Metromedia Ent. Group bows ’97 slate

Executives of Orion Pictures Corp., Orion Classics and Goldwyn Entertainment Co. gathered Wednesday under the Metromedia Entertainment Group banner — and brand new logo — to formally unveil the MEG family’s first full slate of 17 films for theatrical release in 1997, as well as the company’s working structure and business strategy.

Having combined marketing, distribution and international sales teams within MEG under John Hegeman, Jay Peckos and Kathryn Cass, respectively, Orion and Goldwyn expect to streamline overhead while maintaining their independent relationships with the creative community, according to Len White, president and chief operating officer of MEG and Orion.

“People want the comfort of working with Goldwyn or Orion,” White told Daily Variety, referring to the filmmaker-friendly history of each of the brand names. But, he added, the three entities will “not step on each other” when pursuing films for acquisition or production.

“We tried to get the best of both organizations,” said Meyer Gottlieb, prexy and chief operating officer of Goldwyn Entertainment.

MEG is owned by John Kluge’s Metromedia Intl. Group.

The structure is intended to give MEG the “capacity of a studio with the flexibility of an independent,” said Brad Krevoy, Orion senior executive VP, adding that the cooperative will “play for pockets, going for singles and doubles.”

White said MEG “will not invest more than $10 million for any one film,” but emphasized that the company may enter the $25 million to $30 million range if partnered with another distributor. The ultimate aim is to build up MEG’s film library that currently numbers more than 2,000 titles.The “pocket” strategy includes broad comedies such as “Eight Heads in a Duffle Bag,” Orion’s early summer film starring Joe Pesci, as well as foreign-lingo niche pics such as Sergei Bodrov’s “Prisoner of the Mountains,” the Orion Classics Russian-language Golden Globe nominee now expanding its specialized run in a bid for an Academy Award nom.

Under the new structure, Orion will market primarily commercial films and Goldwyn will purvey specialized pics with mainstream crossover potential, while Orion Classics will focus on arthouse fare.

MEG’s widest release is expected to be “Eight Heads,” which MEG distribution chief Jay Peckos said he expects to reach between 1,500 and 1,800 screens.

MEG will be distribbing two pics produced by Largo Entertainment: “City of Industry,” starring Harvey Keitel, and “This World, Then the Fireworks,” toplining Billy Zane, with a third pic yet to be announced. P&A costs will be shouldered by MEG.

With a revamped Orion, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1992, and the newly bankrolled Goldwyn, MEG execs say they are aiming for the indie market niche originally carved out by New Line Cinema.

MEG is fueled by a $300 million credit line with Chase bank, two-thirds of which went to pay down debt, the rest going into production, according to sources close to the company.

Orion senior exec VP Steve Stabler emphasized that combining the companies will not impede the production-company-for-hire activities of Motion Picture Corp. of America, which maintains a first-look deal with Paramount Pictures. MPCA was acquired by Metromedia more than a year ago, and produced New Line’s “Dumb and Dumber.”

White confirmed that almost all of MEG’s 267 employees will be consolidated at MEG’s Century City offices, including staffers currently in MPCA’s Santa Monica location. The Landmark Theatre chain, acquired by MEG along with Goldwyn, will not relocate from its West Los Angeles headquarters.

The new structure “hasn’t changed how we operate,” Stabler said. “We will do what we always have done.”

“There is a constructive dialogue between filmmakers and marketing and distribution,” said John Manulis, production and acquisition head of Goldwyn.