Monday evening high atop Midtown Manhattan an intimate group of insiders gathered at 30 Rock to celebrate the launch of DF Indie Studios, a new company connecting veteran producers and others to try to reinvent the independent filmmaking model. The skies in New York City cleared in time for the soiree, which was held at NYC's iconic Top of the Rock on the roof of the 70-story GE tower. Chatting with indieWIRE at the Top of the Rock on Monday night, DFIS CEO Mary Dickinson offered that the legendary space was available to rent at a bargain price for the company's launch event. She added that such an approach is crucial to the future of the company.
Low cost, maximum impact, Dickinson said.
In the first 48 hours, the company certainly made its mark. Monday's launch generated more coverage than any other new company in recent years and at the party, clippings of articles were posted on a pair of bulletin boards near the entrance. PR money well spent. Within hours of word hitting trade outlets (including indieWIRE) late Sunday night the news was picked up by mainstream news sources around the world. On Monday, buzz spread throughout the blogosphere and yesterday there were hundreds of links on news sites and blogs about the company.
Not to mention buzz that the DF Indie has closed in on its first film. Namely, Chris Monger's "The Amateur Photographer." Producer, and longtime advisor to DFIS, Ted Hope said that Monger's movie should be the company's first project, though he cautioned that the deal has yet to be announced. Asked to describe the film Hope called it, via email, "A 1970-set tale of a young man who is drafted to be a town's photographer of the most intimate variety, and so discovers his artistic calling -- but not before battling the local authorities and bringing a bit of a velvet revolution to a sleepy little New England mill town."
For the founders, who were monitoring the sites all day, the swell of attention yesterday culminated with their remarks at the launch party. "We are offering something unique," COO and President Charlene Fisher said during brief comments at the gathering. "New York City has been home to independent film, it's where it was born," she continued, "We are hoping to give it a shot in the arm." She added that they were inspired in particular by the film "Stephanie Daley," from new company partner Redbone Films. Noting that the frustration felt by the filmmakers surrounding the distribution of the film shaped their ideas for DFIS.
"This company is the result of very well-managed anger," Dickinson said on Monday, underscoring what motivated the new company.
At Monday's party, most insiders seemed enthusiastic about the launch, but some were also cautious. "Confused" is how one attendee from New York's film business described thoughts on the launch. Another insider -- who demanded anonymity -- said, "Show me the model," defining his reaction as "healthily skeptical." Particularly in light of what this insider said were "puff pieces" written earlier in the day about the company. As he talked about the company he seemed more and more doubtful. Who are these women and what is their background? How much money do they have? How will they spend it? What are the projects? What makes their model so unique? How will films be distributed? Yet, ending the chat on a more positive note as many did, he added, "That said, I like to think that the rising tide lifts all boats. I hope they succeed." Others in the business took a similar position, a wait and see approach as further details are announced.
Clearly, the overwhelming amount of attention from the media on Monday raised the stakes on the company and its founders.
"Many studios dedicated to independent movies have been closed (Picturehouse) or exist more in name than in function (Miramax)," surveyed the New York Times' Brooks Barnes, adding, "Production and advertising costs continue to climb, financing is virtually impossible to secure and the recession has severely reduced DVD revenue, once a safety net for specialized film."
"Can Indie Veterans Reinvent The Movie Biz?" was the headline of a CNBC article. There's no doubt the independent and low-budget film world is in a period of flux and could use a new player," wrote Julie Boorstin, adding, "And while the box office is booming, do moviegoers want to see low budget films at the theater? Or do they go to the theater for over-the-top special effects and look to indie flicks to watch at home on DVD or Video-on-Demand?"
"How indie will DF Indie Studios Be?" asked Cinematical, picking up on the use of the term "commercially viable" that is emphasized in the DFIS press release and offering, "It sounds as though DF wants to jump into the space currently occupied by Fox Searchlight and Lionsgate."
"If the two financiers can pull this off, they will have helped to break a year-long logjam for filmmakers who have struggled to find money in a cash-restrained world," noted Business Week, "We're not in Spielberg's league—not even in his universe," Dickinson told the magazine. "We're offering what investors want—risk." It continued, "The duo say they have investors from throughout the world, including Asia, India, and Europe. And they have a list of supporters, including NBC Universal Co-Chair Ben Silverman and GE Asset Management Chief Investment Officer David Wiederecht, who have agreed to serve on their advisory board. All they need is to do is to start making films."
"We want to offer indie style and studio dependability," Fisher told the Hollywood Reporter's Gregg Kilday, echoing the company's slogan. The HR piece continued, "When the duo asked indie producers what they need -- Hope was among the first with whom they sat down -- they were told 100% financing, guaranteed theatrical distribution to attract a higher level of talent and P&A commitments to ensure that films find an audience."
"Despite their lack of filmmaking experience, the DF Indie team thinks they can do better for their investors and remain confident they can raise the rest of the $100 million by this fall, when they hope to announce their full slate of movies," Forbes.com reported, calling Dickinson and Fisher "mogul hopefuls" and noting, "That's a dicey proposition amid the current stock market uncertainty and diminished wealth." Continuing, Forbes' Evan Hessel said, "Still, if Dickinson and Fisher pull off their capital call, they will likely be competing with a diminished supply of indie flicks, making it easier for their new studio's work to stand out. Now let's see if Ridley Scott can craft a crowd-pleaser for $10 million or less."
"It's odd that the indie duo picked the name DF Indie Studios," noted blogger and veteran industry observer Anne Thompson, "'Studio' to me connotes the old Hollywood system, with its back-lots and theaters (you had to have both to be called a major studio). That's not what this is. They're sending the message that they're occupying a low-budget space that the studios are not, and taking over a function that the studios have largely abandoned. While the DF Indie Studio business model is structurally sound, and relative neophytes Dickinson and Fisher have lined up strong execs, consultants and producers, their trickiest feat will make or break them: combining accessible competitive commercial indie fare with the strongest possible marketing and distribution."
Near the end of the party, indieWIRE spent a few minutes with a still busy Mary Dickinson. She seemed relieved and maybe a bit concerned about all of the attention. Asked what if anything she felt might have been missed amidst the onslaught of coverage of her new company, she expressed concern it might seem that all of the partners announced in the news were tied up permanently with DF Indie. Instead, she reiterated that any pacts that will be signed are for individual films, not to tie up producers full-time.
"There are no deals," Dickinson reiterated. Not yet. "The deals will be for the movies (themselves)." And with that, she was swept off to shake another hand.