NEW YORK — In a deal that was expected, Black Entertainment Television signed Roy Campanella II of Director Circle Filmworks to produce 10 made-for-TV movies (Daily Variety, Aug. 10).
The scripts will be culled from the Arabesque line of black romance novels, a publishing house that BET recently purchased.
Campanella, son of the late Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, will produce each of the films for under $2 million.
The films will premiere on BET Movies/Starz!3, a pay-TV channel devoted to films featuring black casts. The 3 million-subscriber web is a joint venture between BET and Liberty Media Corp.’s Encore Media.
The first of Campanella’s films is scheduled to debut on BET Movies in March or April 1999 and then run on BET as a five-part miniseries in September 1999.
Campanella will direct at least one of the movies and will also coordinate the films with other BET divisions to maximize company synergy, said Robert Johnson, chairman and CEO of BET Holdings.
For example, Campanella will consult with BET’s magazine division so feature stories about his films’ stars appear as the films premiere.
Despite the low budgets, Johnson said he’s confident that the top black Hollywood talent will want to work on Campanella’s films.
“This is the first step in sending the signal to Hollywood that we want to tell stories from the black viewpoint that the other studios have ignored,” Johnson said. “Any black woman who’s wanted to play a great femme fatale role, here’s the place they can do it.
“There are all these talented, young women waiting to get their Meg Ryan-type stardom,” Johnson continued. “They will never get it under the Hollywood system.”
In addition to developing original movies for his cable networks, Johnson has also said that BET will invest $100 million to produce $3-million budgeted theatrical films. Johnson said that his deal with Campanella will help advance BET’s theatrical ambitions.
“When the talent starts doing these (TV movies), we think it’s a short next step to do the theatrical feature films,” Johnson said.
Campanella has produced and/or directed more than 85 hours of primetime network programming. He has been a recipient of the Directors Guild of America Award and produced and directed the PBS movie “Brother Future.”