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‘Hoop Dreams’ hotshots bounce into bidding war

BOYZ IN THE HOOP: One of the most surprising bits of news out of last month’s Sundance festival was the flurry of interest in “Hoop Dreams.” The Chicago-produced docu chronicles the lives of two inner-city youths with pro basketball aspirations.

“Hoop Dreams” was a slam-dunk audience award winner and looks to become the richest acquisition find at Sundance. At least a half-dozen companies have expressed interest in the film, including Warner Bros., Savoy, Universal/Gramercy and Miramax/Disney. Apparently the latter company’s interested in remaking it as a fiction film.

The filmmakers, who toiled on it for more than five years and watched it evolve from a half-hour short to a three-hour epic, have started the bidding at $ 1 million, and with full knowledge the pic is set for a Film Forum screening in New York this month. It means minis need not apply and that the producers are enjoying the headiness of being given the full-court press by industry pros.

ONE PLUS ONE EQUALS THREE: Columbia Pictures has earned quite a name for itself in the industry for its estimable (place emphasis here) reporting of box office grosses. The issue was first broached here when the studio launched “My Life” late last year. Based on a tracking sampling, the Michael Keaton vehicle had theater averages that were greater on the untracked locations than on the primary ones. This is unusual, to say the least, and some skeptical souls read this as the studio’s method of inflating figures.

“I’ve never, never seen a major release do 100% of the sampling,” insisted a rival studio marketing exec. “Generally, because the untracked screens are in small centers or from an indie chain, they wind up with an average that’s 60% of the prime locations. There are exceptions, but most would tend to skew lower, not higher.” A week ago, Columbia launched “I’ll Do Anything” and shocked many when its final number showed the unsampled theaters with an average exactly equal to the sampled ones. This weekend, with the debut of “My Girl 2,” the company showed restraint; the unsampled theaters were just 98% of the average from tracked theaters for the final figure of better than $ 5 million.

“Logically, you cannot have an average that’s better than the sampling,” said Kagan & Associates box office analyst David Davis. “Untracked theaters are rarely in major centers. What town in Nebraska or Arkansas is going to outperform a Chicago run?”

We still can’t answer that one, and a Columbia spokesman said the issue was definitely worthy of discussion … but didn’t want to discuss it for the record, yet.

PLAY IT? … I CAN’T EVEN SAY IT: Bill Banning, who owns a couple of San Francisco screens and operates Roxie Releasing, saw one film at the 1993 Toronto Festival of Festivals that he just had to play. He wanted the quirky indie with the tongue-twisting title “Red Rock West.” It didn’t matter that the film, with Nicolas Cage and Dennis Hopper, had just aired on HBO. Banning knew it had definite specialized appeal.

He called director John Dahl and the film’s producers at Propaganda Films. They directed him to Columbia/TriStar Home Video, which controlled theatrical rights. An exec there was sympathetic but didn’t quite know how to give him the picture, as it had neither domestic distribution nor physical prints.

So what screened in Toronto, he wondered.

Well, “RRW” had Canadian distribution through Astral and if Banning could arrange a 35mm print from them, Columbia/TriStar was willing to let it screen. Banning opened it a week ago on two screens and grossed more than $ 17,000. It dropped just 20% the second weekend. Now, despite the pic’s video release next week, Banning’s talking about a sub-distribution deal for specialized runs. “I can’t say enough about his (Banning) determination,” noted “RRW” producer/Propaganda principal Joni Sighvatsson. “The picture always had an audience and needed a small indie to take it on and give it a lot of care and nurturing. I would never have thought it could have a life after cable. But I was wrong and Banning was right and that’s very encouraging.”

THEY CALL ME MR. K-R-I-N-G-L-E: Unquestionably, the award for casting inspiration of the week goes to Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson, toiling on Fox’s “Miracle on 34th Street” for John Hughes. They just signed an actor who’s only been before the cameras once since 1977 for the role of Kris K., which earned Edmund Gwenn an Oscar in 1947. It’s Sir Richard Attenborough, who has Steven Spielberg to thank for giving a second wind to an acting career he’d put aside for directing and as ambassador at large for the British film industry.

Les Mayfield directs, with production to start next month. As with most Hughes productions, Chicago will largely sub for New York City. Elizabeth Perkins has the offer for the female lead — the woman who puts on the Macy’s parade.

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