Gramercy unveils 11-pic slate

After a six-month incubation period, Gramercy Pictures has finally hatched its first 11-picture slate.

Designed to release low- to mid-budget art-house product from Polygram’s Propaganda Films, Working Title and A&M Films divisions, the joint marketing and distribution venture of MCA/Universal and Polygram Filmed Entertainment is also handling domestic theatrical distribution of pix emanating from the Universal side: Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Films, Populist Pictures and Alphaville.

Two of the 11 will come from Spike Lee’s 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, where Lee just inked a multiyear, hands-off production deal last September.

Rumored projects include one Lee is developing for Darnell Martin to direct, tentatively titled “Blackout” and another in development called “The D.R.O.P. Squad.”

But the nine projects rounding out Gramercy’s initial release slate comprise what Gramercy prez Russell Schwartz describes as “pictures with prospective commercial appeal, but not studio blockbuster status.”

Polygram Filmed Entertainment prexy Michael Kuhn was enthusiastic after returning from a screening of the first project, Mario Van Peebles’ western “Posse.””This is the first project to go and if they can all be this strong, we should be all right.”

Schwartz says he hopes to get another project out of Van Peebles and possibly one from Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures in ’94.

“We’re absolutely on target with this slate,” Kuhn said, adding that Universal “actually came through with more pictures than anticipated. We thought we’d do four and Universal two, but we ended up doing much more than expected.”

MCA Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Pollock, saying the projects came in as planned, praised Schwartz’s ability to build a strong team in a relatively short time.

Pollock discounted speculation on Gramercy’s inability to distribute 1,000 or more prints to theaters should any of the pix turn out to be a blockbuster.

Kuhn and Schwartz say the Polygram-related projects are in the $ 8-10 million range. The average distribution on any picture will probably be 300 to 400 prints, “but we can go as high as 800,” added Schwartz. “We do have the ability to expand on demand” and could seek help from U if demand exceeds Gramercy’s distribution capabilities. “But we would always retain control of marketing,” Schwartz added.

Both note Gramercy has been playing with alternative forms of marketing.

“We have been doing a lot of work on positioning, how to sell these films before we even see them,” Schwartz says. “What we are creating are ‘positioning paragraphs,’ where you set up sort of fictitious weekends with this or that particular film up against other studios’ pictures. Then we play it out with phone surveys.”

Gramercy could pitch “Kalifornia” as a “Badlands” story of two crazies on a killing spree, or as two couples locked in a desperate situation, or as a guy tantalized by another couple, or simply as a serial killer story.

“With 70% of all the people who come to the movies on opening weekends being avids, you try to see which appeal to the most in what areas,” Schwartz says.

But Schwartz and Kuhn say the marketing plans don’t stop there. Gramercy is doing the typical two-step of other studios: extensive national research and conjuring up about 15 different ad campaigns at a time.

Plus there will be some cross-promotional value coming in from Universal as well. On “Posse,” 1,500 teaser trailers played with U’s “Trespass” since that film was a star vehicle for a black actor. But cross-promos are not something Gramercy can always count on. “It’s still Gramercy’s job to get the trailers in the theaters … No one else’s,” says Schwartz.

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