A pair of veteran industry execs are launching Gotham-based DF Indie Studios to finance and distribute up to a dozen films per year, budgeted at up to $10 million each and backed by $150 million in equity.
CEO Mary Dickinson and president Charlene Fisher have assembled the financing and producing partners over the past two years. Producers on board include Ted Hope and Anne Carey at This Is That (“Adventureland”); Jennifer Fox (“Good Night and Good Luck”) and RedBone Films co-founder Samare Koffler.
Slate will encompass a combo of prestige projects plus horror and comedy, with the first pics due to be greenlit shortly and into theaters by early next year. DFIS isn’t identifying its investors but the toppers contend they’re moving forward at a time when the major studios and key indie producers have been cutting back.
“There is a growing demand for commercial features, and a lack of quality products at the right price,” said Fisher. “At DFIS we have worked with our production partners to provide end-to-end financing, a rigorous greenlight process and guaranteed U.S. distribution to meet this increasing demand. No one else is supporting films produced for under $10 million in this way.”
The DFIS founders tout their film financing model as “unprecedented”: Investors’ internal rate of return will be based on all the revenue streams of the company, including distribution fees and exit value. Aim is to provide moderately budgeted fare that’s commercially viable, with Dickinson and Fisher pointing to such titles as the “Saw” franchise, “Juno,” “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Little Miss Sunshine” as their models.
“The costs of capital have gone from zero to infinity overnight so there are fewer films from the studios and indies,” Dickinson noted. “We’re not going to be asking the exhibitors to do this out of a sense of moral obligation.”
Fisher contends that DFIS isn’t going to need the same kind of wide launches that studios require for their pics to succeed.
“A lot of our films will be starting with platform openings,” she said. “We have producers with proven box office records so exhibitors know them and trust them.”
Dickinson and Fisher developed the company’s distribution strategy with Ira Deutchman, who helped launch Fine Line and Cinecom. Former New Line Home Entertainment exec VP Rita Chiappetta-Thibault is the CFO; former Focus and Weinstein Co. exec Glen Basner, CEO of FilmNation, has been tapped to manage foreign sales and output deals.
The duo’s also working with a pair of Miramax vets — John Hadity, a former Miramax exec VP of production, who’s worked with DFIS on financing, tax incentives and production planning; and Amy Slotnick, who’s now DFIS exec VP of production.
The DFIS advisory board includes Tilda Swinton; Ben Silverman, co-chair of NBC Universal; David Wiederecht, president of investment strategies and chief investment officer for GE Asset Management; and David Spieler, head of Duff and Phelps technology and entertainment practices.
Hope said he’s been working with the DF Indie Studios for more than a year to make sure its model will work for producers.
“Having guaranteed distribution through Ira and his team, working with other key DF Indie Studios team members like John Hadity on production finance and Amy Slotnick on slate development, as well as significant P&A to support their films is something we emphasized and they are delivering,” Hope said.
Dickinson’s resume includes restructuring and running the extreme sports film production company Teton Gravity Research, producing two NBC primetime pilots with Silverman’s production company Reveille, consulting on the development and financing of RedBone Films and negotiating content and representation deals with “The View,” British Telecom and William Morris.
Fisher’s worked for 16 years in business development and restructuring in the entertainment, sports and Internet arenas, including managing a portfolio company for GE Asset Management. She’s worked with RedBone Films, ABC, NBC, HBO, ESPN, the Golf Channel, NBA, MLB and the PGA and LPGA Tours.