Pair launches indie shingle DFIS

Financing vets promise producer- and investor-friendly firm

Amid the rubble of the contracting indie film sector, DF Indie Studios is raising its banner with plans to finance and distribute 10-12 films a year, each budgeted at as much as $10 million. The new outfit also is promising to be more producer- and investor-friendly.

Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher, both experienced in structuring entertainment ventures, spent two years researching opportunities and pitfalls in the arena before putting the company together. They have raised $100 million in capital from private investors, backed by $150 million in guarantees from output deals they are assembling and expect to announce shortly.

The DFIS co-founders said they will be working with a group of producers -- all agreeing to the same deal terms -- that includes Ted Hope and Anne Carey's This Is That Prods., Ridley and Tony Scott's Scott Free, Samara Koffler's RedBone Films and Jennifer Fox.

However, a spokesman for Scott Free said that while that company has had meetings with DFIS, it has no current association with the startup.

With Dickinson as CEO and Fisher as president and COO, the New York-based outfit's executive team also will include Rita Chiappetta-Thibault, former exec vp finance and accounting at New Line Home Entertainment, as CFO, and Amy Slotnick, former senior vp production at Miramax, as exec vp production.

Additionally, Dickinson and Fisher are working with such industry veterans as PGA East chairman John Hadity, who has advised on financing; former Fine Line and Cinecom exec Ira Deutchman, who has consulted on distribution and marketing; and Glen Basner, CEO of FilmNation, which will handle foreign sales and output deals for DFIS.

Beginning with a lean staff of 20 employees, DFIS expects to grow to no more than 40 staffers. Production on its first features is expected to begin in the fall, with an eye toward releasing the films next year. While primarily a production company, DFIS, its founders said, will consider acquisitions "on an opportunistic basis."

"We want to offer indie style and studio dependability," said Fisher, adding that when the duo asked indie producers what they need -- Hope was among the first with whom they sat down -- they were told 100% financing, guaranteed theatrical distribution to attract a higher level of talent and P&A commitments to ensure that films find an audience.

DFIS plans to pursue traditional theatrical-release strategies, from platform launches to wide openings of about 1,000 screens, depending on each picture's needs.

At the same time, Dickinson said, "a lot of investors said they love independent film, but they wanted the opportunity for a better return on their investment."

To ensure that, DFIS is offering investors who take a stake in the company a return on all revenue streams, including distribution fees and exit value.

The indie sector has dealt with a recent product glut because of shuttered indie units and the credit crunch, but the pendulum has begun swinging in the opposite direction.

"We couldn't be launching the company at a more perfect time," Fisher said. "There is a huge opportunity in the independent film world, and we believe we have found a singular place in the market.

"There is a growing demand for commercial features and a lack of quality product at the right price. At DFIS, we have worked with our production partners to provide end-to-end financing, a rigorous greenlight process and guaranteed U.S. distribution to meet this increasing demand. No one else is supporting films produced for up to $10 million in this way."

Dickinson's background includes restructuring and running extreme-sports-film production company Teton Gravity Research and consulting on the development and financing of RedBone Films.

Fisher recently restructured and managed a portfolio company for GE Asset Management then worked with RedBone to develop its business model.

DFIS has recruited an advisory board consisting of NBC Universal co-chairman Ben Silverman; David Wiederecht, president of investment strategies and chief investment officer at GE Asset Management; David Spieler, global head of the technology and entertainment practice at financial advisory Duff & Phelps; and actress Tilda Swinton.