advantage of trends that legacy Hollywood capital is overlooking.”
Millsap, who moved to Georgia in 2014 from California, lives in Social Circle (about an hour east of Atlanta) and also has a second home in Buckhead. Apparently, Millsap is here to stay.
“I am proud of what we’ve built,” Millsap said of Blackhall Studios. “I consider myself an Atlantan now, and the sale has given me additional resources to start other businesses that effect the entertainment industry and beyond.”
Back in 2019, Millsap was vocal about his concerns for Georgia status as a dominant center for movie productions was vulnerable if it passed socially sensitive legislation like the anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” or anti-gay religious liberty bill. The concern was that movie productions would take their projects to other locations if such laws were passed.
At the time, Millsap said he was taking a risk on Georgia. And his bet has paid off. The movie industry has continued to prosper – even through the COVID pandemic and despite the 2021 General Assembly passing a bill that opponents say restricts voting rights, especially in Black and brown communities. (Georgia did lose one movie project because of the voting bill – Will Smith’s “Emancipation” – which will now be filmed in New Orleans).
That has not dampened Millsap’s enthusiasm for Georgia.
“Blackhall Studios has been a very good real estate development project, and Blackhall Entertainment, my next venture, will help transform Georgia into an entertainment juggernaut,” Millsap said. “Onward and upward Georgia!”