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Film ‘Robot & Frank,' which opens here Friday, has local ties

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Show times

The film “Robot & Frank” is scheduled to show at 12:40, 3:55, 7:15 and 9:45 p.m. Friday at Rave Motion Pictures in Jefferson Pointe shopping center. Check www.ravemotionpictures.com for show times Saturday through Sept. 20.

North River Capital parent company of executive producer

Thursday, September 13, 2012 - 12:01 am

It will be a red carpet night of sorts Friday for Fort Wayne-based North River Capital.

The firm has been involved in the creation of the full-length feature film “Robot & Frank,” which opens Friday night at Rave Motion Pictures in the Jefferson Pointe shopping center.

The film premiered in January at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where it was co-winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.

It stars Frank Langella as an older man whose children think needs company, so they get him a robot for a companion. Their relationship evolves into a heartwarming story about “finding friends and family in the most unexpected places,” publicity material says.

The movie also stars Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Peter Sarsgaard.

Film director Jake Schreier is scheduled to attend the 7 p.m. movie showing at Rave Motion Pictures along with producer Sam Bisbee and associate producer Theodora Dunlap.

White Hat Entertainment, which was executive producer on the film, is a division of North River Capital. We did an email interview with two founding partners of North River Capital, Danny Rifkin and Grant Schultz. Here is what they had to say about their company and the film project:

Q: How did North River Capital get its start, and when?

A: North River Capital LLC is an equity capital firm headquartered in Fort Wayne. It was founded in the summer of 2008 by the three Rifkin brothers and other former executives of OmniSource Corporation following the sale of the company to Steel Dynamics in late 2007.

Unlike many private equity firms, North River Capital does not manage funds with outside investment monies. NRC partners invest only their own capital, which allows the firm to react quickly, and be more creative in structuring transactions.

The firm's partners are active in the oversight of portfolio companies (in which they have invested), work closely with company executives to establish strategic direction, and provide high-level support and guidance. Portfolio company executives are expected and empowered to manage their respective companies.

Q: What types of businesses or projects has the company invested in?

A: Over the last four years, North River Capital has completed more than 20 transactions in a variety of industries. Our primary focus has been directed toward industrial manufacturing, engineering and distribution, although we have businesses engaged in activities ranging from oil and gas production, real estate development and site construction to commercial door and hardware distribution, landfill reclamation, and, of course, movies.

Q: What kind of investment, employment or other economic or cultural impact has the firm had in Fort Wayne?

A: North River Capital, as a “home-grown” entity, has made significant capital investments in the regional economy. Our companies employ more than 400 people in total, with over 100 in the Fort Wayne area. By this time next year, we expect total employment in our business to exceed 550, with our northeastern Indiana headcount slated to reach about 200.

Both the entity, and our partners individually, are active in civic and philanthropic affairs, although much of our philanthropy is directed through the Rifkin Family Foundation.

Q: How did North River Capital decide to get involved in the film industry?

A: We were introduced to (film producers) Jackie (Kelman Bisbee), Lance (Acord), Sam (Bisbee) and Galt (Niederhoffer) by Jackie's brother on a trip to New York in the spring of 2010. At that time, they were just coming together to form what would become Park Pictures Features.

Over the next year or so, we came to know each other well enough to determine we'd enjoy working together on a film project. We were impressed with their knowledge, expertise and individual reputations, but the most important consideration for us is always “who we're investing in.”

Their energy, integrity and willingness to include us along the way fostered a sense of trust that is essential for a successful collaboration. It was this level of trust, more than anything, that allowed us to get comfortable with an investment in an industry that was so far afield from our normal focus.

Q: How long ago did you make the investment?

A: We had preliminary discussions about the structure and amount of investment in the early months of 2011, which led us to form White Hat Entertainment, which is the entity through which North River Capital is participating in the business.

Initial funding for this film was arranged over the July 4th weekend in 2011.

Q: How involved were you in decisions regarding the making and marketing of the film?

A: White Hat partners were actively involved in the legal and financial structuring of the transaction, but all of the creative and production activities were handled by the producers (Galt, Sam and Lance); the director, Jake Schreier; and the writer, Christopher Ford. We thought it best to “stay out of the kitchen” while the “magic” was being made.

A few of the White Hat partners attended the Sundance Film Festival with the team and were fortunate to be included in the negotiations leading to the sale of distribution rights for the film. That was quite an interesting experience, and gave us tremendous insight into the “business of independent films.”

Q: What have you enjoyed about being part of this project?

A: We've all really enjoyed the project, and each of us probably would pick a different aspect as their favorite. We were able to participate or see the entire process. We were “on set” for filming, crammed into a tiny room with eight other people and two computers for an editing session, saw the first “rough cut” screening, and were a part of the “magic” at the Sundance Festival. All of that was really cool.

In addition, we were intrigued by the challenge of learning a new business, in a new industry, which is part of the enjoyment of being in equity capital and business development.

Most of all, though, we've established solid relationships with fantastic people, with whom we expect to remain lifelong friends. We're very pleased that producer Sam Bisbee and head of production Theodora Dunlap will be in Fort Wayne for the film's opening.

Q: What did you learn from this experience that may guide your firm in future investments in the entertainment or other industries?

A: We gained further confirmation that our philosophy of “investing in people” is sound. We have historically believed that “who” we're partnering with is far more important than “what” the deal or business may be, and the most critical decision in any investment process is making sure that the key people are aligned.

In this case, we were fortunate to be able to partner with a group that has impeccable credentials, tremendous creativity, a successful track record, plus a personality that is compatible with our culture. When this is combined with a dynamic director, an outstanding screenplay and an enthusiastic cast, it leads to a winner.

Q: What, if any, other film or entertainment projects has North River Capital invested in, and when may people see them?

A: We have not yet invested in any other film or entertainment projects, since we wanted to get the first one under our belt and see how it turns out. Although we have been approached by some others, we intend to remain involved exclusively with our current partners for any potential activities in the film industry.