‘Wedding’ guests reap big presents

Many players benefit from fat 'Greek' grosses

The Zorba-like dance of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” past the $100 million mark at the domestic B.O. puts it in elite company.

The $5 million comedy is among the indie pics made for a price and certified as mega-hits, among them “The Blair Witch Project,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “The Full Monty.”

Fascinating back stories often lie behind these brawny indies, with millions of dollars gained or lost thanks to judgment calls made when the films had yet to charm an audience. A Halley’s Comet-like B.O. phenomenon leaves quite a trail.

It is worth another look, then, at the “Greek Wedding” one-sheet. For the elements who appear on it (and even a few who don’t), the ouzo is flowing freely and life may never be the same.

1. Jim Milio of MPH Entertainment Prods. has to be known as the mensch of “Greek Wedding.” Nia Vardalos had a small role in the MPH comedy “Men Seeking Women” and she asked writer/director/MPH partner Milio to read the “Greek” script. MPH quickly optioned it, promising Vardalos that she would star and remain the sole writer, with Milio to direct.

When Playtone came on board, Milio quietly bowed out, taking a co-executive producer credit along with partners Mark Hufnail and Melissa Jo Peltier. “The smartest business decision we ever made,” he says. Their next production: “The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt,” a two-hour doc that bows Oct. 8 on A&E.

Along with Milio, the other under-the-radar member of the “Wedding” party is Norm Waitt, co-founder of Gateway Computers and chairman of Gold Circle. His stake in the pic stands to reap him tens of millions.

2. Gary Goetzman is as thrilled as anyone with Playtone‘s little giant. However, Tom Hanks’ producing partner says that their U-based shingle doesn’t plan to return to the indie realm anytime soon.

“This isn’t our endgame,” Goetzman says. “This was a one-time-only situation and you realize that this could never happen again.”

The intensive work required by the outfit also meant less attention for U and other studios. And don’t forget the “Greek” TV spinoff, which Playtone is developing with Vardalos for CBS.

3. IFC, in the initial weeks, stood to earn less than $300,000 in a service deal for distribution, meaning it would not provide P&A. Once the pic started breaking out, Gold Circle and Playtone agreed to sweeten IFC’s contract with progressive bumps.

Gold Circle, headed by prexy Paul Brooks, held North American theatrical distribution rights to pic and contracted IFC to physically distribute pic while Gold Circle and Playtone were responsible for the marketing. Gold Circle was responsible for putting up 100% of P&A.

The strategic savvy provided by the company behind 2002’s other major indie hit, “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” also proved key. “They recognized the kind of work we were putting into the film,” said Jonathan Sehring, prexy of IFC Entertainment.

4. Gold Circle “We formed a happy triumvirate on the film,” says Brooks. “What was crucial at the distribution level was the division of duties. We were so convinced about the film that Gold Circle and Playtone wanted to control the marketing 100% while benefiting from IFC’s expertise on the strategic side. It was a very neat fit.”

Gold Circle has shelled out $19 million thus far on P&A — less than a third of what many $100 million grossers spend. And in return, IFC has reaped a significant seven figure sum.

One unheralded boost for the film, according to Brooks: cutting the airline deal early. Not dreaming the pic would still be playing on the ground, it hit in-flight screens Aug. 15.

“That’s about when the box-office started going up,” Brooks says. “People see the film on the plane and spread incredible word-of-mouth.”

5. Joel Zwick, at 60 years old, does not conform to the image of a hot new feature director. But he is glad to be enjoying big-screen success at an advanced career stage.

“I’m glad this didn’t happen when I was 30,” he says. “I would have had a hard time handling it.”

A television veteran, Zwick directed episodes of sitcoms like “Webster,” “Family Matters” and “Bosom Buddies.” His goal in helming “Greek Wedding” was to make “a movie good enough to get me another movie.”

That wish has been granted, and then some. “I’ve been flooded with possibilities,” he says. “The toughest thing is to sort possibilities out and hopefully find something in my arena.”

One front-burner option is a film set up at Mandalay, but Zwick says the green light has yet to flash.

6. Nia Vardalos, irritatingly enough, makes people believe in the myth of Hollywood. One minute you’re acting in a tiny West Hollywood playhouse and in the next, you’ve bumped into an appreciative Rita Wilson and your screenplay gets produced by Wilson and Tom Hanks — with you as the star.

Vardalos has just signed with United Talent Agency after years of being managed solely by Brillstein Grey. Her next two projects have already made her a millionaire, as if “Wedding” hadn’t: In March, Vardalos shot a pilot for CBS; it appears likely to be a midseason pickup at a network. And her next script, “Connie and Carla Do L.A.,” a female buddy comedy, has been set up at Disney-based Spyglass with her attached to star.

Vardalos recently told the New York Times that “if it had gone straight to video and and been shown in Greek church basements, I would have been happy.”

The scary part is imagining what the film will make when it does go to video. HBO, which co-financed the pic, controls the video rights.

7. John Corbett is best known for his recent two-season stint as the jilted Aidan on HBO’s “Sex and the City.”

He will next be seen on cable net FX skein “Lucky.” Corbett will topline as ace poker player Lucky Linkletter. The dark comedy deals with the lives and addictions of compulsive gamblers in downtown Las Vegas.

Corbett has had smaller turns in pics like last year’s “Serendipity” and 1997’s “Volcano,” but this runaway bride is by far his best-grossing effort. And while FX has picked up 12 episodes of “Lucky.”

(Claude Brodesser, Dana Harris, Dade Hayes and Cathy Dunkley, and Charles Lyons contributed to this report.)

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