New strategies hatched to aid financial fires
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.As L.A. remains surrounded by wildfires and shrouded in a yellow-white haze, several indies are making moves to manage or put out their own blazes. Plagued by rumors for months, even years, that he’s blown through his initial $200 million wad, indie vet Mark Gill said he’s recapitalizing his 2-year-old startup the Film Dept. When asked about the rumors directly, Gill said: “I won’t tell you we have so much cash that I don’t know what to do with it.” He acknowledges the company’s “low point” was in late June and that it’s had to “trim down,” letting go about a half-dozen employees. A core group of 23 remain at the production-foreign sales company. Gill said some of Film Dept.’s initial equity investors have recommitted funds, and he is finding new investors in “unconventional sources” — high-net-worth players who got out of the real-estate biz in time and those who aren’t satisfied with getting 1% on their T-bills. Film Dept. is two-thirds of the way through the re-fi, said Gill, and he’s getting closer to setting up a U.S. distribution operation as part of the package. “We’re working on it; we’re not done,” he added. “The idea is to have it up by first quarter of next year.” Part of what spurred Gill to put together an inhouse U.S. distrib operation was his inability to find the right theatrical deal for Catherine Zeta-Jones starrer “The Rebound.” “People would say, ‘We like it, if you can put up the P&A,’ ” Gill said. “I thought, We’ll do it ourselves. We’d like to be on the right side of the distribution fee.” Still, he has managed to find a theatrical home, at Overture, for another pic, Gerard Butler-Jamie Foxx thriller “Law Abiding Citizen.” It bows Oct. 16. Another project, “Earthbound,” starring Kate Hudson, is heading into production. Meanwhile, two other production/foreign-sales outfits are whispered to be merging. Bold Films and Odd Lot Entertainment are looking to combine their sales operations. The idea behind the partnership seems to be “strength in numbers.” Both Bold and Odd Lot are bankrolled by billionaires, Michel Litvak and Gigi Pritzker, respectively — so that’s quite a bit of brawn. But even billionaires are being more careful about how they’re spending their fortunes, and a merger could be a way of mitigating risk on bigger-budgeted films in a shaky economic climate. Among recent projects, Bold has 3-D pic “The Hole” headed to Venice and then Toronto, while Odd Lot financed last year’s expensive comicbook pic “The Spirit.” Bold’s head of international sales, Stephanie Denton, ankled this summer, and Odd Lot sales topper Brian O’Shea would presumably run the new shop. Neither company would confirm the deal, though the buzz is that the t’s could be crossed and the i’s dotted before the Toronto Film Festival kicks off next week. “Nothing is a certainty,” Gill reminded. “The only thing that is is that we’re still living and breathing.” Though, with the heavy L.A. smoke, the breathing isn’t so easy these days.