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New indie studio clinches funds and distribution

A self-styled independent movie studio announced its launch yesterday by putting together the two things that independent films lack most: distribution and financing.

DF Indie Studios, headed by two New York corporate restructuring experts, is starting with about US$300 million in loans and distribution deals, and is about halfway to raising another US$100 million in equity, its founders say.

The founders, Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher, plan to make and distribute 10 films to 12 films a year that cost US$10 million or less to produce. They expect to guarantee those movies theatrical release in the United States, but only after putting them through the profit-focused "greenlighting" approval process generally seen in major studios.

Other studios have a similar strategy, but generally not for movies with budgets this small.

The market for low-budget, independent movies at film festivals has fallen in the past two years, and indie labels at the major studios have been shuttered or merged.

Larger studios that distribute movies had bid up the price for independent films even though many did not pay off, and the studios pulled back from the market when the economy turned bad and financing became harder to get.

Dickinson, 51, and Fisher, 42, say they did not know the indie environment would look like this when they began working on the project two years ago.

"This was not nearly as brilliant as the market has made us," said Chief Executive Dickinson. "It's created a huge vacuum in the marketplace."

DF Indie has a US$150 million revolving credit line with a major bank to pay for film printing and advertising, and US$150 million in deals with domestic and foreign distributors who have seen a proposed slate of films.

In addition, wealthy individuals have invested between US$5 million and US$20 million each for part ownership of the company and a share in the films' proceeds.

The movie projects are being produced by people with strong Hollywood track records, including Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, whose company produced "Gladiator."

A small theater chain has guaranteed the new studio's films will be able to debut in up to 50 US locations, while larger chains have also been receptive, said the company.


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