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Toronto: Relativity Launching Indie Division, Taps Mark Kassen as Co-President (EXCLUSIVE)

Relativity Media is launching R2 Entertainment, a new indie label aimed at fielding lower budgeted, platform releases.

The company has tapped Mark Kassen to serve as the arm’s co-president and hopes to release a slate of films with budgets under $15 million. The division will leave the mid-budget wide releases to Relativity, and will both buy finished films and produce them in-house. Relativity Motion Picture & Television Group President Dana Brunetti will join Kassen and an acquisitions team at this year’s Toronto Film Festival where they will be on the prowl for new product.

“We’re looking for strong character-driven stories with strong director voices,” said Kassen. “It’s the kind of things that I as a filmmaker like to make and that my fellow filmmakers like to make, but that are hard to make because the studio business has shifted.”

R2 hopes to be more than just an indie division. It will also be involved in short form digital projects, virtual reality and brand integration.

“We’re modeling it off of tech incubators,” Brunetti said. “We’re working with filmmakers and producers who may not have a work space and we’ll be bringing them in to help nurture them and to establish relationships.”

It’s also good business, he says. While Fox and Universal still have indie arms, most major studios have gotten out of art house movies in favor of making big, superhero and special effects driven pictures. But Brunetti and Kassen believe that they are neglecting more sophisticated audiences who helped make “Eye in the Sky” and “Hell or High Water” hits this year.

“There’s still an audience for these films,” said Brunetti, adding that “where studios zig, we’ll zag.”

Kassen and Brunetti worked together at Trigger Street, Kevin Spacey’s production company. At Trigger, Kassen produced the Emmy-nominated television movie “Bernard and Doris” with Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes. He is also an actor and director, whose credits include “Jobs” and “Before We Go.” Brunetti credits Kassen with being a “forward thinker” with a willingness to be scrappy when it comes to putting projects together.

The move comes as Relativity is trying to reintroduce itself to the creative community after emerging earlier this year from bankruptcy protection. The company filed for Chapter 11 in 2015 after a series of film flops.

Kassen acknowledged that he had some skepticism about Relativity’s viability before meeting with the new leadership. Those talks convinced him that the company’s financial turmoil was behind it and that it was positioned to operate in a leaner and more efficient manner. One that would allow it to take greater creative risks.

“What brought me here was Dana,” he said. “As a producer with a successful track record, he doesn’t need to be in-house at a studio. I took a good hard look at what’s here now and came away inspired.”

Brunetti said he views Relativity almost as a start-up, but he admits that he will have to sell filmmakers and producers on his vision and convince them that the studio is a safe place to bring their projects. That will come once the studio firms up its plans for dealing with existing debt and has new financing in place.

“Once it’s working and going, the town will come,” he said. “The last thing people want is for there to be one less buyer of content.”

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