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New Line carves niche

From the moment exhibitors entered the New Line/Fine Line-sponsored luncheon Tuesday at Bally’s, multiple screens adorned with the leering mug of comic Jim Carrey as the zoot-suited lead in “The Mask” left no doubt who will be pulling the indie’s upcoming slate.

Though New Line/Fine Line’s 14-pic slate generally drew praise for higher-grade niche product overall, some exhibs were doubtful that departures like the animated “The Swan Princess” and the arthouse pickup “Fiorile” will last on screens.

“I was really surprised; it surpassed anything New Line has done in the past, ” said Gary Howard, an exhib from South San Francisco, who was upbeat on “Mask” and the Whoopi Goldberg/Ray Liotta nanny comedy “Corrina, Corrina.””But I don’t know if they have the marketing capability to pull off the softer films.”

Almost as an echo of this sentiment, the product reel displayed some evidence of thematic stretching while being careful not to abandon the indie’s core audience within the horror and action niches.

In the latter category, the Ice-T-starrer “Surviving the Game,” about a homeless man turned prey for callous yuppie weekend warriors, drew solid reactions.

Time-tested approval

But apart from Carrey’s hyperkinetic green-faced hero, it was tried-and-true fare like John Carpenter’s Sam Neill-starrer “In the Mouth of Madness” and Wes Craven’s latest installment in the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise that drew the loudest applause.

Among product from the other end of the demographic spectrum, the Susan Sarandon/Sam Shepard family drama “Safe Passage,” Roman Polanski’s psychological thriller “Bitter Moon” and the comedy “Monkey Trouble” were greeted with less enthusiasm. And “Above the Rim” and “Naked in New York” were not even part of the reel but were only tagged on to the end.

Even so, New Line execs were bullish on the indie’s ability to mix it up in the marketplace and still come up with a combination that will play in Peoria.

“We’re going to keep broadening our scope and spread out without abandoning the core,” said NL marketing/distrib prexy Mitchell Goldman. “Our distribution and marketing ability is growing enough for us to be able to do that.”

Still, Goldman said “bread-and-butter” pix like “Surviving” would never be entirely bumped by areas like intellectual family fare — an area NL was treading gamely, if cautiously, on Tuesday.

“We’re not going to abandon the niche marketing and distribution areas,” Goldman concluded.

NL theatrical marketing prexy Chris Pula knew he was in for a tough test with the company’s new product expansion onto untested ground: “Within our own production mix, we have some softer-concept sells that present us with some pretty interesting marketing challenges.”

“New Line growth doesn’t mean we’ll put the past to bed,” Pula continued, also conceding that some of the newer properties would be “tough” to sell in markets already penetrated by major-driven family fare.

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