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Indie film veteran Bob Berney launches firm

The venture, called Apparition, is backed by the family of Bill Pohlad, son of the late billionaire Carl Pohlad.

August 07, 2009|Ben Fritz

After being shown the door by Time Warner last year, independent film veteran Bob Berney has launched a new venture, albeit one in need of further investment.

Berney on Thursday unveiled his new company, Apparition, backed by the family of Bill Pohlad, son of the late billionaire Carl Pohlad, who owned the Minnesota Twins. The Pohlads also own River Road Entertainment, a film production and financing company, which will work closely with Apparition.

One of Apparition's first pictures, "The Tree of Life," directed by Terence Malick, comes from River Road. The other, Jane Campion's "Bright Star," was acquired at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Berney ran Picturehouse, a joint venture of New Line Cinema and HBO Films, until it was shut down by Time Warner last year. He previously worked at Newmarket Films and IFC Films, where he developed a reputation as a marketing whiz for his work turning small movies such as "The Passion of the Christ" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" into monster hits.

He joined forces with Pohlad earlier this year, and the pair have been trying to raise outside money for Apparition. "The company is properly capitalized," Pohlad said. "On the other hand, there are still talks ongoing as far as partners who would be coming in."

The difficulties a well-regarded industry veteran like Berney has had raising money illustrate just how tough it is to obtain financing for movie companies in the current economic environment. Even DreamWorks Studios, with its team of heavyweight leaders led by Steven Spielberg, has experienced long delays in closing a deal for $325 million in debt financing.

Apparition will focus on acquiring and distributing independent films in theaters, and has made a deal with Sony Pictures to handle all post-theatrical distribution, such as home video and television.

"Bright Star" will be the company's first release on Sept. 18. Berney and Pohlad said they hope to open "The Tree of Life" late this year, if the notoriously meticulous Malick finishes editing in time.

Berney will continue to fill Apparition's pipeline at events such as the upcoming Toronto Film Festival. Now that former competitors like Paramount Vantage and Warner Independent Pictures have disappeared, while others such as Weinstein Co. are struggling financially, Berney noted that he will have markedly less competition.

"I have always believed in this sector and I believe that within a challenged marketplace, we have the best opportunity," he said.

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ben.fritz@latimes.com

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