Fathom drawn to animated ‘Delgo’

$40 million CGI title is Marc Adler's first film

Nobody recommends that you start your movie career by producing your own $40 million CGI kids’ picture. But try telling that to Atlanta-based 36-year old entrepreneur Marc Adler, who decided to do just that with his first feature, “Delgo.”

“Delgo” is a sci-fi tale featuring a kidnapped princess, a young man (well, humanoid alien) trying to save his people, and lots of airborne swashbuckling — Adler speaks admiringly of animator Don Bluth, and his cult kidpic “Titan A.E.” in particular. In the voice cast, there’s a grab-bag of talent from Anne Bancroft (her last movie) to Eric Idle to Chris Kattan.

Adler, the founder of Fathom Studios, has overseen every aspect of the feature toon through seven years of production on “Delgo,” which he produced and co-wrote, along with co-directing the pic with Jason Maurer. Adler tried to sell “Delgo” to an adventurous distributor, but nobody wanted to shoulder the burden of an independent kidpic of that scope. So he’s releasing the film himself through distrib-for-hire Freestyle Releasing, which has promised approximately 2,000 screens — 1,500 in the U.S., and 500 in Canada.

It’s a serious gamble, to put it mildly. Freestyle has the pic trailering after “Igor,” Disney’s hit “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and “City of Ember,” and has set the opening for Dec. 12. That’s more than two weeks after its nearest kidpic competish, “Bolt,” right in the new Harry Potter-free zone.

In short, he’s trying to do the work of an entire studio all by himself.

Adler started production on “Delgo” in 2001. After seeing the pic through numerous rewrites based on feedback from freelancing studio readers, he set up shop in Atlanta and hired concept artists and animators from around the world — here a designer from Ferarri, there a matte painter from WETA or Industrial Light and Magic — while funding Fathom through his consortium of Houston-based tech businesses.

Since several employees were telecommuting from around the world, Adler had his crew post the dailies onto the Delgo’s public website, allowing the animators to work on any part of the film at any time.

This had two advantages: production was decentralized, and fans could view snippets of the movie as it evolved. The second part worked a little better than intended: Adler says he started losing employees to competing animation studios once the execs got a load of the work they’d been producing (on the site, Adler replaced his workers’ titles with joke credits, and the poachers went away).

Now, like the geeky college kid who builds his own computers, Adler has put together a raft of partners for everything from media buying, poster design and trailers to DVD distribution. It’s an expensive experiment, but if it works, Adler will have set an impressive precedent for do-it-yourself filmmaking. If it doesn’t, he’ll at least have everyone’s attention.

“I have a terms sheet for a three-picture deal on my desk,”‘ he says (he won’t say from which studio). “And I can’t decide what to do with it.” Should he wait until he can leverage box office from “Delgo,” or should he take the money and run in case it’s a flop? The time to make that decision is coming up fast and, unlike the other parts of the process, Adler can’t hire any experts to guide him through the process — on this one, he’s all by himself.