It turns out that Chicago’s Jack O’Donnell and Michigan’s Hopwood DePree had the same idea at the same time. Both were mulling how they could move their respective production companies into the entertainment arena when they met through a mutual business associate in Los Angeles.
O’Donnell is CEO of Chicago-based Luminair Media, the long-established producers of TV commercials and documentaries and best known as producers of PBS’ “Mexico: One Taste at a Time.” His goal was to develop projects in which Luminair would have ownership in its content, licensing and distribution.
After working in Hollywood for 20 years, DePree had returned to his home town of Holland, Mich. and headed TicTock Studios as a successfully producer of indie films. All went well for seven years until February, 2011, when Michigan’s posh film incentives were cut to the bone, production resources disappeared and DePree had to confront a new business model for his studio.
Agreeing that their vision for the future meshed, O’Donnell and DePree announced they formed a strategic partnership in which DePree will utilize his Hollywood experience and wealth of connections as president of Luminair Media.
His primary focus, DePree says, will be on bringing a stream of feature, TV show and digital entertainment projects to the Midwest.
“Obviously, L.A. is the main place where decisions are made, but great projects can be brought to places like Chicago, where there are so many resources available and so much great talent.”
Having shared goals and Hollywood and production experience “makes sense for us to work together,” adds O’Donnell. “We are going to remain a Midwestern-focused company that is well connected on both coasts, while maintaining our Midwestern sensibilities and ethics.”
Luminair Media could also finance pictures with budgets up to $10 million. The company also hopes to bring aboard larger-budgeted projects with third parties to help with financing and production.
The company is represented by Wm. Morris Endeavor and works with Roar Management Company, notes O’Donnell, who joined the company in 2009, after a successful L.A. legal practice to help founder George Elder develop new areas for the company. He took over Luminair leadership in late 2011 when Elder left the company for family reasons.
DePree, who is making Chicago his home base, will spend 10 days a month in L.A., where he also has a residence. He retains his Hollywood home and hasn’t abandoned TicTock Studios.
“I’m still running it and functioning as its president. We would look to partner on each project on an individual basis; in some cases we might shoot in Michigan, depending on where we’d shoot and structure financing,” he says.
DePree also is a co-founder of the annual Waterfront Film Festival, which will move from its original location in downtown Saugatuck to South Haven for its 15th year of operation.