Quickie pix hope to reap 'Jackass'-style action
Set aside those tentpoles: The B-picture has resurfaced, thanks to some refugees from reality TV and a bunch of spring breakers.New Line is about to release “The Real Cancun.” Universal is gearing up “The Quest.” And that’s just for starters. Given the unexpected success of “Jackass the Movie,” some get-it-done-fast reality TV vets have frantically assembled a group of low-budget, “instant” reality movies. These films have two things going for them: Tits and ass. Teenage tits and ass, that is. Richard Brener, New Line executive VP of production, has been a proponent of bringing reality TV to the screen. ” ‘Jackass’ paved the way by saying ‘This is the stuff you’re not going to see on TV.’ It’s just a cash cow,” he says. On April 25, New Line unspools its $8 million “Cancun,” a feature about kids on spring break. The production budget is being financed by Bunim-Murray and Film Engine. New Line has a negative pickup deal with the producers. U was eyeing a May 9 date for “Quest,” from Mike Fleiss (creator of TV’s “The Bachelor”), but postponed the film rather than follow on the heels of “Cancun.” If the pics click, expect a flood of similar reality projects: stuff you can’t see on TV but can make just as cheap. Jonathan Murray of Bunim-Murray says, “If this works, I’m sure we’ll do another one next year.” Spurred by “Survivor” and Bunim-Murray’s “Real World,” reality has flooded the TV biz. It’s unlikely that reality films will similarly dominate multiplexes. But at a time when the average film budget is $59 million and marketing averages $31 million, the idea of a low-budget cash cow is irresistible. “Jackass,” for example, cost $5 million, grossed $64 million at the B.O. and has sold 3.5 million copies in DVD and video. New Line and Bunim-Murray were in production on “Cancun” for just 10 days, wrapping shooting March 23, just 33 days before its release. In little over a month, Bunim-Murray edited around the clock, secured rights to a soundtrack’s worth of well-known songs, got the MPAA to slap an R-rating on a film that includes grainy video footage of people having sex, then designed a marketing campaign to ensure that teens everywhere know the film exists. Before the 16 principals of the film (picked from among 10,000 applicants) arrived in Cancun, the crew wired a hotel with more than 100 surveillance cameras and 50 microphones, including the all-important headboard mics. Six roving camera crews were also available to follow the action. Footage was shot on wide-format high-definition digital video, a step up from TV quality. Bunim-Murray took 22 staffers and full editing suites to Mexico. Story coordinators took notes on footage as it was being shot. Story editors began to map out the story arcs of each character on paper while editors cut the scenes. According to Rick de Oliveira, who ran the production, nearly half the film had been assembled in rough form by the time the crew decamped on March 23. There were of course some hassles. Negotiations for music rights for the soundtrack and live performances at a concert in Cancun went down to the wire. Snoop Dogg, for instance, did not agree to perform until hours before he went onstage. The 16 principals signed releases allowing themselves to be taped at all times. De Oliveira says he had to tell his cast, “Hey, I know you want to get laid, but if you want to bring her back to the house, she has to sign the release.” And what about that R? To head off potential MPAA concerns, De Oliveira made cuts before it went to the ratings board. “We had some things in the wet T-shirt contest that were just …” Like what? “Some girl-on-girl licking. I toned it down myself,” he says. The film was submitted to the MPAA April 4, and the ratings board got back within a day with its sole complaint: The final sex montage occurs under a sheet, but was still too graphic for the board’s tastes. By April 9, the MPAA had given notice of its R rating, for “strong sexuality, nudity, language, and partying.” A New Line exec was pleased. “It’s perfect for the marketing.” The thinking behind these pics is not new. In the 1950s, Samuel Arkoff tapped into teen auds with quickies like “Rock All Night” and “Reform School Girl.” They were followed by a series of “Beach Party” films — “Bikini Beach” used the tagline: “It’s where every torso is more so, and bare-as-you-dare is the rule!” More recently, “Girls Gone Wild” has proved that a large TV audience will pay to see college girls in wet T-shirt contests. “Girls Gone Wild” is developing a feature with MGM; interestingly, the project calls for a scripted pic. “Girls Gone Wild” topper Joe Francis says he discussed doing a reality pic with studios and adds that in order to expand the “Girls Gone Wild” brand, he wanted to work with scripted fare. (Hours after Francis spoke to Variety, he was arrested in Panama City Beach, Fla., on charges of, among other things, bringing underaged teen girls to his hotel room and offering to pay them for sex. Francis vigorously denies the charges.) While “Cancun” takes its cue from Francis’ oeuvre, the main inspiration is Bunim-Murray’s “Real World” and its reliance on characters talking with each other about how they’re feeling and who’s hot for whom. Nonetheless, the pic contains, mostly in rapid edits, more bare breasts than one can count, three guys’ buttocks, and four grainy video scenes of two people having sex.