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Talent titans or double trouble?

Profile of Wechsler, Addis of Industry Entertainment

With eight films they produced due in theaters in the next six months, Keith Addis and Nick Wechsler’s Industry Entertainment appears to have jettisoned its past — though the company, like similar management/producing shingles, still faces its share of obstacles.

“This is off the record until Keith says it isn’t,” said producer Wechsler tentatively. “It’s off the record!” interrupted Addis.

Friends for 20 years, business partners for 12, the sometimes volatile management specialist Addis and the affable producer Wechsler, who complement each other in temperament and skill base, represent a unique marriage of talents.

Two years ago, in a high-profile split that neither Addis nor Wechsler is comfortable discussing, Rick Yorn and Julia Silverman-Yorn decided to work for Mike Ovitz’s AMG. And with them went such high-profile actors as Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Samuel L. Jackson, Claire Danes and Minnie Driver.

But Industry has answered those who doubted it could rebuild and transform itself — through actions, not words.

Today, two years after striking a three-year, first-look deal with New Line and assuming the moniker Industry Entertainment, the management firm formerly known as Addis/Wechsler is at the forefront of a breed of similar shingles that includes Brillstein/Grey, AMG, the Firm, Zide/Perry, MBST Entertainment and Bender/Spink, among others.

“Of all the management companies out there, we’re the only ones making this volume of movies,” said Addis, who got his start as a talent agent for ICM.

“We’re reinvesting our income into building a large producing staff. We’re relying a lot more on internal development and doing everything we can to take away the guessing game from the studio system,” explained Wechsler, who practiced entertainment law prior to producing.

Where other management firms are routinely seeking work for their writing clients, at Industry, for example, many execs are able to offer clients story notes that reflect their knowledge of production.

But perhaps the true secret to their recent success lies in their ability to keep management and production separate: With some new shingles only intent on producing projects in which their clients are involved — and taking both producing and management fees — Addis and Wechsler think first and foremost about the material.

No pressure

“We can’t force directors to use our acting clients,” said Addis, “nor would we want to.”

But a well-placed source said: “Provided that their client fits the movie, of course they would love it if the company also produced it. Who wouldn’t?”

Though conflicts can occur when the producer/manager makes a movie in which one of his clients is involved, one top agent noted such conflicts dissipate in most cases, since talent has agents and attorneys negotiating their deals — not their managers.

And Industry’s stable of creative producers with track records enables the company to dodge criticism aimed at some of the newer shingles that are believed to leverage their talent to nab a producing credit without significant production experience.

In fact, much of what distinguishes Industry from like shingles is its ability and proclivity to be active as a producer: find material, shape it, help secure the financing for it and oversee its production when the shooting starts.

In addition to the eight films due for release, two in pre-production and 33 in development, Industry is re-growing its client roster, having signed roughly half of its 60 writer-director clients in the past few years.

Industry manages such talent as Angelina Jolie and Tobey Maguire; writers Callie Khouri and Delia Ephron; writer-directors Todd Solondz, Whit Stillman and Michael Radford; and helmers such as Iain Softley and Rob Iscove.

The German connection

And Industry is in talks with a major German company, name unrevealed, about an equity investment large enough so that the firm may soon be able to finance its own films.

With much of its development and overhead covered by New Line and media conglom Interpublic Group of Cos. (IPG), and with newly inked deals with Fox TV and HBO, Industry’s woes seem far behind them.

Still, questions linger: Can a company whose past credits include producing or exec producing such indie standouts as “Drugstore Cowboy,” “Eve’s Bayou” and “sex, lies, and videotape” cross over to making larger, studio fare?

In the Industry pipelines are two pics budgeted at over $30 million, including New Line’s “Fifteen Minutes” (Feb. 2) starring Robert De Niro, Ed Burns and Kelsey Grammer, helmed by John Herzfeld; and MGM/Hyde Park’s “Antitrust,” starring Ryan Phillippe, Claire Forlani, Rachael Leigh Cook and Tim Robbins, directed by Peter Howitt.

And, after losing such high-profile clients, can Industry regain its prominence on the management side?

Good vibes

For the time being, such questions seem less important than the fact that Industry is getting good word-of-mouth, especially from the companies where it has done the most business — New Line, Miramax, Fox Searchlight, MGM and Universal (where it has a second-look deal).

“There’s been a fabulous flow of material through our offices,” says Wechsler, whose producing credits include “The Player,” “Love Jones,” “Little Odessa,” “The Rapture” and “Trees Lounge.” “We’ve been carefully picking through it all.”

In the current slate of films, two come from clients — writer-director Herzfeld’s “15 Minutes” and Howitt’s “Antitrust.” However, Industry has built solid working relationships with such helmers as James Gray and Darren Aronofsky, who are not clients.

“I think what distinguishes them is focus,” says Michael De Luca, New Line’s prexy of production. “They target stuff that they know is up our alley.”

“Everything I get from them is always something highly original,” says John Gordon, Miramax’s exec veep of production.

Adds Fox Searchlight topper Peter Rice: “I think it comes down to the idea that they don’t invest their time and energy in things that they don’t absolutely believe in.”

Operationally, the production and management staffs are distinct divisions, though execs in both areas are encouraged to be more than just managers, more than just producers.

Industry prides itself on promoting from within and offering execs the incentive of getting producing credits on the material they help bring into the company.

“In growing our production company, our idea is that everyone will be able to produce movies,” says Julia Chasman, a vet exec and producer who heads the production division and currently holds credits on Industry’s “The Invisible Circus” and “Quills.”

“Creatively, we are really willing to go out on a limb,” adds Chasman. “We option a lot of material ourselves — scripts, books, articles — and that has enabled us to work hard on that material before we take it out.”

In the company’s production division, Chasman is joined by such execs as Michael Gruskoff, David Carmel and Marc Evans; on the management side (literary and talent), the staff includes J. Geyer Kosinski, Guymon Casady, Eric Kranzler, Margaret Riley, David Lane Seltzer, Rosalie Swedlin and Amy Guenther.

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