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DF Indie Studios, new producer and distributor, seeks to fill gap in independent film

June 15, 2009 | 12:01 am

It hardly seems like the ideal time to launch a new independent movie studio. After all if the kings of the business -- Bob and Harvey Weinstein -- are struggling to stay afloat, can anyone make it work?

Two veteran industry executives think they can and they've convinced several well-known producers including Ted Hope and Anne Carey and filmmaker brother Ridley and Tony Scott to bet on them.

DICKINSON-FISHER Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher, financial consultants with a background experience in entertainment and sports have partnered to form New York-based DF Indie Studios. The duo say they have raised more than $50 million from individual investors and secured another $150 million in "output" deals. They expect to ultimately raise $100 million by this fall and aim to make and distribute ten-to-12 films a year in the $6 million-to-$8 million budget range.

"We are going old school and creating a company based on equity," said Dickinson, DFIS's chief executive officer. The start-up's strategy has been to tap money from individual investors -- usually about $5 million a pop -- rather than taking on a lot of bank debt.

The past couple of years has been rough on the independent and niche specialty film business. Warner Bros. shut down both Warner Independent Pictures and compacted New Line Cinema; Paramount folded Paramount Vantage into its bigger sister studio; Fox closed the genre label, Fox Atomic.

Movies in general and independent film in particular are generally considered to be a high-risk investment but apparently in this economy that's no longer the case, according to Fisher, DFIS's president and chief operating officer. "A lot of our investors used to be focused on hedge funds and are now looking for something that will give them a larger return," she said.

DFIS has a heavyweight advisory board that includes NBC Entertainment Co-Chairman Ben Silverman, David Wiederecht, president of investment strategies for GE Asset Management, and David Spieler, global head of Duff Phelps Technology and Entertainment Practices. Also on the board and consulting for DFIS is Ira Deutchman, a veteran distribution and marketing executive and John Hadity, who spent 12 years as executive vice president of production for Miramax and is currently chairman of Producers Guild of America East.

The company currently has a staff of 20, which it expects to double over the next several months. Amy Slotnick, a former Miramax production executive will serve as executive vice president of production and Rita Chiappetta-Thibault, a former New Line executive who will be DFIS's chief financial officer.

Producers Hope and Carey, whose This is That Productions was behind the critical successes "In the Bedroom," "The Ice Storm" and "The Savages" said there is a shortage of places to go to make movies in the $10 million-budget range. "It's not rocket science, but it is an effort that has been neglected so it ends up being truly innovative by default," Hope said.

Other producers who have committed to bring projects to DFIS include Jennifer Fox ("Michael Clayton") and RedBone Films, whose co-founder Samara Koffler headed Harrison Ford's production company for several years.

DFIS probably couldn't have picked a much tougher time to try to launch a new studio for indie films. Over the last several years many indies have either been gobbled up or shut down. Just last week The Weinstein Co. hired financial advisor Miller Buckfire & Co. to restructure its debt and raise money to cover their costs. At the Producer Guild's "Produced by" conference last weekend, the overriding theme seemed to be how money was drying up and technology could end up being more foe then friend to the independent community.

Dickinson and Fisher are undaunted though and anticipate starting production on their first films in September. Said Fisher: "A home run for us is a $20 million [box office] film. "We're even happy at $10 million."

-- Joe Flint

Photo: DFIS President and COO Charlene Fisher (L) and CEO Mary Dickinson. Credit: Wireim

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