Co. looks to raise prod'n level with pic, TV work

With the addition of Miramax acquisition vet Amy Israel six months ago, the Orphanage seems to have turned the Dickensian in-joke in its name upside down.

“More” is indeed the plan, not only more of the visual-effects work that fueled the company’s rapid rise, but feature and TV work spawned by Israel – the Orphanage’s first head of production – and company partner Scott Stewart.

The projects are modestly budgeted, typically $10 million or less, and include genre films and feature animation.

“We kind of aspire to do films that are more popcorn-driven,” says Stewart at the company’s new Sunset Boulevard office. “But we want to take some risks, and freshen up the genres some.”

Israel and Stewart are raising money for a half- dozen films, several of which will be co-produced with other partners. They include: “Powered by Digby” (“a woman with a photographic memory brings down a repressive company”), dark comedy “The Madman’s Kiss” and futuristic actioner “City of Darkness.”

“We’re still in an incubation phase, but it’s moving along nicely,” Stewart says. The company still does lots of commercial and musicvideo work, and it now sells software, specifically its digital mastering software, Magic Bullet.

The roster of initiatives seems ambitious for a company with less than 100 employees. But Israel and Stewart say the multipronged approach lets the company play to its natural strengths, while controlling costs.

“It’s not just about fascistic control of everything onscreen,” Stewart insists. “It’s also about being able to see where the money falls off the table.”

The company was founded about three and a half years ago by a group of f/x specialists from Industrial Light & Magic, and that powerhouse company’s influence remains large.

“They solved a lot of very complex visual f/x problems and each time opened up opportunities for filmmakers,” Stewart says. “What’s really fun is to have a knowledge of that world and work with a filmmaker to help them learn about that.”

Israel came on after eight years at Miramax and a brief stint as an indie producer (HBO’s “Hysterical Blindness”). Now her experience and contacts are helping the Orphanage become a more broadly based company.

“From any perspective, what’s most important is the story, the script and the filmmaker,” says Israel. “Whether it has special effects doesn’t matter. It just happens that I have an interest in a lot of those kinds of projects and we can jumpstart them.”

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