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When “Short Term 12” bowed at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival to a rapturous reception and a grand jury prize, producer Kaplan wasn’t too far removed from life in the mailroom at UTA, and had founded his production company, Animal Kingdom Films, just a year earlier. Since then, Kaplan has seen his name in the credits for a rather remarkable number of buzzworthy indies, from Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” to Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child.” Animal Kingdom’s second feature, “It Follows,” bowed in Cannes earlier this year.

Now, Kaplan is hard at work on his highest-budgeted feature to date, “Kicks,” which just finished shooting in the Bay Area. Described by Kaplan as “a sort of urban Amblin film,” the project is a debut feature from writer-director Justin Tipping, and one that relied on no fewer than nine different financing sources.

“We certainly made it for more than ‘Short Term 12,’ so it needs to have a great life,” Kaplan says. “It’s a great cast, and we took all unknowns for the most part, but I think if the last few years have taught us anything, if you make something that’s truly special, it doesn’t really matter who’s in the movie.”

Though he’s notched an impressive batting average so far working with first- or second-time directors, he acknowledges it can be a difficult path.
“ ‘Short Term’ was a great experience for so many reasons,” he says. “It was actually profitable, which inspires confidence. And there’s something very exciting about finding people very early on in their careers who have something they’ve always wanted to make, that’s been burning inside of them. But there’s always a risk.

“My partner Josh (Astrachan) and I are trying to find that balance between things we’re excited about that can be realized at a scale that makes sense financially, and then trying to find films where you can take some sort of producer’s fee and keep the lights on. This is the ongoing challenge.”

More producers to watch: Robert Ogden Barnum, Lati Grobman and Christa Campbell, Jessica Elbaum, The Gotham Group, Ken Kao, Katie Mustard, Ido Ostrowsky & Nora Grossman, Dimitri Rassam, Lila Yacoub