‘Opium’ marks bow of October-linked indie

Manhattan-based investment firm Siegler, Collery & Co. has launched its second foray into the entertainment business as the principal backer for newly formed production company Autumn Pictures.

Autumn’s first pricey purchase was to option British writer Dennis Potter’s script “Opium Blue,” based on Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” a project put into turnaround by Universal last month. Budget is anticipated to be in the $ 12 million-$ 15 million range depending on director and cast.

Siegler’s investment stems from its first sortie into the entertainment arena as a lead backer of indie distribbery October Films, which owns 20% of Autumn and will distribute most of the new pix.

Blum prexy

Gary Siegler, prexy of Siegler, Collery & Co. will preside as chairman of Autumn’s board of directors alongside newly appointed Autumn prexy Mark Blum, a writer and actor (best known for his role as the hot tub salesman in “Desperately Seeking Susan.”)

One of October’s four partners, Amir Malin, may also join the board, as will some of Autumn’s other unnamed private investors. October’s other three partners , Jeff Lipsky, Bingham Ray and John Schmidt, will also offer input to Autumn.

“I’ll be making creative decisions,” Blum told Daily Variety. “Amir will be acting as our business affairs adviser. He’ll have a lot of input in terms of the kinds of deals we make and in the type of (budgets) we’re talking about.

“In the final analysis, the financial decisions will be made with my recommendation and Amir’s recommendation,” Blum said. Dodging a question about who willgreenlight projects, he said those decisions will be greenlighted “in conjunction with Gary and the board of directors.”

The company mandate is to develop and produce two or three features annually — with budgets ranging from $ 3 million to $ 10 million — which will usually be funneled through October Films or its genre-specialty distrib subsid Mad Dog Pictures.

“It is ironic that the first film we acquire breaks the rule about the type of budgets we want to do, but that’s the case,” Blum concedes.

Preppy drama

“Opium Blue” concerns a murder that takes place in a small prep school in England. The title stems from one of the main characters who is a “closet” opium addict and has increasing problems differentiating between what’s real and what’s part of his dreams.

“Opium Blue” may also break Autumn’s rule of thumb to have October or Mad Dog distribute Stateside.

“It’s not decided yet,” said Malin. “It depends how high the budget gets as to whether a major studio gets involved.”

Neither Malin nor Blum would reveal how much Siegler, Collery & Co. plan to spend annually, but the slate target suggests a $ 20 million investment.

Siegler, Coller & Co. run a $ 100 million to $ 200 million marketable securities hedge fund, own a controlling interest in publicly traded Medical Resources as well as six private companies, including National RV and apparel manufacturer Kick-kin Inc. (Daily Variety, Oct. 27, 1992).

Blum said the Autumn investment will start slowly and increase on a project-by-project basis.

“Maybe we’ll do a $ 10 million movie, and a $ 4 million movie and a $ 3 million movie in a year, but it will take a couple of years to get up to that speed. We want to be careful about the projects we choose,” said Blum.

“Our feeling is that by the end of ’94, we should be seeing two to three feature films from Autumn that will flow either through the October banner or the Mad Dog banner,” Malin said in a separate interview.

Malin said October will also assist with foreign sales.

Malin said he and Siegler appointed an actor/writer as prexy instead of a business exec because they wanted someone who understands the creative process.

“In this business you often have a lot of attorneys making decisions about creative things. Here you have an actor/writer who is respected by creative talent and also has a very savvy understanding of the business environment.”

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