Film fests unspool high-voltage cable pix

Exposure is key to garner nominations

HBO’s “The Laramie Project” and “The Stranger Inside,” and Showtime’s “The Believer” and “Things Behind the Sun” are just a few of this year’s notable telepics whose beginnings took root at film fests. But does bigscreen exposure automatically increase a movie’s chances for Emmy consideration?

“Any opportunity that a program has to come into contact with the voting membership — whether it’s exposure at a festival or through airing on television once or more — gives it a better opportunity to be seriously considered for a nomination,” says John Leverence, Academy of TV Arts & Sciences VP of awards.

Emmy consideration guidelines allow telepic exposure at film fests and theatrical prescreenings (for garnering festival eligibility), yet disqualify programs that are generally exhibited in cinemas or are offered originally on homevideo.

“In a recent affirmation with the board of governors — as with the motion picture Academy — development is irrelevant,” says Leverence.

” ‘Mullholland Drive’ was developed as a TV show and got picked up as a feature — and it got David Lynch nominated for an Oscar. So the motion picture Academy could care less what the origin of that picture was.”

Fireworks Pictures developed writer-director Henry Bean’s explosive neo-Nazi drama “The Believer” as a feature, which garnered the grand jury prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival and a win at the Moscow Intl. Film Festival.

Bean, however, says he is perfectly content with the film’s eventual distribution on cable television. “On Showtime the film reaches far more people than it would have in theaters. In theaters, where audiences are self-selecting, one is largely preaching to the converted: People have read about the film and come to see it because they want to. On Showtime, we’re much more likely to find drop-in viewers who have no idea what this is and who, therefore, constitute that ideal innocent viewer who comes without expectations.”

HBO’s acquisitions department tapped the resources at the Sundance labs for “The Laramie Project” and got involved as the film was going into production. Before premiering on the cabler, however, the movie was invited to open Sundance in January.

“We look at (scouting film fests) as another way of providing HBO audiences with quality movies that they might not otherwise be able to see,” says Kerry Putnam, senior VP of programming.

“One thing about having a movie like ‘Laramie’ in the festivals is that it is a testament to the work that studios like HBO are doing and talks about a certain caliber of work,” notes Moises Kaufman, writer-director of “The Laramie Project,” which netted audience awards at film fests in San Francisco, Miami and Philadelphia, and is a possible Emmy contender.

“We don’t have enough experience to see how festival play relates to Emmys,” says Putnam. “But to have ‘The Laramie Project’ invited to be the opening-night film at the Sundance Film Festival was fantastic. Obviously, we’re very happy and proud of that and thrilled for Moises, but that’s not some kind of (Emmys) ploy on HBO’s part — it’s about supporting the filmmaker.”

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