Inside Moves

Fineman Films at 30: Who Knew?

Who is Morty Fineman? That’s a question Daily Variety readers may be asking following the appearance Thursday of an improbable full-page ad touting the 30th anniversary of Fineman Films.

In an open letter imploring acquisitions executives to invest in his catalog of more than 400 independent features — such titles as “Groovy Hippie Slumber Party,” “Joan of Arkansas,” and “Venus de MoFo” — Fineman invites readers to visit his Web site (finemanfilms.com).

What potential investors may not realize is that the ad, the Web site and Fineman are an elaborate hoax devised to market “The Independent,” an indie film starring Janeane Garofalo and Jerry Stiller, bowing at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen on Feb. 9.

A spoof of schlock movie titans, “The Independent” features Stiller as Fineman, a director of shockingly bad exploitation films, which he views as trenchant social commentary. Stiller’s character asks his estranged daughter Paloma (Garofalo) to help save his company from bankruptcy.

The pic was conceived by Mike Wilkins, co-author of the offbeat tourist guide series “Roadside America,” and Stephen Kessler, who has helmed Snapple and “Got Milk?” commercials and 1997’s “National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation.”

The team, who collaborated on the short film “Birch Street Gym” — an Oscar nominee in 1991 — owe the idea of the Web site in part to the grass-roots publicity campaign for “The Blair Witch Project.” In an effort to further blur fact and fiction, they’ve intercut the film with interviews with industryites such as Roger Corman, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich and Karen Black, each paying tribute to Fineman.

Excerpts of the interviews, along with stills of Garofalo and Stiller, a bogus fan page, gift shop, casting info, court depositions and Fineman’s reflections on beauty, are found on the Web site, which Kessler and Wilkins hope to maintain well after the film is released.

It’s a marketing gimmick that clearly wouldn’t have been possible had Kessler and Wilkins not raised close to $10 million in private financing, including a contribution from producer Jerry Weintraub, an enormous sum for a film produced outside the studio system that didn’t even earn a place at Sundance.

“The great bull market of the ’90s is what made this picture possible,” Wilkins told Daily Variety. “If we ever get an award, the bull market is on my list of people to thank.”

— Jonathan Bing

Super Bowl boon for Puma

Arnon Milchan, head of New Regency, is proud of the successful movies he’s produced, among them “Pretty Woman,” “JFK” and “Entrapment.” But now he’s ecstatic about something completely different: Super Bowl finalists the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans.

Milchan is a football cheerleader because New Regency owns 34% of Puma A.G., which has aced its bigger rivals Nike and Adidas by landing a merchandising contract with both the Rams and the Titans. Through Logo Athletics, a licensing company, Milchan says Puma signed an umbrella deal for merchandising with 12 pro football teams, none of them sporting big brand names like the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Giants. Those teams were locked up with one of Puma’s competitors.

The Puma logo will be woven into the sleeve of every Rams and Titans uniform, Milchan says, which will provide unmatched exposure on ABC’s Super Bowl telecast. ABC is fetching an unprecedented $3 million for some of the 30-second advertising spots on what is typically the year’s most-watched television event.

New Regency’s 34% stake, which makes it the largest Puma shareholder by far, cost only about $150 million when Milchan closed the deal in the summer of 1997. Milchan has begun to accomplish his main mission of turning around the depressing statistic that gives Puma 70% recognition among Americans surveyed but only a 1% share of the market for Puma-branded products.

— John Dempsey

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