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AWOL Studios Launching With ‘Message’ Films

Former investment banker Charles Hilliard, who helped launch NetZero and Demand Media, has moved into the independent feature film business with AWOL Studios, Variety has learned exclusively.

The company, whose moniker stands for “All Walks of Life,” is officially starting operations on Nov. 5 with about 20 employees in offices at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. The company is aiming to develop commercial projects with positive messages.

Hilliard is a co-founder of AWOL with director Joe Arias and development exec Jhan Harp.

“Some $4 billion is spent producing more than 15,000 U.S. independent films each year, yet the vast majority fall far short of finding an audience and meeting investor expectations,” said Hilliard, whose titles are co-founder and executive producer. “AWOL Studios’ goal is to achieve that very rare balance of creating exceptionally entertaining films with enduring messages whose target audiences and commercial value are clearly defined.”

AWOL is launching with a trio of film projects: horror movie “Lockbox,” which is currently in pre-production and set to begin shooting in February; thriller “Big Sky Quiet,” scheduled to begin production in the summer of 2016; and the comedy “Longshot” in early 2017.

“Lockbox” centers on two estranged siblings inheriting their grandmother’s home only to find themselves trapped inside an ever-changing and horrific nightmare. They must find a way to forgive one another and work together to survive.

“Having movies with messages makes the voice of films come alive and they become real as they touch our lives,” said Arias. “Creating such a positive legacy inspires all of our hard work. We believe that we have the moral responsibility to pass messages to future generations through our movies so we can create a better world. Plus we have tons of fun while doing it.”

Hilliard served as the CFO at Netzero after it went public in 1999. He joined Demand Media in 2007 as CFO and helped take it public in 2011. He also worked at Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch as an investment banker, where his clients included Time Warner and The Walt Disney Company.

Arias is in post-production on “Captured,” a rock ‘n’ roll thriller.

Pictured above: AWOL Studios’ Charles Hilliard.

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