HBO takes originals to o’seas bigscreens

Cabler readies 'Angels,' 'Blindness' for foreign auds

CANNES — HBO Films will use the Cannes fest to unveil its beefed-up strategy for selling some of its product theatrically overseas.

The company is readying a slate of films to be sold internationally — revealing a newfound push on overseas sales, with product that the company feels is right for the moviehouse marketplace.

These include the Mike Nichols-helmed adaptation of “Angels in America” and Mira Nair’s “Hysterical Blindness,” with Uma Thurman.

Many of HBO Films’ titles have received a flood of distribution offers, including Patricia Cardoso’s Sundance hit “Real Women Have Curves” — making the cabler rethink how it sells its films in terms of foreign distribution.

HBO Films has lately become a destination for high-profile indie filmmakers who have had trouble lining up financing due to changes in the domestic marketplace. HBO Films, at the same time, has upped its budgets, rivaling the theatrical specialty labels.

“The very gap we’re hoping to fill domestically has created a gap in the marketplace internationally. We now feel there’s a potential theatrical market overseas for the films we’re making,” said HBO Films president Colin Callender.

In the past, HBO Enterprises president Perry Schneider added, HBO has distributed its films in a variety of ways, including co-productions and a various split-rights scenarios.

During the last year, the cabler has screened a select number of films to foreign buyers at film markets but beyond that, has sealed video and TV deals on a project-by-project, country-by-country basis.

“It’s fair to say increased revenue is one of our expectations,” Schneider said. “As we have put more money into our projects, we are obviously hoping for more in return from the worldwide marketplace. We think we now have a slate that will allow us to seek out theatrical distribution activities internationally.”

Upcoming on the HBO Films slate is the next film from “Monsoon Wedding” helmer Nair, “Hysterical Blindness,” starring Uma Thurman and Juliette Lewis; and the Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Keaton starrer “Live From Baghdad,” based on CNN producer Robert Wiener’s memoir of the same name with Mick Jackson to direct.

Company is now developing “Normal,” starring Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson, an adaptation of Jane Anderson’s play “Looking for Normal” that Anderson is writing and directing. Bruce Beresford will direct the biopic “Pancho Villa” and John Frankenheimer directed the Vietnam War epic “Path to War.”

HBO is developing an adaptation of the William Trevor novel “My House in Umbria,” starring Maggie Smith and directed by Richard Loncraine.

HBO has signed first-look deals with Team Todd (“If These Walls Could Talk” and the Austin Powers franchise) and Cary Brokaw’s Avenue Pictures (“Wit,” “Angels in America”).

HBO has high international theatrical hopes for Nichols’ upcoming three-hour movie versions of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Angels in America.” Budgeted in the $50 million range, it is currently being shot in New York, and is the division’s biggest-budgeted production ever.

However, Callender is quick to point out that the new overseas strategy is not meant for every HBO movie. Certain titles that are clearly U.S.-centric will not necessarily appeal to the international marketplace, nor are meant to have a theatrical life.

But it’s likely that more and more HBO product will hold international theatrical value.

“I think one of the things we’ve become over the last few years is very director-driven,” Callender said. “We’ve discovered that the way to make interesting movies is to work with interesting filmmakers and create an environment in which those filmmakers make films their way rather than our way.”

Our ambition with the feature division is to attract a very eclectic and broad base of directors. That’s really what’s been driving us.”