2 Sidekicks Help Finance `Indie' Films

Article excerpt

Marla Grossman has spent the last seven years introducing Hollywood and Washington to each other. Now she has put her Rolodex to a different use, calling both sides for help in her new business.

Last year she and an old college friend founded Sidekick Entertainment, which helps finance independent films.

"I have a passion for it," said the 31-year-old. "In school I probably spent just as much time going to indie films as a I did studying."

The school she is referring to is Harvard Law School, where in 1993 she earned a degree dealing with motion pictures and the Internet. That's where she met Gary Barkin, the cofounder of Sidekick.

The company concentrates on late-stage financing for independent films, providing funding for special effects, credits, distribution and advertising. Sidekick only finances independent films with budgets under $5 million. Since final-stage financing never amounts to more than 30 percent of a film's total budget, the company contributes no more than about $1.5 million per movie.

"This way we contribute in a meaningful way but also have solid, attractive returns," said Ms. Grossman.

Late-stage financing is more secure, she said, because by the time it is needed the movie is almost finished. It is easier for financiers to decide because they can see the product and know exactly what they are backing.

Late-stage financiers also are the first to see returns from films.

The traditional definition of an independent film is one that finds its production financing outside of the major motion picture studios and is free of studio creative control. The movie may be distributed by a studio or other distributor, but the producer raises all financing from other sources.

Overall, the movie industry has grown tremendously in recent years. Last year, box office revenues were at $7.49 billion, beating the 1998 record of $6.95 billion by 8 percent.

The independent film industry has grown, as well. In 1995, there were 250 entries to the Sundance Film Festival, the premier festival in the country for independent films. This year there were more than 800 entries.

Having practiced law and dealt with the film industry for years, it was natural for Ms. Grossman and Mr. Barkin to start Sidekick.

She worked on Capitol Hill as counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 105th Congress (1997-98), dealing with filmmaking and Internet commerce-related legislation.

She left the Hill in January 1999 to start Sidekick but kept her day job as director of federal affairs with the law firm of Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand, where she works three days a week. The rest of her time she spends reading scripts, watching rough cuts of movies, and dealing with investors.

Mr. Barkin also kept his day job. At Sidekick, he is chief operating officer and deals with the company's legal negotiations. He also attends the filming of movies Sidekick is backing.

A native Washingtonian, Ms. Grossman has always lived in the area except while she attended Yale for undergraduate and Harvard for graduate school. …