WMA indie film division to fly solo

Elwes to topline new arm

William Morris Agency is restructuring its independent film activity as a stand-alone division, WMA Independent, headed by Cassian Elwes.

WMA Independent will have its own logo and will be run relatively autonomously from the main tenpercentery.

Although the changes appear to be largely cosmetic, Elwes believes that the re-branding will boost WMA’s status in the independent film world and make it more attractive to filmmakers.

“I want the WMA Independent name to become synonymous with independent film,” he said.

New hires

As part of the reorganization, Elwes confirmed that former Lakeshore Intl. executive veep Rena Ronson would be joining WMA Independent as vice president.

Also, Luc Roeg, who already works alongside Charles Finch in WMA’s London office, will be WMA Independent’s European rep.

According to Elwes, the new division will become increasingly active in both packaging independent films and repping them for domestic and international distribution.

Significantly, both Elwes and Ronson believe that, as a separate entity, WMA Independent will be freer to raise overseas financing from foreign distribs for its indie pics.

“We won’t be a sales agency but we will broaden our horizons and do certain foreign deals,” Elwes said.

WMA has attempted to set up several foreign financing consortia for independent films in the past, none of which have ever come to fruition.

Major clients

Another reason that the agency is making this move is to better serve the interests of major clients such as Bruce Willis and Sean Penn, who frequently dabble in the indie arena.

For example, WMA Independent packaged and is repping domestically Alan Rudolph’s “Breakfast of Champions,” which stars Willis and marks his debut as a producer.

The tenpercentery also toiled patiently with director Tony Drazan to put together the feature adaptation of “Hurly Burly,” starring WMA clients Penn, Robin Wright Penn and Kevin Spacey. Fine Line acquired domestic rights to that pic last month.

Though indie films have a minimal impact on WMA’s bottom line compared to the huge fees generated by A-list projects, the agency would prefer to make its top talent’s pet projects, keeping the business inhouse rather than losing it to a rival.

Fest planning

The announcement comes less than a month before the start of the Toronto fest, where last year Elwes sold worldwide rights to “The Apostle” to October Films for more than $5 million.

At this year’s Toronto, WMA Independent will be repping domestic on Morgan J. Freeman’s “Desert Blue,” starring Brendan Sexton III and Christina Ricci, and Sebastian Gutierrez’ “Judas Kiss,” starring Carla Gugino, Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman.

Among the new projects that WMA Independent is putting together are a drama from director Lynne Stopkewich (“Kissed”), and a $7 million sci-fi thriller titled “The Fourth Floor,” starring William Hurt and Juliette Lewis, directed by Josh Klausner.

Two other forthcoming pics are set up at sales and financing company Franchise Pictures: “Mercy,” starring Ellen Barkin, and “Without a Word,” starring Patrick Swayze.

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