Ryan Kavanaugh’s Media-Legal Thriller

ryan kavanaugh
Ryan Kavanaugh's Proxima Media, the controlling shareholder of Triller, a TikTok competitor, is being sued left and right for allegedly not paying its bills. Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
September 12, 2022

A few days ago, I attended an absolutely fascinating court hearing—one where you could see the judge’s brain explode in real time. “Oh, good grief,” said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Jay Ford as he slowly came to grips with the issues in play. He later exclaimed, “This is an important case” and predicted it would eventually be heard by the Supreme Court. It just so happens that I played a key role in helping instigate this unfolding drama.

The plaintiff is Ryan Kavanaugh, the well-connected Hollywood machinator who was anointed a wunderkind in the early 2000s for having developed a “formula” to guarantee movie profitability. Wall Street investors, including future U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, flooded the venture with cash. Of course, the supposed algorithm didn’t quite work. Kavanaugh’s Relativity Media produced some hits like The Fighter and Limitless, but also made plenty of flops. When Relativity declared Chapter 11, in 2015, the bankruptcy court hosted more Wall Street bigwigs than a Bill Cohan pool party. 

These days, Kavanaugh has a new company—Proxima Media, which is the controlling shareholder of Triller, a TikTok competitor which is being sued left and right for allegedly not paying its bills. The Washington Post recently published a 3,000-word article about how Triller is stiffing Black creators. But the more astonishing legal drama hanging over Kavanaugh dates back to the earliest days of Proxima, when Kavanaugh and his then partner, Elon Spar, were first getting the company off the ground. Kavanaugh and Spar originally had plans to run a Hollywood box office prediction market. But the two disagreed about the business, and Spar, who cashed out, later accused Kavanaugh of operating a “Ponzi scheme.”