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Fortis fortifies future deals

Bullock's prod'n co. a 'learning experience'

This article was corrected on March 7, 2001.

Creating a production company named after the Greek word for strength was the brainchild of Sandra Bullock, who hung the shingle on Fortis Films in 1995. Gesine Bullock-Prado is the president , Lillian Dean is VP of development and Maggie Biggar is VP of production.

The decision to build Fortis Films was motivated by Bullock’s desire to find good roles for herself and gain creative control over the way projects evolve. “It seemed like a natural move”, says Gesine, “She wanted to find things [that were] not coming her way and develop things that she wants to do — as well as passion projects.”

Fortis’s freshman feature was “Hope Floats”, which Linda Obst produced while Bullock served as executive producer. She pursued the project for herself. “Sandy read it very early, and went after it,” says Gesine, “and the newfound freedom [of executive producing] allowed Sandy to have a voice in how film developed.”

“Hope Floats” was a learning experience. “It was a great training ground,” Gesine says, “Linda Obst set an example of how to work incredibly hard, stay informed and be a good producer.”

Now with several films under its belt, including “Practical Magic,” “Gun Shy” and “Miss Congeniality,” Fortis Films has come into its own. The company moved from Disney to Warner Bros. in 1997 and now has 10 projects in active development. While most are Bullock-oriented laffers and romantic comedies, a handful of other projects, such as “Love Comes the Executioner,” a dark comedy, and the animated “Nicholas Cricket,” are non-Bullock possibilities.

Gesine bets “Love Comes the Executioner” will be the first, but it’s on the back burner. “It’s a small film. We’re waiting because there’s no point pressuring anyone [to do a small film] right now when people are trying to get huge movies done before the strike.”

Fortis Films prides itself on relationships with first-time writers and directors. “It’s always exciting to feel you’ve discovered a new great writer,” she says. “Gun Shy” was written and directed by first-timer Eric Blakeny, and “Love Comes the Executioner” will be the first writer/director feature effort by commercials director Kyle Bergersen.

While films continue to be its largest focus, Fortis is developing a TV comedy with comic and radio talent George Lopez. There is no deal in place, but they have been working closely with Bruce Helford, (“Drew Carey”; “The Norm Show”; “Roseanne”).

Bullock’s entrepreneurial spirit is shared by her peers. Drew Barrymore, Jodie Foster and Meg Ryan, among many others, have their own companies. Ryan starred in her first Prufrock Pictures film, “French Kiss,” but since then the company’s credits, including “The Wedding Planner,” have been for Ryan’s involvement as a producer.

Since its inception in 1992, Foster’s Egg Pictures has been connected to several projects she has directed or produced: “Flora Plum,” “Waking the Dead,” “Home for the Holidays,” as well as some of her starring vehicles, including “Nell” and the upcoming “Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys”. But many of Foster’s roles are not tethered to her production company.

Barrymore does it differently with Flower Films, which she founded in 1995. Her roles during the early years of the company’s existence were unconnected to her production entity. But each of her onscreen performances since 1999 — “Charlie’s Angels,” “Never Been Kissed,” and a handful of upcoming releases including “Riding in Cars With Boys” — has earned Barrymore producing credits through Flower Films.

Despite having an A-list star at the helm, any showbiz company faces risks, but Gesine says the going has been smooth for Fortis.

“Sandy is so focused on what wants to achieve she’s very clear on how she wants to move forward.” Gesine explains. “She has boundless energy — creative and otherwise — and the sheer will to get things done.”

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