Lion ‘Looking’ for Showtime bow

Diaz feature slides to small screen

NEW YORK — “Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her,” the Cameron Diaz starrer that was due for a theatrical release from MGM next month, will not make it to movie theaters after all — at least not any time soon.

Instead, the Lion has opted to debut the film — which features an ensemble cast including Calista Flockhart, Glenn Close, Holly Hunter, Kathy Baker and Gregory Hines — on Showtime.

Emmanuel Lubezki, director of photography on the film was shocked. “It sends a very strange, bad message about the movie. I think this is a great picture. We were passionate about the script and it turned out to be better than we expected. I can’t understand it.”

Although pic was well received when it premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and opened Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival this year, MGM likely feared that the intimate, character-driven piece written and directed by former cinematographer Rodrigo Garcia (son of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez) would have been overlooked amid big-budget blockbusters.

“It could have gotten lost in the summer movie shuffle and ended up costing MGM a lot more money than it was worth,” said Paul Dergarabedian, prexy of Exhibitor Relations. “By going straight to Showtime, they figure they can recoup their investment and possibly get the film seen by a lot more people.” Distributing a film nationally can easily cost a studio $20 million on prints and advertising.

MGM, however, still retains theatrical distribution rights to “Things,” and if it creates buzz on Showtime, the studio could theoretically bring it to theaters. In 1998, Showtime acquired Adrian Lyne’s $58 million remake of “Lolita” in a $4 million deal that granted the Viacom paycabler all U.S. distribution rights. The film was later released by Samuel Goldwyn, grossing only $135,000 — nowhere near the P&A costs. Both MGM and Showtime declined comment on the financial details of the “Things” deal.

Pay cablers acquire busted theatrical fairly often, but the films are usually not as high profile as “Things.”

Cinemax, HBO’s sibling pay network, recently acquired the premium pay cable rights to “Picking Up the Pieces,” a dark comedy from Alfonso Arau, with a cast featuring Woody Allen, David Schwimmer, Cheech Marin and Kiefer Sutherland, as well as an unbilled performance by Sharon Stone. In that case, the filmmakers retained the rights to sell it theatrically.

Bucking the system

Though it is rare for a film that has premiered on cable to be released theatrically, it occasionally happens. After premiering on Cinemax in February, “Oxygen,” starring Adrien Brody and Maura Tierney, was distributed theatrically by Unapix.

Acquired in August 1999, “Things” marked the first acquisition of MGM’s new specialized division, United Artists. In June 1999, a month after Alex Yemenidjian and Chris McGurk were named to run MGM, the studio decided that United Artists would cease to produce large-scale Hollywood fare and would instead produce, acquire and release smaller and independent films with budgets under $20 million.

Given that “Things” seems to fit perfectly with the duo’s original plan, its dispatch to cable is surprising.

Produced by Jon Avnet, Lisa Lindstrom, Marsha Oglesby, with Elie Samaha and Andrew Stevens exec producing, “Things” is a collection of five femme-oriented vignettes with overlapping characters.

Sundance setup

Showtime initially approached MGM about acquiring the U.S. premium TV rights after seeing the film at Sundance, where “Things” nabbed the Sundance/NHK Intl. Filmmakers Award.

At the time, MGM planned to release the pic in April, but that date was pushed back to late July/early August before being tabled.

“We felt strongly that ‘Things’ would be perfect for a debut on Showtime in terms of its subject matter and intimate storylines,” said Matthew Duda, executive VP, program acquisitions and planning, for Showtime Networks. “We are thrilled to have such a remarkable film and are determined to make it an event on the channel.”

Had it gone theatrical, “Things” would have made it to Showtime anyway, thanks to the cabler’s output deal with MGM. Under the new arrangement, “Things” is scheduled to premiere on the cabler in early 2001.

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