New look for First Look: 2 CEOs

Lerner, Winterstern to co-run company

First Look Studios has a new look.

The indie banner, acquired last month by Avi Lerner’s Nu Image/Millennium Films, has reorganized with Lerner and former First Look topper Henry Winterstern as co-CEOs of the new First Look Holdings.

The reorganization, to be officially announced today, is designed to take advantage of Winterstern’s experience in dealmaking and financing, along with the respective strengths of the two companies — Nu Image/Millennium in production and foreign sales, First Look in distribution and financing.

“This is a great partnership,” Lerner said. “We each bring to table different expertise, internationally and domestically, operationally and financially. First Look provides a logical platform for Nu Image and Millennium Films productions.”

Winterstern was First Look’s largest shareholder until he ankled March 2 after the First Look board spurned his attempt to buy Nu Image. When Lerner announced the deal to buy the controling stake in First Look on March 21, Winterstern’s new role was described as advisory.

Winterstern indicated in a recent interview with Daily Variety that the outcome — linking up the two indie companies — is more than satisfactory.

“I had a difference of opinion with the board on strategy, which doesn’t mean it was right or wrong,” Winterstern said. “But the final result is exactly what I wanted it to be.”

Under the new arrangement, Lerner and Winterstern will focus on film acquisitions and theatrical releases, and Winterstern will handle financing, mergers and company acquisitions. Nu Image principal Danny Dimbort will handle international sales of the 700-title First Look library and new product; Nu Image principal Trevor Short, who’s primarily responsible for legal, financing and administrative operations at Nu Image, will have similar responsibilities at First Look.

“Avi, Danny and Trevor are talented, astute businessmen and prolific producers,” Winterstern said. “They have had phenomenal success in the international market, and with this partnership, we will repeat that success domestically.”

Nu Image/Millennium Films produces an average of 15 films a year and has about 300 library titles. In recent years, Millennium has been increasing to some extent the pricetag on its films, including such titles as “The Black Dahlia,” “The Wicker Man” and “Home of the Brave” and upcoming pics “Rambo IV” and “King of California.”

Winterstern believes that the company’s combined ability to produce and distribute will enable it to target financing. And he asserted that Lerner’s strategy — making relatelively low-cost films with a strong star component — can push indie films beyong supplying the arthouse circuit.

First Look’s releasing adult toon “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters” this weekend at over 800 playdates. In the fall, First Look will release Millennium’s “King of California,” starring Michael Douglas and Evan Rachel Wood; it’s also handling release of Millennium’s “The Contract,” with Morgan Freeman and John Cusack.

Winterstern first came to Hollywood eight years ago on behalf of a Canadian teachers pension fund, resulting in investments in Atlas Gold Miller, MGM, Dick Clark Prods. and Signpost Prods. He also was involved with a turnaround at clothing retailer Wet Seal earlier in the decade.

In 2005, Winterstern acquired control of First Look with the goal of converting the banner into a full-service independent studio. He acquired DEJ Prods. and video distributor Ventura Distribution and obtained an $80 million Merrill Lynch credit line last year for First Look, which is also backed by hedge fund Prentice Capital.

Although the banner’s releases “The Dead Girl” and “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” which Winterstern championed, received half a dozen Independent Spirit Award noms, they performed poorly at the box office. First Look prexy Ruth Vitale is planning to ankle at the end of the month.

Vitale plans to oversee “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and will serve as a consultant through the end of the year to assist on the release of such projects at “Paris je t’aime.”

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