By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire June 15, 2009 at 2:46AM
Ted Hope, Ira Deutchman, Jennifer Fox, Glen Basner, Scott Free and even Tilda Swinton are among the notable film industry names aligned with a major independent film venture being unveiled Monday. The new company, dubbed DF Indie Studios, is uniting veteran producers with sales and distribution experts. DF Indie Studios (DFIS) will fully finance as many as a dozen films per year, each at a budget of up to $10 million. Significantly, the movies will also have guaranteed U.S. theatrical distribution through the company.
"Indie Style, Studio Dependability" is the slogan for DFIS, underscoring an effort by those involved to apply some studio concepts to cost-effective independent film production. DFIS projects, of varying genres, will come from an eclectic core of established film producers including This is That's Ted Hope and Anne Carey, Scott Free, Jennifer Fox and Redbone Films. Veteran Ira Deutchman is guiding distribution plans. Glen Basner's FilmNation is handling international sales and output deals for the company's slate, which an announcement said are valued at $150 million.
CEO Mary Dickinson and COO/President Charlene Fisher are leading the self-described “end to end financing” initiative. Chatting with indieWIRE last week, Dickinson and Fisher called producers "the engines" of the emerging venture, which was more than a year in the making.
Dickinson and Fisher, executives with a background in company restructuring, told indieWIRE that the first five films will go into production this fall and hit the festival circuit next year, they said. Boldly, the company hopes to create some 10,000 to 15,000 film jobs over the next five years, according to DFIS CEO Dickinson. They declined to detail the sources of their funding, some of which is still being raised. Monday's announcement, included on page two of this article, seems aimed at generating attention from additional investors.
"DFIS' mandate is to serve as a home for a carefully selected group of producers, providing the tools to give their commercially viable films in this price bracket the best chance for national and international success," the company said in an announcement being released today. They will celebrate the new venture at a launch event tonight in Midtown Manhattan. More information on DFIS is available on their website.
In addition to fully financing films at up to $10 million each, Dickinson and Fisher told indieWIRE that they would acquire a handful of films each year. Additionally, the founders are touting an "unlevered model" for the new company that will give investors shares in all revenue streams generated by the company over the life of a film.
Included on their core team at DFIS are CFO Rita Chiappetta-Thibault and EVP of Production Amy Slotnick, who recently served as SVP of Production at Miramax. John Hadity, chairman of the Producers Guild of America East and a former EVP of production at Miramax, is on board to work on production finance.
CEO Mary Dickinson's twenty-year background includes work running Teton Gravity Research, an extreme sports film production company, she also produced two NBC primetime pilots with Ben Silverman's company, Reveille and she was a consultant on the development and financing of Redbone Films. President and COO Fisher has sixteen years of experience, recently working to restructure a company for GE Asset Management and then working with Redbone.
"There is a growing demand for commercial features, and a lack of quality products at the right price," Fisher's prepared statement said, "At DFIS we have worked with our production partners to provide end to end financing, a rigorous green light process and guaranteed U.S. distribution to meet this increasing demand. No one else is supporting films produced for up to $10 million in this way."
Of the producing partners, leading New York City producer Ted Hope from This is That Productions boasts the strong track record in independent production, while other producers come from a Hollywood background. Hope and Anne Carey's track record includes Greg Mottola's recent "Adventureland" and Alejandro Gonzalez-Innaritu's "21 Grams" to Todd Field's "In The Bedroom" and Ang Lee "The Ice Storm" from the Good Machine days. Jennifer Fox has a produced acclaimed mid-budget studio films including "Michael Clayton," "Good Night and Good Luck," and "Syriana," while Scott Free is known for work with Ridley and Tony Scott's company, producing such studio movies as "Gladiator," "American Gangster" and the recently released remake, "The Taking of Pelham 123." Finally, Redbone Films is from co-founder Samara Koffler from Harrison Ford's production company.
Veteran Ira Deutchman, a founder of Fine Line Features and Cinecom, who now runs Emerging Pictures, praised the new initiative as, "an industry-changing studio model for indie film," in a statement, adding that he has worked with Dickinson and Fisher for more than a year on the company.
Tilda Swinton is among those on the DFIS advisory board, joined by NBC Universal Co-Chair Ben Silverman, GE Asset Management president David Wiederecht, and Duff and Phelps Technology and Entertainment Practices' David Spieler. In a statement, Swinton called the new company "inspired and inspiring," proclaiming in the statement that DF Indie, "is set to become an invaluable saving grace of a currently endangered species: the intelligent, ambitious and commercially viable independent film - maybe even of intelligent, ambitious and commercially viable independent filmmakers themselves."
From the financial side, advisors emphasized the uniqueness of this new initiative. "DFIS offers its equity investors an unprecedented opportunity by providing an unlevered business model with 105% downside risk protection and guaranteed North American distribution for all greenlit films," said advisory board member and investor David Spieler, in a statement. "And best of all, equity investors will share in all revenue streams of the studio including distribution fees and any exit."
[Brian Brooks contributed to this story.]
The press release is included on page two.
DF INDIE STUDIOS LAUNCHES A PRODUCER-CENTRIC VENTURE WITH GUARANTEED U.S. THEATRICAL DISTRIBUTION FOR FILMS BUDGETED UP TO $10 MILLION
Led by Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher, and Guided by an A-List Management Team, Consultants and Advisory Board; the New York-Based Venture is Working to Greenlight a Starting Slate of Commercially Viable Films with Producing Partners Scott Free, This is that Productions, RedBone Films and Producer Jennifer Fox
NEW YORK, JUNE 15, 2009 – Offering a new, producer-centric studio model for the independent film industry, entertainment finance and business development experts Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher have announced the launch of DF Indie Studios (DFIS). The New York-based venture, guided by seasoned industry consultants and an experienced advisory board, embraces a transparent and unlevered business model that combines the best features of major studios with the cost efficiencies of independent film.
DFIS aims to finance and distribute between 10 to12 multi-genre, commercially viable films per year, budgeted up to $10 million and backed by a guaranteed U.S. theatrical release, $150 million in distribution guarantees, foreign sales, P&A revolver, as well as distribution across all platforms. This “new” film financing model contains a core value that is very appealing to investors, and unique to the industry – investors’ return will be based on all the revenue streams of the company, including distribution fees and exit value.
DFIS’ mandate is to serve as a home for a carefully selected group of producers, providing the tools to give their commercially viable films in this price bracket the best chance for national and international success. DFIS films will be produced by a team of established producers with successful box office track records including: This is that Productions - Ted Hope and Anne Carey (Adventureland, In the Bedroom, 21 Grams, The Ice Storm, The Savages); Scott Free - Ridley and Tony Scott’s shingle (Gladiator, The Taking of Pelham 123, Thelma & Louise, American Gangster); Jennifer Fox (Michael Clayton, Good Night and Good Luck, Duplicity, Syriana); and RedBone Films whose co-founder, Samara Koffler, ran Harrison Ford’s production company for eight years.
Dickinson and Fisher are joined by Rita Chiappetta-Thibault (CFO), who, as executive vice president of finance and accounting for New Line Home Entertainment, helped grow revenues from $150 million to more than $1 billion.
The DFIS distribution strategy was developed in conjunction with veteran Ira Deutchman, a three-decade distribution and marketing expert who has worked on over 150 films and helped launch Fine Line Features and Cinecom Entertainment Group. Foreign sales and output deals are managed by another industry veteran Glen Basner, who is CEO of FilmNation.
For the last two years, the DFIS founders have engaged respected studio finance executive John Hadity, to guide them through the intricate world of film financing, tax incentives and production planning. Hadity, currently the chairman of the Producers Guild of America East, served 12 years as EVP of production for Miramax and currently heads Hadity & Associates. He will work closely with DFIS EVP of Production Amy Slotnick, a studio production executive and independent film producer who recently concluded her tenure with Miramax as Senior Vice President of Production.
The DFIS advisory board includes Ben Silverman, Co-Chair of NBC Universal; David Wiederecht, President of Investment Strategies and Chief Investment Officer for GE Asset Management; David Spieler, Global Head of Duff and Phelps Technology and Entertainment Practices; and Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton.
“DF Indie Studios is set to become an invaluable saving grace of a currently endangered species: the intelligent, ambitious and commercially viable independent film - maybe even of intelligent, ambitious and commercially viable independent filmmakers themselves,” stated Tilda Swinton. “It is my honour and my personal pleasure to be working alongside Mary and Charlene in shaping this inspired and inspiring company.”
“To launch a completely unlevered company in the current climate is the right way to go for our investors, partners and producers,” said Mary Dickinson, who serves as CEO of DF Indie Studios. “Our investors appreciate that they will share in all the revenue streams of the studio. They love that we will also be generating 10,000 to 15,000 film jobs over the next five years, and pumping millions of dollars into local economies with DFIS.”
“We couldn’t be launching the company at a more perfect time. There is a huge opportunity in the independent film world and we believe we have found a singular place in the market,” said Charlene Fisher, President and COO of DF Indie Studios. “There is a growing demand for commercial features, and a lack of quality products at the right price. At DFIS we have worked with our production partners to provide end to end financing, a rigorous greenlight process and guaranteed U.S. distribution to meet this increasing demand. No one else is supporting films produced for up to $10 million in this way.”
Mary Dickinson (CEO) has 20 years of experience in business building, investment and restructuring in entertainment and sports. She restructured and ran the leading extreme sports film production company, Teton Gravity Research, taking it from near bankruptcy to stability. Among other initiatives, her efforts included producing two NBC primetime pilots with Ben Silverman’s production company Reveille. She consulted on the development and financing of RedBone Films (now a DFIS partner), and negotiated content and representation deals with ABC’s “The View,” British Telecom, and William Morris.
Charlene A. Fisher (President/COO) has 16 years of experience in business development and restructuring in the entertainment, sports and internet arenas. Most recently, she restructured and managed a portfolio company for GE Asset Management and then worked with RedBone Films to develop a dynamic new independent film production business model. She has also worked with clients that include ABC, NBC, HBO, ESPN, The Golf Channel, NBA, NHL, MLB, and PGA and LPGA Tours, among others.
Quotes from DFIS’ production partners, advisory board and consultants:
“I have known Charlene and Mary for almost ten years and cannot think of two more creative, honest and determined people to run DF Indie Studios,” stated David Wiederecht, President/CIO of Investment Strategies for GE Asset Management. “I have seen both of them pull off what others thought was impossible, and they always keep the interests of their financial partners first and foremost in importance.”
“We have been working with the DF Indie Studios team for over a year now to make sure their model is designed to help the producer create great films,” said Ted Hope of This is that Films. “Having guaranteed distribution through Ira and his team, working with other key DF Indie Studios team members like John Hadity on production finance and Amy Slotnick on slate development, as well as significant P&A to support their films is something we emphasized and they are delivering.”
“I am so excited about your plans. Just back from Cannes where it is clear that your timing is perfect. The current environment really pleads for this sort of new venture! You’ve got an amazing team – all people I have known, respected and worked with for years,” stated Pat Kaufman, Executive Director, New York State Governor’s Office for Motion Picture & Television Development.
“DFIS offers its equity investors an unprecedented opportunity by providing an unlevered business model with 105% downside risk protection and guaranteed North American distribution for all greenlit films,” explains advisory board member and investor David Spieler. “And best of all, equity investors will share in all revenue streams of the studio including distribution fees and any exit.”
Says John Hadity, “I recognized immediately that DFIS was going to shift the asset class back to the producer, where it belongs. It has been tremendously exciting to participate in the process of bringing this new model to life.”
“The reason I have spent the last year helping to develop the unique and effective DF Indie Studios distribution plan is that the co-founders, Mary and Charlene, have created an industry-changing studio model for indie film with an exceptionally talented executive team, a passion for film and impressive partnerships,” says Ira Deutchman.
“International distributors will respond very positively to a new U.S. distribution company that can supply films with a guaranteed theatrical release and at budget levels that make sense in today’s economic climate,” stated Glen Basner.
“DF Indie Studios fills a missing niche, providing a unique way for investors to participate with independent filmmakers making films that will be distributed,” says Christopher Dixon, Managing Director of Media Investments at GGCP, Inc.
“I wanted an opportunity to get involved in independent film with a partner that treats its investors as exactly that – partners. The DF Indie Studios business model has been designed as an old-fashioned, unlevered model that ensures investors share in all revenue streams of the studio including distribution fees and any exits. Additionally, their veteran management team and producing partners are exactly the people who can deliver on the DF Indie Studios promise,” says investor Sue Callaway, former General Manager of Jaguar Cars North America, and a current contributing editor at Fortune and CNNMoney.com.