Producers who movie between studio, indie worlds


It wasn't so long ago that powerhouse banker John Miller received a phone call from a studio chief he declines to name. "He wanted to know who this guy Graham King was," Miller recalls. As managing director at JPMorgan Securities and a veteran at financing films, Miller assured the executive that King was someone to be taken seriously.

And he was absolutely right.

At that point, King was a staple of the indie world, a master of the art of foreign sales who regularly raised money at places such as the American Film Market and the Festival de Cannes to fund others' films. Today, he is one of the best-known producers in Hollywood -- he's currently poised to receive an Oscar nomination for Martin Scorsese's Warner Bros. Pictures drama "The Departed."
But King is one of a growing number of players who move between two worlds: namely, the studios and the independent sector. Established producers including Scott Rudin, Working Title's Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, Icon Prods.' Mel Gibson and Bruce Davey, Mosaic Media Group's Charles Roven and Lakeshore Entertainment's Tom Rosenberg have raised significant sums independently for studio-style films. But they also deal with the studios themselves on a daily basis -- bridging the gap between what was once an almost insurmountable divide.

The newly cozy relationship between Wall Street and the majors has
given these hybrid producers room to maneuver and created unprecedented opportunities for others -- look no further than newly named United Artists toppers Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, who raised enough private equity money to give them control over the movies they will make for the MGM division.

"The real difference is the surplus of capital that is now available," Rosenberg says. "Wall Street and the hedge funds and the private equity groups have all decided to invest in the film business. And this will continue for quite some time."

As the studios have become more nervous about investing in production -- preferring to take a distribution fee and leave the risk of financing films to others -- they have turned to those with direct access to large reserves of cash (the Jeff Skolls, Marc Turtletaubs and James D. Sterns of the world). At the same time, those outside moneymen have needed producers who have credibility with the studios in order to get their projects moving.

With money flooding into the business to an increasingly greater degree, it could mean the end to distinctions between "studio" and "independent" fare.

"This period of moviemaking is going through a real renaissance in having truly independent money, and that is going to lead to other companies (being launched)," Roven says. "If they make money, they will grow. If they don't, they won't. The marketplace is going to tell us."