Samaha sets Classics arm

Division eyeing six pix a year

Franchise Pictures chairman and CEO Elie Samaha has created a new franchise — Franchise Classics — and tapped partner Andrew Stevens to head the division.

Classics will make movies with budgets no higher than $10 million. Granted autonomy to greenlight up to six pics a year, Stevens will work with Franchise execs Tracee Stanley, Mark McGarry and Alison Semenza.

Samaha told Daily Variety, “The formation of this division represents a natural progression due to the enormous growth our company has enjoyed over the last two years.”

Four on the floor

The first four films to go out under the new Classics division will be director Jason Blooms’ “Viva Las Nowhere,” starring Daniel Stern, James Caan and Lacey Cole; “Dance,” starring Patrick Swayze and directed by Lisa Neimi; Steve Buscemi’s “Animal Factory,” starring Willem Dafoe and Edward Furlong; and “Auggie Rose,” toplining Jeff Goldblum and Anne Heche, with Matthew Tabak directing.

Stevens said, “Franchise Classics represents the opportunity to work with talented young directors and to concentrate on films with a unique voice. It also adds a definition and a framework for these types of films, of which Franchise has produced many over the last two years, including ‘The Big Kahuna,’ ‘The Third Miracle’ and ‘Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her.’ ”

“Viva Las Nowhere,” slated for a May start date, is a co-production with Demitri Samaha’s Samaha Prods. Pic concerns a brow-beaten Kansas motel owner pursuing his fantasy of becoming a country singer-songwriter.

“Dance” revolves around the members of a dance troupe who must reconcile their pasts in order to put on a show. Production begins in April.

‘Factory’ guys

In “Animal Factory,” Furlong plays a young man smacked with a 10-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. Another inmate, an older gang leader played by Dafoe, takes him under his wing and an odd relationship develops between the two men, one that has serious consequences for both. Pic will screen at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday.

“Auggie Rose,” produced in association with Persistent Pictures and currently in post-production, revolves around a man who assumes the identity of a stranger who dies in his arms.

Samaha and Stevens will oversee Franchise’s studio releases, including “Battlefield Earth,” starring John Travolta; “The Whole Nine Yards,” starring Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry; “The Pledge,” being helmed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson; and “Angel Eyes,” starring Jennifer Lopez.

Franchise will screen four films at Sundance: “Animal Factory,” “The Big Kahuna,” “Things That You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her” and “But I’m a Cheerleader” (a Fine Line movie for which Franchise is handling international distribution).

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