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Ad shop makes little films that pay

Park Pictures draws on relationships to add value to indies

Park Pictures Features is very much a family affair.

Launched last summer, the indie features arm of Lance Acord and Jackie Kelman Bisbee’s commercial house is run by former Plum Pictures partner Galt Niederhoffer and singer-songwriter-scripter Sam Bisbee, Kelman Bisbee’s husband. James C. Strouse, Niederhoffer’s ex-, is adapting Sam Lipsyte’s novel “The Ask” as its next film, with cinematographer Acord set to direct.

Another Park Pictures vet, Jake Schreier, helmed the shingle’s first baby, “Robot & Frank,” produced by all four PPF partners. It begins its platform rollout Aug. 17 with a strong pedigree, scoring an Alfred P. Sloan prize and a $2 million-plus North American pickup from Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions and Samuel Goldwyn Films at Sundance this year.

Set in the near-future, the comedy follows a slightly senile ex-jewel thief (Frank Langella) who turns his robot caretaker (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) into his new partner in crime. While the producers won’t disclose the project’s modest budget, Park Pictures’ relationships with the vendors, talent and post-production facilities helped ensure that what was spent is all up onscreen. “An average indie film wouldn’t be able to get Tony Gardner and Alterian to build a robot,” Sam Bisbee says.

Though the yearlong preproduction/fundraising period was relatively short for an indie, it wasn’t without cliffhangers: just a week before shooting, Niederhoffer says, “Robot” had a “near-death experience” when final negotiations with one of its two major investor groups fell through. The remaining group — Indiana investment bankers from the scrap metal industry — saved the day, she says.

While PPF is also reaching outside immediate family for other projects — John Slattery will make his feature directing/co-scripting debut with an adaptation of Pete Dexter’s novel “God’s Pocket” — part of the shingle’s plan is to draw on inhouse talent developed over its 14 years in the ad biz. One of those talents, Ringan Ledwidge, will direct his first screenplay for the shingle, the offbeat romantic comedy “Magnetism as It Occurs in the Human Form.”

Niederhoffer, who’s produced 21 features since age 19, plans to follow up her 2010 feature directorial debut, “The Romantics” (based on her novel), with an adaptation of the satirical David Foster Wallace short story, “Little Expressionless Animals,” and buy back rights to her first novel, “A Taxonomy of Barnacles,” now an Amy Lippman script in turnaround at Sony. Her third St. Martins novel, set in the film industry, is due in the spring.

“We just want to make these ‘little big’ movies that make money back for our investors and allow them to invest again,” Niederhoffer says.

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