Rhino Ent. to test its nose for pix

Rhino Entertainment, whose record label brought us Gefilte Joe and the Fish and a comprehensive Aretha Franklin collection, now plans to create a film production company that will put Hunter S. Thompson on TV and the Monkees on the bigscreen.

Rhino, an offbeat success in the music world for mixing an archivist’s zeal with an anarchist’s irreverence, has formed Rhino Films to produce low-budget flix.

“We don’t need to go into movies. We have a record label and it’s very successful,” said Harold Bronson, Rhino Entertainment’s managing director. “But we thought it was a natural for a variety of reasons.”

Over the years, Rhino has been approached by producers to develop film projects for both its campier efforts — which have included collections of pop songs as sung by TV stars and a comprehensive collection of novelty music assembled by Dr. Demento — as well as some of the stars from its vast music library.

“Why should we rely on other people?” said Bronson. “Why shouldn’t we do these deals ourselves?”

‘Egg’ comes first

The film company just acquired the rights for “The Cuckoo’s Egg,” Clifford Stoll’s bestseller. “Cuckoo” focuses on the true story of Stoll, a Lawrence Berkeley Lab astronomer who stumbled across and eventually uncovered a computer spy ring that was tapping into national-security databases.

More often, though, Rhino’s bigscreen efforts aim at more specific ties to music. The company is developing a screenplay on the life of Frankie Lymon, the 1950’s doo-wop star (“Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”) who died of a drug overdose. In addition to producing the flick, Rhino also owns the masters of Lymon’s songs.

And Rhino has acquired all of the audio masters of the Monkees, as well as videos of their TV show that ran from 1966-68, the band’s 1967 pic “Head” with Jack Nicholson, and the trademark to the Monkees’ name and all rights to future movies. With 1960s TV fare finding its way to the bigscreen, Bronson believes a Monkees movie, starring the original quartet, could be a success. “The timing is really good,” Bronson said.

‘The Gonzo Papers’

Rhino Films is also developing a TV show based on political writer and satirist Hunter S. Thompson’s life. Thompson will not star in the show, though he will consult. The show, titled “The Gonzo Papers,” will feature a somewhat reluctant freelance journalist who takes an assignment each week but somehow gets sidetracked on another adventure.

None of the drug-addled exploits that frequently lace Thompson’s books will make it into the TV skein, Bronson said.

Rhino initially got involved in the movie biz, providing some of the early financing for “The Panama Deception,” last year’s Academy Award winner for feature length documentary. The company is also a co-producer on “Mona Must Die, ” a dark comedy that preemed Sunday at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

Rhino Films, run by former William Morris agent Stephen Nemeth, hopes to produce films with budgets starting at $ 1.5 million and not rising into the vast action-adventure stratosphere.

“We have a real appreciation for the low-budget arena,” Bronson said. “If you have to make it for $ 4 million or you don’t make it, you figure out a way to make it for $ 4 million.”

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