‘Home Improvement’ team tackles features

“You won’t see any ‘Bikini Beach’ movies from us,” declares Rick Leed, president of Wind Dancer Production Group in Burbank. “The storytelling that has made us successful up to this point on television will be brought to the big screen. Financial concerns and turnaround times may change drastically when leaping into another medium, but our sensibilities remain the same.”

Leed’s claims come on the heels of a very busy — and very successful — five-year stint at the Walt Disney-based production company. Since 1992, Wind Dancer, behind the prolific talents of writer-producers Matt Williams, Carmen Finestra and David McFadzean, has grown into a formidable film and television entity with 30 features in development and two series — ABC’s “Home Improvement” and “Soul Man” — returning next fall.

Also with a pilot ready for next season and a foot firmly planted in the theater world, Wind Dancer is poised to enter 1998 with a slate as full as Tim Allen’s tool belt.

Prosperity aside, Wind Dancer also has formed something more permanent: a reputation symbolizing today’s blurring lines between mainstream and independent arenas. While it is linked with a major studio — Wind Dancer has a first-look film deal and an exclusive television pact with Disney — it has set up projects at a variety of other places, including HBO.

One longtime project includes Horton Foote’s “The Pastor’s Son,” an adaptation of the short story collection “Miz Lil & the Chronicles of Grace.”

“It’s true we have the backing of a very powerful company, but there are some stories we like that just don’t fit here,” Leed says. “Everyone involved knows that, so sometimes we have to look elsewhere.

“Seeking distribution and financing is always a possibility, so in that respect ‘independent’ means the same to us as it does to anyone else.”

Wind Dancer’s most recent dip into the feature film pool is “Firelight,” the directing debut of screenwriter William Nicholson (“Shadowlands”), starring Sophie Marceau (“Braveheart”). Produced for Hollywood Pictures, the 19th-century-set drama screened in May at the Cannes Film Festival and represents the type of projects Wind Dancer will be pursuing as the company continues to grow.

“It has everything from eroticism to emotionalism,” says Susan Cartsonis, Wind Dancer Films’ president, “and it symbolizes our objective. We are defined by our choices, so we’ve opted to handle material that means something to all of us. It doesn’t matter if the project is a (TV movie), a cable movie or a full-length feature. All that matters is the message.”

And in keeping with the independent film world’s ethic, those messages don’t always have to be shaped with inflated costs. “The story often determines the budget,” Cartsonis says. “If a narrative benefits from a less-is-more mentality, then that’s the way we’ll go.”

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