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N.Y. indie film studio launches in tough times

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two New York financiers have launched an independent film company to make and sell low-budget movies in a tight U.S. market that has seen hard times for two years due to competition, slowing DVD sales and a lack of fresh money.

Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher unveiled DF Indie Studios late Friday to eventually produce 10-12 films annually with a production cost of $10 million or less. They plan to guarantee distribution in the U.S. and Canada, backed by what they say is $150 million in equity financing.

DF Indie Studios (DFIS) has the support of big-name movie makers such as brothers Tony and Ridley Scott ("Gladiator") and independent film veterans Ted Hope and Anne Carey. ("Adventureland" and "In the Bedroom").

"We've been amazed to see the competitors in our budget range have pretty much disappeared," Dickinson told Reuters.

"That's why we're excited about this time period," added Fisher. "We see it working in our favor."

Dickinson and Fisher plan to usher low-budget movies from script through production, editing, marketing and distribution, and they believe they are entering the market for art house flicks at a low-point after many studio players fell on hard times starting in late 2007.

Many independent film producers making contemporary art house films like Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire" hope to sell their distribution rights at festivals like Sundance. But DF Indie Studios vows to self-distribute movies they produce.

Currently many of the specialty divisions of major studios, such as Twentieth Century Fox's Fox Searchlight or Universal Pictures' Focus Features and even major independent companies like Lions Gate, routinely crank out films at a cost of $15 million to $30 million and more.

But with a production cost of less than $10 million, DF Indie Studios hopes to hit it big with movies more in the vein of a "Napoleon Dynamite," which was a festival favorite before hitting mainstream success.

But DFIS comes into the market at a difficult time after a glut of low-budget movies met keen competition about two years ago, causing several indie companies to fail in 2008, a trend that continues this year.

Moreover, declining DVD sales have cut revenues and digital downloads remain a future uncertainty.

Still, Dickinson and Fisher could be entering the market poised for an uptick. At May's Cannes film festival, many major players said they were starting to see signs the glut of movies easing and that late 2009 and 2010 could mark a turning point.

Like others, Dickinson and Fisher also noted that amid the recession, theater ticket sales were currently on an upswing as people were flocking to theaters for cheap entertainment.

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