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Showtime gets theatrical

Unit to produce low-budget pix for release

NEW YORK — Showtime Networks has established a unit to make pics budgeted under $1 million and targeted for the theatrical marketplace.

Division, run by exec VP of program enterprises and distribution Matt Riklin, will work with established specialty producers and directors to create mostly digitally shot projects.

Riklin confirmed Showtime is negotiating to fully finance films with three of Gotham’s most established producers. The pics are “Special Needs” (Killer Films), “Just Another Story” (Hart/Sharp Prods.) and “Best Thief in the World” (Blowup Pictures).

Other deals in the works are for “Dirt” from writer-director Nancy Savoca and writer-director Michael Burke’s “The Mudge Boy,” to be produced by Beth Alexander and Stanley Tucci.

Showtime hopes to send these and several other projects into production by the end of the summer.

“We’re especially excited about working with indie filmmakers to nurture relationships with everyone involved, so that we can potentially work with them again on Showtime series or higher-budgeted films for Showtime,” Riklin told Daily Variety.

Riklin added the types of films that fall into the new division will be “film festival-friendly, indie, quirky and non-star-driven.”

“This is a win-win situation for everyone, particularly in a difficult financing climate for indie films,” said Andrew Hurwitz, an attorney negotiating several of the deals.

Through its Showtime Originals series of films, the network actually has been in the specialty pic biz for years. But most of those pics were star-driven and budgeted at $5 million-$10 million.

Riklin said some such pics, intended for broadcast, wound up being distributed theatrically prior to their Showtime premieres. Examples include “Gods & Monsters,” which was released by Lions Gate; “The House of Mirth,” which Sony Pictures Classics bought; and “Down in the Delta,” snagged by Miramax.

Other films co-developed, co-produced and/or co-financed by Showtime have been successful in gaining theatrical release either before or after their Showtime bows. Among pics released theatrically post-Showtime preem are “Inside,” “Losing Chase,” “Blind Faith,” “The Twilight of the Golds” and “The Believer.”

Showtime has been active in buying completed specialty pics, intended for a theatrical release, following their premiere at film fests such as Sundance, Toronto and Cannes.

Net also has exclusive premium TV rights to product coming from specialty shingles such as Stratosphere, Artisan and Polygram Filmed Entertainment. It also has an output deal and an equity stake in Phoenix Pictures.

Showtime operates and manages the Sundance Channel, devoted to showing specialty pics. Cabler is jointly owned by Showtime Networks, Robert Redford and PFE.

(John Dempsey contributed to this report.)

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