BROOKE GLADSTONE: And this week a new frontier was crossed for funding films in the U.S. For the first time, ordinary movie lovers can stake their claim in an independent film by buying shares in a new IPO known as Billy Dead Inc. Based on the novel by Lisa Reardon, Billy Dead is a film -- or will be a film once Keith Gordon directs it, once Ethan Hawke produces and stars in it, and especially once Civilian Capital raises the money by selling 900,000 shares at about $8.75 apiece. Instead of trying to negotiate the Byzantine byways of the usual Hollywood money trail, Billy Dead Inc. is taking it straight to the fans through an on-line brokerage firm called Civilian Capital. It's a new stab at a solution to the big problem of raising big money for not so big movies. Director Keith Gordon talked about why he was attracted to the scheme in a press conference this week.
KEITH GORDON: You know, it's an incredibly arduous process. It usually is a huge mess of sticking together 10 percent from Company A, 10 percent from Company B -- by the time you come to Company J, Company A is no longer in business any more. So here is a chance to put film financing together in a more direct, clean, efficient, great way where maybe you can actually make a film some time close to the time the initial impulse came to all get together and do that film. So, to me, that's a really exciting thing too.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Barry Poltermann, the founder and president of Civilian Capital, says the investment in Billy Dead Inc. is not for everyone.
BARRY POLTERMANN:I want to point out it's a high-risk sort of speculative investment that's more along the lines of bio-tech or some early stage company that hasn't really created its product yet, so you, you don't know how it's going to do. But if these are people that you really believe in, the filmmakers and the, the people that are making the project, then it's an interesting way to put a small amount of money at risk in a pretty exciting investment.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You're offering a share for less than the price of a movie ticket -- at least in New York.
BARRY POLTERMANN:Well, actually that's not entirely true. The shares are less than the price of a movie ticket, but you -- there's a minimum order of a hundred shares, so you have to buy 875 dollars worth of shares to start.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And do you think, obviously, if this thing gets off the ground that it'll be a big boost for independent film?
BARRY POLTERMANN:You know, I think so. I think there's an awful lot of amazing product out there that has an awful lot of trouble getting made - and not just sort of the small Sundance type films, but you know Lord of the Rings spent years trying to get its finance together. Spider-Man spent years trying to get its financing together. And we think this is a more direct way to bring those kind of projects to their fans and allow their fans to greenlight them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Investors won't have a stake in the distribution deal and in the decision to dissolve the company, so why are they shut out of those specific decisions?
BARRY POLTERMANN: Distribution is a very complex decision that we believe should be left in the hands of the experts. As far as the dissolution of the company, the initial strategy of the company is to exist to make a single film and then dissolve and return the equity to the shareholders. The company is specifically not chartered to do anything else, like to, you know, go off and make widgets or, or start making other films.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Why did you pick Billy Dead to begin this landmark proposition? Why is this the right picture for this financing scheme?
BARRY POLTERMANN:It is a project with people who deliver films on time and on budget, who get distribution for their projects. In addition it doesn't hurt to have a movie star attached, and it doesn't hurt to have a director who's made a series of very high class, very quality films who also has a really strong fan base.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And small budget films can be very profitable. I think you mentioned in the press conference that Monster's Ball was more profitable than Monsters Inc.
BARRY POLTERMANN: Yeah, that's true. You know I'm not saying that it's still not a, a very risky game. The movie business is hit-driven. But it doesn't have to be Blair Witch Project or My Big, Fat Greek Wedding to do very well. In fact, actually last year Y Tu Mama Tambien was actually more profitable in a return-on-investment basis than My Big, Fat Greek Wedding.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Are you a big movie fan, Barry?
BARRY POLTERMANN: Oh, [LAUGHS] yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Or are you a - really more of a big investor fan?
BARRY POLTERMANN:You know, I'm sort of an e-Trade guy. I come from a movie background. What we did at the beginning of this was we put together a team of brokers and investment bankers who really focus on that side of things. I come from the movie fan side.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thanks very much.
BARRY POLTERMANN: It was a pleasure, Brooke. Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Barry Poltermann is the president and founder of Civilian Capital. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, remembering those who died in silence and those who died trying to tell their stories.