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Entrepreneurs” Find New Film Inroads

Independent entrepreneurs working in the crowded and shrinking world of Hollywood film are coming up, by necessity, with unusual ideas.

One, producer Krishna Shah’s Media Reps, is concentrating on the exclusive representation of indie producers of B-grade movies. Another, the recently created indie distribery Studio Three, is mounting an unprecedented cross-marketing campaign.

Studio Three, in preparation for the first feature release since its creation last July, has taken the unique step of marketing its film in videostores. Rental customers who rent any two horror titles in one of 400 videostores around the nation will be given a free bag of popcorn. The title of Studio Three’s Feb. 1 release, itself a horror pic from Movie Partners in conjunction with Century Films, is, of course, “Popcorn.”

“Popcorn” is the first of an originally planned 12 to 16 annual releases. The company’s mandate is to function as a boutique worldwide theatrical releasing company, assembling titles via negative pickups, partial investments, p& a funding and what founders Robert Cheren and Jonathan Wolf call “traditional rent-a-studio deals.” The company name derives from marketing, financing and distributing films – its planned three functions.

Middle ground

The company, in the words of Cheren, was aimed at the niche that exists between major studios who have “little interest in independently produced films” and indie distributors who “are in the releasing business primarily to service their own films.”

Cheren credits longtime associate Frank Wright with creating the $100,000 campaign, part of an overall $6 million North American marketing attack. It appears to be the first vid promotion for a theatrical release that doesn’t involve a sequel – i.e., the “Godfather,” “Back To The Future” and “Indiana Jones” series.

The 400 stores that next week will begin carrying the “Popcorn” promo items include the Blockbuster, Tower, Sam Goody and Video Trends chains.

“We are positioned in all the major metropolitan markets … where at the end of the day we may be looking at up to 75% of our audience,” Cheren says. “Not every homevideo rental customer is automatically a theatrical customer, of course, but this way we also reach people who may later be rental customers for us.”

The RCA/Columbia video release of “Popcorn” is scheduled for the end of May.

B middleman

Veteran B movie producer-director Krishna Shah has taken a similar “niche-oriented” approach to the industry. After a career as producer (and often director) of such titles as the highbrow “The River Niger” and the lowbrow “American Drive In,” and after stints with Cinevest and Double Helix, Shah formed Media Reps two years ago.

His goal: to function as middleman in the hostile terrain between distributors and producers – individuals with different and often conflicting concerns.

“I felt, because of my experience, that I understood the needs of both sides,” Shah says. “Producers need me because I can get their films distributed. Distributors need me because I can make sure they are buying all the rights that they think they are.”

Since Media Reps was born, those attentions have put over 40 films, ranging in budget from $200,000 to $4 million, into distribution. Among them are the Double Helix releases “Terror In Beverly Hills” and “Big Bad John,” and the South Gate Entertainment releases “Omega Cop” and “Chinatown Connection.” Thus far, Shah claims, his company has never failed to place any of its films in the marketplace. Media Reps’ fee is 10% of the producer’s fee.

Insisting that the current state of alarm over B titles at markets here and abroad is an overreaction, the Indian-born Shah says, “There is always, always, a market for B material.” He advises, however, increased attention to the specific needs of that niche market, including a cast that will sell.

“This market has become a buyer’s market, and we must concentrate more on the buyer’s needs.”

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