A-listers lured into Lions den

Frugal but friendly indie gets into business with top-tier talent

Lions Gate owes a lot of its success in landing major stars for its productions to the eating and shopping habits of vice chairman Michael Burns.

Burns ran into Dustin Hoffman at a store and got him to star in heist comedy “Confidence.” Lunch with a CAA agent resulted in Robert De Niro starring in the upcoming cloning thriller “Godsend.” And when Robin Williams heard De Niro had a good experience at Lions Gate, he signed to star in the futuristic psychological drama “Final Cut.”

“It’s the personal touch; it’s incredibly important,” says Burns, just back from the Vancouver set of “Final Cut.”

Since John Feltheimer took over in 2000, Lions Gate has gone from a shaky start-up to a public company with a well-rated stock. Financial analysts say the company is on solid footing and ready to grow.

“They’ve managed to get A-list talent at C-list prices, and that’s not easy to do,” says Dennis McAlpine, an independent research analyst based in New York.

Bottom line

“Lions Gate is known for two things in the independent film industry: They don’t pay anybody anything and they treat people well and honestly,” says producer Craig Baumgarten, who has worked with the company numerous times, including on the upcoming “Shattered Glass,” starring Chloe Sevigny and Hayden Christensen.

With divisions like home entertainment and TV production covering overhead, company can afford to to take some risks with pic production, says Feltheimer. Also helping: the injection of $30 million in capital investment, the acquisition of Trimark and numerous library deals.

“We minimize risk by doing material that’s a little bit provocative, and we’re getting leverage by being able to attract stars to material that studios aren’t doing,” Feltheimer says.

“When we started, we were more acquisition driven,” says prexy of Lions Gate Film Prods., Michael Paseornek, who started with the company in 1998. “John wanted us to be able to control our own destiny. Our formula was not to go out and make $60 million genre films. We want to be the antidote. We want to show actors and filmmakers that they can get artistic satisfaction but also get recognition.”