Artisan links IPO with Merrill Lynch

Documents to be filed with SEC this month

NEW YORK — Fast-growing indie Artisan Entertainment has settled on investment bank Merrill Lynch as lead underwriter for its initial public stock offering and could file a first batch of IPO documents with the SEC sometime this month, Wall Street insiders said.

Bear Stearns also will be part of the underwriting syndicate along with at least two other investment firms.

Artisan execs are playing things very close to the vest and declined to comment on the company’s IPO plans.

The deal, in which up to 20% of the company could be sold to the public, has been highly anticipated, particularly since “The Blair Witch Project” rocked the box office last summer.

Artisan has been busy inking overseas output deals and building up its film and TV library and is looking at moving into television production.

Formerly Live Entertainment, Artisan was acquired by Bain Capital and Richard Gordon & Co. in 1997 for $120 million. It has grown from revenue of about $175 million that year to an estimated $380 million-$400 million in 1999.

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