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RYSHER RATIONING

Company cuts back to 3-5 pix this year

Rysher Entertainment, which churned out a staggering 10 films annually in its first 2-1/2 years in the motion picture business, plans to slow its torrid rate of feature film production to between three and five films in the coming year.

In addition, the company, whose “Private Parts” grossed $28 million its first 12 days, now will focus primarily on cast-driven event pictures and “works of passion” that carry budgets of below $15 million, according to Rysher CEO Keith Samples.

“Like everybody else, we’re really taking a long hard look at those middle-budgeted movies,” Samples told Daily Variety. “You don’t even have to be very good at math to do the analysis. Films in the middle range have been getting killed.”

Rysher currently is casting two projects in partnership with Paramount Pictures: “Opposite of Sex,” written and directed by Don Roos; and the romantic comedy “Homemade Sin,” to be helmed by “The Evening Star” director Robert Harling.

The company also is an equity investor in two upcoming Paramount releases, “The Saint” and “Kiss the Girls.” Two of Rysher’s own productions are set for release later this year by Par: Samples’ directorial debut “A Smile Like Yours” and “Going West in America.”

“Quite honestly I wish we hadn’t made so many movies so fast,” Samples said. “But I’m not unhappy with the ones we made.”

The Rysher co-founder noted that, while the MGM/UA-distributed “Kingpin” was a B.O. disappointment at $25 million during its theatrical release during last summer’s Olympics, the bowling comedy has gone on to become a top-10 video rental. With hefty sales of 325,000 units, the film is the biggest-selling video release with theatrical grosses of less than $30 million, according to Rysher.

On the other hand, the January release “Turbulence,” which cost more than $50 million to make and grossed only $11.5 million, was Rysher’s most expensive flop to date.

However, Samples has high hopes for the airplane thriller’s overseas theatrical revenues. “The reason we made ‘Turbulence’ was to have an action film in our portfolio, because it’s important for the international marketplace,” Samples said. So far, the Ray Liotta starrer, which has yet to open in major foreign territories, has fared well in smaller Asian countries but crashed in Italy.

“Private Parts” likely will turn out to be Rysher’s most profitable picture so far. With a modest budget of about $28 million, the film appears on track to gross between $50 million and $60 million domestically. Meanwhile, the top-selling soundtrack of the Howard Stern autobiopic also is generating significant revenue for Rysher.

However, many box office observers believe “Private Parts” will have an uphill battle overseas, where Stern is virtually unknown. The film has performed significantly poorer in Canada than in the U.S. during its domestic release.

But Samples is bullish on the overseas prospects for “Private Parts,” despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that Stern is purely a U.S. phenomenon: “In the U.S., we didn’t just have to sell the movie, we had to overcome a lot of people’s negative perceptions of Howard and then sell the movie,” Samples said. “In other countries there’s a great curiosity factor of, ‘Who is this guy and what is he all about?’ ”

First major international bow for “Private Parts” is Australia on May 8 followed by Brazil, France, Italy Spain and Korea later that month.

Samples said that Rysher’s small-screen success also could cut into theatrical production, because the company divvies a single production budget between TV and features.

The company has a number of television orders this year. CBS has placed 13-episode orders for the hourlong “Dellaventura” starring Danny Aiello; and “Forever Yours,” exec produced by Paul Haggis (“EZ Streets”); as well as the pilot for hourlong drama ‘Southern Cross,” which is written by George Zamacona.

In syndication Rysher is launching “Soldier of Fortune,” and its freshman syndie series “FX” likely will be back for a second season. Rysher also hopes to bring “Highlander” back for a sixth season.

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