Dot-com duo prep prod’n shingle

Cuban, Wagner hire Kliot to head company.

HOLLYWOOD — Dot-com billionaires Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner are launching HDNet Films, which will seek to produce three to eight features per year. Pics, to be budgeted at $2 million and under, will be shot on digital video.

Duo have hired Jason Kliot to head the Gotham-based company. Kliot’s partner Joana Vicente will continue to run their Deutsch Open City banner, which was recently infused with cash from veteran ad man Donny Deutsch.

Launch of HDNet Films is the latest move by Cuban and Wagner, who sold their Broadcast.com company to Yahoo! in 1999 for $5.7 billion, to establish themselves as players in the indie film scene.

In-family service

The shingle is to supply product to the duo’s other entertainment properties, including the 185-screen Landmark Theaters circuit, which they acquired in September, and HDNet Broadcast, which runs two channels of 24-hour high-def TV programming.

Cuban and Wagner also have stakes in Lions Gate and Magnolia Pictures. Their 2929 Films is producing Robert De Niro starrer “Godsend” and co-producing with Section 8 “The Criminal,” with Warner Bros. set to distrib.

Cuban told Daily Variety the strategy is to build an operation able to produce and distribute its content in its theaters and on its cable channel. “If you look at it as a vertically integrated organization, you can see where we can generate a lot of cost savings.”

Kliot joins the HDNet Films effort after experience with his Blow Up Pictures, which sought to produce low-budget features on digital video. Like HDNet, Blow Up pursued projects budgeted under $2 million. Credits include Nicole Holofcener’s “Lovely & Amazing,” dystopian reality TV parody “Series 7” and Miguel Arteta-helmed “Chuck & Buck.”

“What Jason brings to this,” Wagner said, “is the real-world experience of producing films in this budget range. He has a mandate to go out there and acquire and develop movies.”

Perusing projects

Wagner and Cuban said they are looking at three scripts and hope to start production on their first pic in coming months.

Films will target the same arthouse demo that frequents the Landmark arthouse chain. “We’re not going to make the 16-year-old date film,” Cuban said. “The people going into Landmark are trying to avoid the 10,000 kids at the multiplex waiting for their parents to pick them up.”

Cuban emphasized that the exhib will continue to carry pics from a wide range of distribs. “We’re still going to book ‘Pieces of April’ and ‘The Station Agent,’ ” Cuban said. “But it’s nice to know that we have that deployment option (for HDNet). It’s nice to know that we can control our own destiny.”

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