Unit antes up for Penn's poker comedy

Anchor Bay Entertainment has acquired all North American rights to writer-director Zak Penn’s improvisational poker comedy “The Grand,” which was a hot title at the Tribeca Film Festival and also screened June 7 at CineVegas.

The Starz Home Entertainment label, which is known for its horror product, will distribute the $3 million mockumentary via platform release early next year.

“We saw the potential for the movie to get a huge groundswell and become a legitimate theatrical hit,” Starz Home Entertainment prexy Bill Clark said. “It’s about clever target marketing. We’re increasing the array of genres and titles we are acquiring.”

Anchor Bay also booked the 2006 mockumentary “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” in theaters in several cities and is pushing a broader, 20-city theatrical launch for the horror title “Hatchet” on Sept. 7.

For the moment, as new Starz theatrical distributor Overture Films ramps up, Anchor Bay will take on smaller titles for platform release, Clark said.

“We work hand in hand with Overture,” he said. “We’re not competitive.” Overture has a “wider-release model,” he added.

Penn has been pursuing a dual career track as screenwriter of studio tentpoles such as “X-Men: The Last Stand” and next year’s “The Incredible Hulk,” on the one hand, and as writer-director of indie mockumentaries on the other.

His first film, 2004′s “Incident at Loch Ness,” which starred German director Werner Herzog as a documaker seeking the Loch Ness monster, was released theatrically in Landmark Theaters by Fox Home Entertainment. Herzog returns to “The Grand,” which also stars Woody Harrelson, Ray Romano, Dennis Farina, Richard Kind, Gabe Kaplan, Jason Alexander and Cheryl Hines.

“Werner’s got to be in every movie I do,” Penn said. “The Grand” culminates in an international poker tourney that Penn filmed live at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, not knowing the ultimate winner.

Financed by Insomnia Media Group, “The Grand” is produced by Penn, Gary Marcus, and Lance Stockton as well as Eleven Eleven Films’ Bobby Schwartz and Ross Dinerstein and IMG’s Bret Saxon and Jeff Bowler.

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