Fred Bernstein, who many in town will remember as a former executive at both Sony and before that MCA, is launching a new Los Angeles-based production company, called Astute Films. The production company, said to be backed by $50M in private equity funding, acquired its first project based on a novel by Albert French, entitled Billy.

In addition, the company has appointed Dominique Telson as Vice President of Development and Production. Telson has most recently been an independent producer for films and television and was the longtime Vice President of Original Programming for Showtime, where she oversaw films like The Devil’s Arithmetic (produced by Dustin Hoffman, starring Kirsten Dunst) and Danny Glover’s Just a Dream.

The first project from Astute — Billy — will be adapted, directed and produced by Marty Davidson (The Lords of Flatbush, Eddie and the Crusiers). Other producers include Wendell Pierce (Selma, The Wire, Treme) and Jerry Leider (On the Road).

Set in rural Mississippi in 1947, Billy depicts a racially-charged incident of taunting and bullying that results in the tragic death of a fourteen-year-old white girl at the hands of a ten-year-old black boy. The broad spectrum of that community and its values is put to the test when Billy is charged with first degree murder and the prosecutor seeks the death penalty.

“Astute Films is about facilitating the production of movies that should be made, but might not get made, with the current focus on comic book super heroes and studio tentpole movies,” said Bernstein in making the announcement today. “My studio experience involves some of the biggest blockbusters ever made, such as Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Men in Black, and As Good as it Gets. But my experience also includes Stand by Me, The Last Emperor, Fried Green Tomatoes, Do the Right Thing, Get on the Bus, and Hope and Glory – the kind of quality movies that are today struggling to find financing and distribution. This is where Astute Films can make a difference. Billy is that kind of movie. Although set almost 70 years ago, this story is extremely pertinent today and is a tour de force of dramatic compression. Our views on race, religion, and our system of justice are all challenged through vivid characters grappling with powerful issues, with surprising relevance in 2016.”

Bernstein previously held a number of top studio executive posts including President of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Companies, Senior Vice President of the MCA Motion Picture Group (the former parent of Universal Pictures) and President of Worldwide Production at Columbia Pictures. Most recently, Bernstein was a partner at the Katten Muchin Rosenman law firm, where he specialized on legal issues surrounding the creation, financing, production, distribution and branding of entertainment content.