Michael Nathanson, left, and Bill Lischak of OddLot Entertainment. They will be at the Sundance Film Festival this week.
Now, Gigi Pritzker, an heiress who produces movies, is poised to expand her company atop the one that got away from Warner.
The film version of “Ender’s Game” is set for release on Nov. 1 by Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment unit. A tale of violent interplanetary warfare, it is intended to extend the young adult line of those recently merged studios, whose blockbusters, “The Hunger Games” and the “Twilight” films, have had about $4 billion in worldwide ticket sales.
But “Ender’s Game” was actually built by Ms. Pritzker’s OddLot Entertainment.
OddLot, founded in 2005, is tiny, with only about a dozen employees who operate from warehouse-style space near the Sony Pictures studio here. It picked up the pieces when Warner’s rights to Mr. Card’s book expired, and four years ago, it began assembling its most expensive movie to date, with a production budget of more than $110 million.
Along the way, “Ender’s Game” has become part of an expansion that could soon put OddLot, though still a boutique, in Hollywood’s top flight of equity-backed production companies. Those include Participant Media, which is owned by the Web entrepreneur Jeff Skoll, and provided backing for “Lincoln”; Legendary Entertainment, which was founded by the investor Thomas Tull and is making “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim” for Warner; and Annapurna Pictures, which has made another heiress, Megan Ellison, a player in the current awards season, with films like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Master.”
Successes like those, Ms. Pritzker said, suggest there is a path that can lead from small, and almost accidental, adventures in the film business to something resembling a major enterprise.
“It’s only in looking back that you see, maybe there was a pattern,” Ms. Pritzker said by telephone from her home in Chicago on Wednesday. “I’m very opportunistic by nature,” she added.
This week will find Ms. Pritzker at the Sundance Film Festival. She and a pair of OddLot co-presidents, Bill Lischak and Michael Nathanson, will bring with them a comedy, “The Way, Way Back,” starring Steve Carell, which is both in the festival and for sale to potential distributors.
The outing will also be a test run for the new partnership between the two co-presidents. Mr. Lischak, an accountant and a former president of the independent company First Look Studios, has been with Ms. Pritzker for about six years. Mr. Nathanson, hired in November, previously served as president of MGM Pictures and production president of Sony’s Columbia Pictures unit.
Mr. Nathanson, speaking jointly with Mr. Lischak in an interview last week, said he initially contacted OddLot about investing in “Ender’s Game,” which he had once hoped to buy while at MGM. Instead, he enlisted as part of the executive team at OddLot. He was drawn to the people there, he said, because they seemed refreshingly undaunted by the crosscurrents in a turbulent film business.
“They’re all running into it, not away from it,” Mr. Nathanson said of OddLot’s decision to double its film count to at least three or four a year, and to dig deeper into the “Ender’s Game” business, if the movie meets its goals.
A science fiction novel published in 1985, “Ender’s Game” long seemed to have disadvantages as movie material. Its violent, complicated story is built around a boy-hero with a knack for killing. And it depends on a deeply concealed twist at the end.
During years of development at Warner over the last decade, Wolfgang Petersen, who planned to direct “Ender’s Game,” referred to its protagonist Wiggin Ender as a science fiction equivalent of Antoine Doinel in François Truffaut’s “400 Blows.” The depth of the lead character is something Ms. Pritzker sought to preserve as OddLot began to carve a film story from what has now become a series of books.
She joined Lynn Hendee and Robert Chartoff, who were supposed to produce the film for Warner, along with Mr. Card and others. They hired Gavin Hood, the filmmaker behind both the South African teen crime drama “Tsotsi” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” as writer and director. OddLot bought out the work done earlier for Warner, but Mr. Hood essentially started from scratch, ultimately creating a story that is built around a young actor, Asa Butterfield, who is 15, but is intended, like “Hunger Games,” to attract viewers well into their 30s.
“I think ‘Hunger Games’ cracked the code,” Ms. Pritzker said of a shift in film culture that has since made “Ender’s Game” one of Hollywood’s most closely watched projects.
Ms. Pritzker, now 50, is the daughter of the entrepreneur Jay Pritzker, who created the Hyatt hotel chain, and whose death in 1999 ultimately left Ms. Pritzker with a fortune valued by Forbes Magazine last year at $1.9 billion.
Her wealth is a subject Ms. Pritzker declined to discuss last week. She explained, however, that her father was supportive when, after studying anthropology at Stanford, and then taking courses in documentary filmmaking, she joined a friend, Deborah Del Prete, to found a New York-based company that made music videos and public service advertisements, among other things.
Eschewing an executive position in the family business, Ms. Pritzker went on to make movies, beginning in 1989 with a thriller, “Simple Justice,” that was directed by Ms. Del Prete.
A producing partnership between the two dissolved about four years ago, Ms. Pritzker said. The separation came on the heels of a failure, “The Spirit,” which had a reported budget of about $60 million, but took in only about $20 million at the domestic box office.
Ms. Del Prete was involved with the early work on “Ender’s Game,” and is an executive producer of the film. “I enjoyed a wonderful partnership and friendship with Gigi and the success of OddLot, which we co-founded,” Ms. Del Prete said in an e-mail last week.
Since “The Spirit,” Ms. Pritzker said, OddLot has made money on its handful of films, which include “Rabbit Hole,” from 2010, and “Drive,” from 2011.
Under Mr. Lischak and Linda McDonough, who oversees film production, the company also added bits of architecture. Those include deals with the filmmakers Robert Rodriguez (whose credits include “Machete”) and Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”); a stake in the Sierra/Affinity foreign film sales company and another in Cinetic Media, an independent film sales and distribution company.
The company’s films have touched several genres, including comedy, sports drama and, now, science fiction. Ms. Pritzker says she does not expect the movies to reflect her personal taste, but she has to find something to love in each of them.
Mainly, Ms. Pritzker said, the aim has been to create a working business, rather than simply to underwrite movies from a family fortune. In putting together “Ender’s Game,” for instance, OddLot joined Digital Domain in providing about 75 percent of the budget, some of that offset by advance foreign sales, while Summit contributed the balance.
In a telephone interview last week, Robert G. Friedman, co-chairman of the Lionsgate motion picture group, credited Ms. Pritzker with having spotted the potential in “Ender’s Game” at a time when most of Hollywood had given up on it.
“A lot of these things sort of hide in plain sight,” Mr. Friedman said. “It takes somebody’s passion to unearth them.”
It is virtually certain, he added, that Lionsgate will remain involved with OddLot.
“We’re friends and partners,” he said. “And friends and partners tend to talk to each other first.”