Par hits home with original DVD preems

'Prairie,' Queer Duck projects planned

Paramount Home Entertainment has formed a new DVD Premiere department that will release six to eight original DVD productions each year.

The move comes on the heels of a wide range of successful projects driven by the studio’s homevideo unit, from the Blue Collar comedy shows to Nickelodeon animated movies and the recent documentary “No Direction Home: Bob Dylan.”

Among the first productions slated for early 2006, some of which could get a preliminary theatrical release of varying size, will be the Jonathan Demme-helmed documentary of Neil Young’s “Prairie Wind” concert this year.

Other projects will be a feature-length version of the Internet-originated Queer Duck animated shorts from writer-director Mike Reiss; a high school volleyball comedy called “Rumble” from sister MTV Films; a Robert Cort-produced sequel to “Save the Last Dance” that stars Jacqueline Bisset and Izabella Miko; and “Totally Awesome” in collaboration with VH1.

These productions will be in addition to a previously announced deal between PHE and Parallel Pictures for additional Blue Collar movies, including the upcoming “Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector,” and a movie with sister network CMT.

“We have seen the tremendous consumer response to original, quality home entertainment content and recognize the great growth potential of this business,” said Thomas Lesinski, president, Paramount Pictures, worldwide home entertainment.

Unlike some other studios that limit their original DVD output to acquired projects, Paramount has set up an entire infrastructure to develop and produce their own projects that the studio will distribute.

That new department is overseen by worldwide acquisitions senior veepee Ellen Pittleman, who has been responsible for the acquisition and financing of projects including “Dylan” and “Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” as well as being one of the first to mine the studio’s vault for sequels to popular franchises, beginning with PHE’s animated sequel “Charlotte’s Web 2: Wilbur’s Great Adventure,” which premiered exclusively on DVD in 2003.

“We are uniquely positioned to capitalize on the growing consumer demand for original DVD programming by utilizing the strength of all the Viacom brands to reach this audience,” Pittleman said.

Among the staff who have been brought in since May are Matt Bierman, VP, development; Jim Glander, VP, production; Stephanie Schroeder, VP, business affairs and legal; Scott Maziroff, VP, finance; and John Wiseman, VP, post-production.

Pittleman said that while a small-scale infrastructure has been put in place that mirrors the theatrical division, producing partners are quickly alerted that there are different pressures because the funding is also on a smaller scale and that most of the studio’s DVD movies are shot in 21 days.

The studio will also work with sister Nickelodeon to create more original live-action movies and specials leveraging the Nickelodeon brand and franchises as well as movies featuring talent from the network.

The move comes amid a wave of increasing production of DVD premiere movies from studios, including last month’s release of “Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story” from Fox, and Universal’s “Carlito’s Way: Rise to Power” and the upcoming Dec. 27 sequel “American Pie: Band Camp.”


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