Home is where the franchise is

With P&A cost growing and DVD grown up, studios send sequels straight to disc

They won’t be part of anybody’s awards campaign, and a sequel number is much more likely to be attached to these titles than a star. But with theatrical P&A cost perpetually headed up, and DVD players in most TV homes now, the direct-to-disc business is looking pretty good these days to the major studios — some of which have established dedicated divisions to produce modestly budgeted “DVD premiere” pics. Here’s a sampling of some upcoming titles premiering on disc.

“American Pie 5: The Naked Mile”
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Main menu:
Eugene Levy remains the face of the bawdy franchise, having appeared in all five films, including the 1999 low-budget hit “American Pie,” which grossed more than $100 million at the domestic box office. In keeping with the usual format for made-for sequels, such a well-known is grouped with mostly not-so-well-knowns, with relative newcomer Steve Talley playing the lead role of Adam Stifler — “Stifler,” get it? — as a college student goaded into promoting a naked run across campus. The film is slated for a Q4 release.
Bonus features:
U is among the more aggressive in the direct-to-disc game, spending as much as $10 million on projects and backing them with millions more in marketing support.
“The primary focus of a theatrical campaign is telling people what the movie is about,” says Ken Graffeo, exec VP of marketing for Universal. “When you’re marketing a DVD, you’re telling them it’s coming to their TV. They’re not going to buy something they don’t know anything about.”

“Air Buddies”
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Main menu:
This is the sixth installment for this dogs-turned-jocks franchise, which started in 1997 — 63 dog years ago — when the hoops-themed “Air Bud” took in nearly $25 million theatrically on a production budget under $5 million. Featuring voice work from Molly Shannon, Tom Everett Scott and the late Don Knotts, and helming from Robert Vince — who also directed films 2-5 — “Air Buddies” revolves around five Golden Retriever puppies, all descendents of the original multisport canine athlete, Bud.
Bonus features:
According to Lori MacPherson, general manager of North America for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, the Mouse works with independent producers to put out at least one live-action DVD premiere title a year — budgeted in the $5 million-$10 million range — with a couple of other direct-to-disc features coming from Disney’s animation division. As for “Air Buddies,” it’s set to premiere on Dec. 12.
“We have a long history of going back to our older franchises and reinvigorating them on DVD,” MacPherson says.

“The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning”
Warner Home Video
Main menu:
Willie Nelson returns as Uncle Jesse, and the ’69 Dodge Charger is back as “the General Lee,” but otherwise, Warner has figured out a nifty way to advance the rural story with a youthful, up-and-coming cast. In this prequel, Jonathan Bennett (“Smallville,” “Cheaper by the Dozen 2”), Randy Wayne (NBC’s “Sons & Daughters”) and April Scott (part of Maxim’s “Hot 100” list for 2006) star as respective teenage versions of Bo, Luke and Daisy.
Bonus features:
It’s the first pic produced by new unit Warner Premiere, which is ramping up to release as many as 15 direct-to-disc pics by ’08, according to division prexy Diane Nelson.
“We think teens and young adults in particular will find product released direct to DVD as viable an option as any other entertainment choice they have,” Nelson says

“Species IV”
Main menu:
With shooting about a month away, Swedish actress Helena Mattsson is slated to play the genetically superior slayer of ordinary horny men, a role established by Natasha Henstridge in the 1995 original.
Bonus features:
Distributing its homevid through Fox, MGM plans to release 12-15 direct-to-vid pics a year, budgeted between $3 million-$5 million each, including an upcoming sequel to “War Games.”
“We’re looking to spend about half a million on promotion for these films,” says MGM exec VP Charlie Cohen. “You won’t see a lot of TV advertising for these types of films — you’re not going to take out a national spot on ‘Survivor’ to promote your next straight-to-video.”

“Starship Troopers 3”
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Main menu:
Ed Neumeier — who wrote the first two installments, not to mention sci-fi cult classic “RoboCop” — will make his helming debut. Production is just ramping up.
Bonus features:
Sony has been in the direct-to-vid biz since the mid-’90s. Not only does Sony extend existing franchises with these pics, but it also uses its dedicated direct-to-vid budget to acquire indie genre films, including actioners starring Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes.
“We’ve been doing this consistently for years, along with Lionsgate,” notes Screen Gems prexy Clint Culpepper. “But I’ve noticed a lot of other people ramping up. They see what this business is doing, and they realize there’s money to be made there.”

“The Butterfly Effect 2”
New Line Home Entertainment
Main menu:
The sci-fi pic — which streets today — features the typical working but not-all-that-well-known cast, which includes Eric Lively (“The L-Word”) and Erica Durance (“Smallville”), and several thesps who’ve appeared ubiquitously in syndicated weekly action hours such as “Andromeda” and “Stargate SG-1.” There’s no Ashton Kutcher, who starred in the original “Butterfly Effect,” a film that took in nearly $60 million on a production budget under $15 million, and did even better on DVD. But as New Line senior VP of acquisition and programming Kevin Kasha puts it, “It’s the ‘butterfly effect’ itself that’s the star.”
Bonus features:
New Line is working on a DVD premiere follow-up to 2002 prison boxing pic “Undisputed,” which Kasha worked on during his tenure at Miramax. A series of disc originals based on Danielle Steel novels is also on the production slate.
“As the marketplace evolves, and technology improves, programming will not just be made for DVD premiere, but digital premiere, too,” Kasha says.

“Wrong Turn 2”
Fox Home Entertainment
Main menu:
In keeping with low-risk/modest reward strategy of DVD premiere films, Fox is relying on a proven horror-genre formula — young people mixed up with cannibalistic hillbillies. In this installment, Henry Rollins stars as the producer of a “Survivor”-like series who leads the young contestants into a harsh reality. The cast is almost a complete turnover from the one butchered in 2003’s first installment. But from Daniella Alonso (“The Hills Have Eyes II”) to Erica Leerhsen (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) to Texas Battle (“Final Destination 3”), most of the new players are experienced horror victims.
Bonus features:
Fox’s direct-to-disc efforts are spearheaded by VP of production Tom Siegrist, who works with various in-studio resources to produce approximately half-a-dozen DVD premieres a year, budgeted between $3 million-$5 million. Last year, Fox touted unit sales of 1.5 for disc original “The Sand Lot 2.”
“Everything we do is the same as features,” Siegrist says. “It’s not like there’s a direct-to-video crew that’s working somewhere. It’s the same crew that everybody else (at Fox) is using.”

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