Gill, Sacker set up shop in Film Department

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NEW YORK -- Former Warner Independent Pictures president Mark Gill and Yari Film Group COO Neil Sacker are launching the Film Department, an indie financing, production and worldwide sales outfit with $200 million in initial capital.

The pair plan to use the capital to raise the company's value to $725 million during the next five years, producing and fully financing six star-driven mainstream films annually with $10 million-$35 million budgets. Film Department also will handle sales of the films to domestic and international distributors.

In an equal partnership, Gill will serve as CEO and Sacker as president and COO as FD begins operations in the next two weeks. The duo will fill key appointments in the next few days and plan to have 38 employees at the outfit's West Hollywood headquarters.

The still-to-be-finalized slate will focus on all types of genre films, from thrillers, dramas and comedies to action and horror films. "One thing you won't see is pure art films," Gill said. "You can't have a hit anymore when a film just plays city centers." No film deals have been finalized, he said, but several are in the early planning stages.

"There's a perfect storm of favorable conditions for our new business," he added. "Strong international demand for star-driven, lower-cost, high-quality films; a decrease in North American studio in-house production combined with a substantial increase in distribution capacity; and greater star willingness than ever before to make independent films."

Gill and Sacker said that though an increase in Wall Street investments was driving the indie marketplace when the company plans were being formed a year ago, they had no idea they'd get so lucky. "It's amazing how many new distributors there are, like Summit Entertainment and Overture Films, and places like Picturehouse doing wider releases," Gill said.

Sacker pointed out that while many had asked whether they would be doing an overall distribution deal with one distributor, "each film will find its right home." Some might be better suited to a major studio, he said, while a specialty division or indie distributor might be better for others.

As far as persuading stars to appear in lower-budgeted projects, Sacker noted previous films in which the pair were involved, including "The Illusionist," "Crash" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," as examples of high-quality films that that have attracted stars that the duo could deliver based on their experience and understanding of the marketplace.

"The Film Department is set up to achieve the best aspects of independent film -- maintaining high creative standards and an ability to greenlight pictures quickly -- while avoiding its most common pitfall: inadequate capitalization," Sacker said. "Our $200 million financing ensures that we will always be able to move quickly, honor our commitments and pay on time."

The startup's primary equity investors include Saudi Sheik Waleed al Ibrahim, owner of Arabian satellite broadcaster MBC Group; Zeid Masri, managing partner of investment firm SilverHaze Partners; and apparel magnate Michael Singer.

Other investors include GE, CRG Movie Partners, realty executive Mark Esses, Sequoia Capital investor Michael Goguen, Richmedium founder and new-media investor Richard Landry and Falcon Investment Advisors principal Rafael Fogel as well as David Larcher and Michael Reilly.

GE Commercial Finance's Media, Communications & Entertainment business underwrote the company's senior debt and mezzanine financing, and GE Capital Markets acted as sole lead arranger. Allen & Co., Loeb & Loeb and the Salter Group were advisers in the deal and helped complete financing. Allen & Co. also will look for financial, corporate and strategic partnerships for the company.

FD's board of directors includes Gill, Sacker, Waleed al Ibrahim, Masri, Singer and Allen & Co. managing director John Josephson. GE will have a board observer seat.

Gill most recently served as president of WIP, but despite his success with the documentary "March of the Penguins," he was replaced by Warner Bros. exec Polly Cohen in May 2006.

Before the Yari Film Group, Sacker was executive vp at Miramax, where Gill last served as president. The longtime friends first collaborated at Miramax when Sacker headed business affairs and Gill headed marketing in 1995.
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