While an undergrad at the University of Southern California 30 years ago, John Wheeler caught the Hollywood bug.

But unlike a number of his classmates who studied film, Wheeler majored in economics and went on to launch two companies: investment firm Copper Mountain Trust and technology retailer Tactix.

Now 48, he's finally getting in on the act ... sort of.

Wheeler is investing in films through IndieVest , an independent film studio and financier that offers a portfolio of films.

"It's an interesting way to make money," says Wheeler, who also invests in a ski resort and other real estate. "And the business is a lot of fun."

Risky Business

But film projects are also enormously dicey -- just ask an insider. Breaking even on a film project, let alone turning a profit, is something many producers only dream about.

Of the 7,732 films submitted to the 2007 Sundance Film Festival in Utah, only 196 were screened. From there, only a small percentage struck deals with theatrical distributors, says Geoffrey Gilmore, director of the festival. "The marketplace is more crowded now than it's ever been."

Indy Guarantee

Until recently, Wheeler was hesitant to invest in friends' film projects, fearing a lack of distribution. With IndieVest, though, the group guarantees that the films they produce will be widely seen because the company itself is the distributor.

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