Talks already underway with singers

Paramount and Melee Entertainment have pacted to produce feature-length music-based movies starring recording artists.

The unique deal calls for the companies to produce and release six films over three years. Budgeted at about $3 million, each project will be evaluated and released either theatrically or as a DVD premiere.

Par and Melee are already in talks with singers, with the first project to be announced within the next 30 days.

DVD-related deal is the latest signed by the recently aggressive Paramount Home Entertainment under worldwide president Tom Lesinski to bring more original movies to the format. In addition to making deals with toy companies such as Hasbro to distribute animated straight-to-DVD movies based on characters like G.I. Joe, Paramount reached a deal in September to partner with Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Films on the production of live-action urban pics for DVD.

Melee, formed last year by Priority Records founder Bryan Turner and Priority’s Scott Aronson, produced this year’s $40 million theatrical release “You Got Served.”

The partnership allows the studio to bridge the communities of music and film, according to Paramount Motion Picture Group vice chairman and Paramount Pictures chief operating officer Rob Friedman. Given Par’s relationship with sister company MTV, Lesinski said the deal is a natural extension of a segment of the business he believes is underserved. The music orientation of the projects could range from rap to hip-hop to country, and the studio may look to partner with and leverage not only MTV but also VH1, BET and CMT on some of them.

The studio will also lean on Melee’s expertise in marketing in the music arena. Aronson said Melee will direct a portion of each film’s marketing budget to target CD buyers and music lovers. Turner said they would employ techniques such as street teams and promotions in clubs.

Although in some cases recording artists will be paired with finished scripts, Turner said the goal is to get the artists vested in the projects by bringing them in to become closely involved in the development process, in some cases allowing them to shape their roles.

The option Paramount offered of potentially taking any of the productions out theatrically gave Par the edge over other companies Melee talked with, according to Turner, who said that option is helpful in dealing with artists.

Lesinski said such recent deals have led to a shift in the relationship between Paramount’s theatrical and homevideo divisions, with the two units engaging in many more discussions about potential overlap in their business models.

(Eliza Gallo is a reporter for Daily Variety sister publication DVD Exclusive.)

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