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Indie Shooting Gallery aims pics at Starz net

Fourth recent deal with cabler

NEW YORK — John Malone’s Starz network has signed an exclusive pay TV output deal with the Shooting Gallery, which becomes the fourth recent indie movie operation to engineer a deal with the network.

At a news briefing Wednesday, John Sie, chairman and CEO of the Encore Media Group, said, “Because the major studios are cutting back on production, independent film companies have become much more important to our overall programming strategy.”

October Films, Samuel Goldwyn Films and Destination Film Distribution are the other companies that in the past six months have negotiated output deals with Starz, its sister network Encore and their 11 other thematic cable channels.

Sie also made other announcements at the briefing:

  • Encore Media will relaunch its Encore channel on Monday by mixing in more recent films with the channel’s lineup of well-known movies from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, a plan that Sie said will funnel more revenues to the company by turning Encore from a minipay to a maxipay network.

  • To continue to shore up all 13 of the Encore multiplex channels with product, the company has licensed a total of more than 800 titles — none of them in the first window — from Warner Bros., Disney and 20th Century Fox. These deals expand Encore’s inventory of movies under license to about 5,000 titles, which will flow to the multiplex channels in a pipeline that extends through the year 2008.

  • Encore has tacked a long-term extension onto its deal with the direct-broadcast-satellite distributor DirecTV, which makes channel space available for 12 of the 13 Encore networks.

  • “The Directors,” Encore channel’s first original series, which consists of monthly hour-long biographies of movie directors, will stay in production for another 13 episodes to supplement the original 26. Filmmakers to be profiled include Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Milos Forman, Robert Altman and Barbra Streisand.

Sie said that Starz will program more pay TV movie premieres in future years from what he calls “non studio-financed films” than from the channel’s output arrangement with two of its mainstream suppliers, Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures. Starz’s other output deals are with Universal, Miramax, New Line, Imagine and Fine Line.

Bob Leighton, president of the Encore Entertainment Group, said the Shooting Gallery output deal is unusual in that, except for Imagine Entertainment, all of Starz’s output deals are with movie distributors, not producers.

Shooting Gallery is a production company that is looking to sign a long-term deal with a theatrical distributor.

Encore cites two forthcoming Shooting Gallery movies: “The Minus Man,” with Owen Wilson, and “Once in the Life,” directed by Laurence Fishburne.

But these movies will go to Showtime for exclusive pay TV showings as part of its output deal with Artisan Pictures, which will distribute them as part of an arrangement that expires at the end of the year. Leighton said Starz will get the Shooting Gallery movies that go into production beginning next year.