Morris Independent goes back to school

Pact looks to provide film opportunities to UT students

William Morris Independent has inked with U. of Texas-owned Burnt Orange Prods. to obtain distribution for its film projects and advise in securing additional financing for co-productions.

Under the terms of the arrangement, Burnt Orange will join co-prods in the $1 million-$3 million range that involve third-party financing, with outside talent in key creative roles and students serving as apprentices. Inhouse digital productions budgeted at $500,000-$1 million will feature students and faculty in key creative roles.

Burnt Orange, headed by producer and former vice chair of the AFI Conservatory Carolyn Pfeiffer, is a private for-profit production shingle based in Austin. It will invest a minimum of $10 million from alumni in contract with the University of Texas Film Institute to produce eight low-budget indie features during its first three years of operation for commercial distribution.

First pic will be announced June 3in Los Angeles.

Part of the profits from the venture will be returned to the university for future investment in the film school.

Austin has spawned such filmmakers as Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater.

The WMA/Burnt Orange pact is the brainchild of Thomas Schatz, exec director of the U. of Texas Film Institute, and UT dean Ellen Wartella. Its goal is to provide real filmmaking opportunities to students as part of the curriculum.

“One of the aspects that attracted us to this venture isBurnt Orange Prods.’ focus on digital cinema, which is quickly transforming feature film production,” said Cassian Elwes, co-head of WMA Independent. “Another important and exciting aspect of this arrangement is its unique combination of commercial filmmaking with an educational component.”

Elwes said UT approached the agency via alum Mike Simpson.

Schatz added: “Distribution is the single most important piece of the independent filmmaking puzzle. We are extremely pleased to have WMA Independent, Cassian Elwes and their incredible track record of repping films for distribution.”