Pic began lensing Monday with thesps Nelson, Scott

Warner Bros. lined up TV director Bob Berlinger to direct “Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning,” the highest profile live-action direct-to-vid spinoff yet.

Berlinger, a veteran of skeins such as “Arrested Development” and “Gilmore Girls,” began lensing “Dukes 2,” the first production under a partnership between the studio’s theatrical and homevid divisions, on Monday, with Willie Nelson returning as Uncle Jesse. Bill Gerber returns as producer of the pic, expected to hit homevid next year.

“Deal or No Deal” thesp April Scott steps into the Daisy Duke role played by Jessica Simpson in last summer’s theatrical adaptation; Jonathan Bennett and Randy Wayne step into the roles of Bo and Luke Duke, respectively. Chris McDonald will play Boss Hogg, the role Burt Reynolds portrayed in the original, and Sherilyn Fenn has been cast as Lulu Hogg.

In the prequel, cousins Bo and Luke Duke are arrested and paroled under the care of their Uncle Jesse when they try to foil Boss Hogg’s plans to foreclose on their uncle’s farm.

“Dukes of Hazzard” generated $80.2 million at the domestic B.O. and largely fizzled overseas, but the studio believes it built up enough aud to justify a $5 million prequel. The studio is ramping up for 10-15 straight-to-disc releases a year, all with budgets under $5 million and most tied into existing franchises in the studio library.

“We’ve created a market for these films that has resonated with certain audiences,” said Jeff Baker, Warner homevid senior VP, theatrical catalog. “It’s good business.”

Warner is the latest studio to create a division geared to direct-to-vid fare for all auds, as studios struggle with low-risk ways to generate coin — and extend franchises — amid soaring theatrical costs and flattening DVD biz. The studio also has signed an agreement to finance — but not produce — three direct-to-vid horror pics under the Raw Feed banner. The first of those, “Rest Stop,” will arrive in stores early in the fourth quarter.

Unlike Warner, most rival majors have set up their direct-to-DVD departments under their homevid divisions.

Disney and later Universal have had great success releasing straight-to-DVD sequels and spinoffs of their kidvid properties. Two years ago, studios like U and Fox began ramping up productions for general auds, with Universal racking up impressive sales of a “Carlito’s Way” prequel and the fourth installment in the “American Pie” franchise.

“Dukes of Hazzard 2″ is notable for tying into a relatively young, and moderately successful, live-action film franchise.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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