Weinsteins place big bet on ‘Grindhouse’

Strategy changes for Rodriguez, Tarantino project

This article was updated on Feb. 14, 2007.

The Weinstein Co.’s “Grindhouse” is a study in contradictions: an ode to low-budget exploitation films that will be marketed as a mainstream tentpole.

The company’s genre arm, Dimension, will launch the pic on some 2,500 screens on April 6.

The 2½-hour “Grindhouse,” with a $53 million budget, is an offbeat salute to the blood-spattered, sex-filled indie films of the 1950s and ’60s. These pics often showed on double or triple bills, with micro budgets and lurid posters in theaters that were devoted to such pulp offerings: grindhouses.

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino were to each helm a 60-minute entry, which would be divided by faux trailers directed by Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie and Tarantino, among others.

But each of the director’s films grew in length. So there have been some changes in the strategy. The two segments will be presented as one film in the U.S./Canada, U.K., Australia/New Zealand and South Africa, with the faux trailers screened between the two.

In all other territories, where there is little tradition of a grindhouse double bill, the two will play separately, as “Grindhouse: Planet Terror” and “Grindhouse: Death Proof.” The faux trailers will play with each.

The split will allow the Weinstein Co. to harness sales for two pics. To help recoup investments, the project was presold in a number of territories, including the U.K., France, Germany and Thailand.

Bob and Harvey Weinstein are bullish on the project, hoping “Grindhouse” will evoke another Miramax film: “Pulp Fiction,” which was an offbeat salute to pop culture that established the Weinsteins’ reputation as execs who can take edgy subject matter and turn it into box office gold.

After a tough period at the boxoffice in the past few months, the company sees “Grindhouse” as the start of a fertile release period. Scheduled to bow in the second half of ’07 are Michael Moore’s docu “Sicko,” Sundance buy “Grace Is Gone,” Todd Haynes’ unorthodox “I’m Not There” (with Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Cate Blanchett all playing Bob Dylan) and Wong Kar Wai’s “Blueberry Nights.”

Since its startup 18 months ago, the company has had scored some nice hits (“Scary Movie 4,” Hoodwinked,” “Clerks 2,” etc.) but had a tougher time in the last few months of 2006 with releases like “Bobby.” After “Miss Potter” had a brief platform bow in December, the company delayed the wide release until early 2007 in the hopes that it will catch on with upscale auds after the awards rush ends.

Outside of the boxoffice realm, the company has been conducting a series of savvy financial deals, including acquiring 70% of Genius Products (which includes its homevideo library, with the implied value of Weinsteins’ Genius stake pegged at approximately $430 million); a co-prod and library agreement with Mexico’s Televisa; an exclusivity pact with Blockbuster (which amounts to a creative source of film financing) and aggressive dealmaking at Sundance.

“Grindhouse” is produced by the Weinstein Co., Dimension, Tarantino’s A Band Apart and Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studio shingles.

Pics, which are in post, were originally slated for a September release. Though Rodriguez’s segment actually came in under budget, work was complicated by his separation from his wife, Elizabeth Avellan, who has co-produced all of his pics with him.

His segment of “Grindhouse” is a zombie horror pic, “Planet Terror,” about a woman (Rose McGowan) who has a machine gun for a prosthetic leg.

As Rodriguez tells Variety, ” ‘Planet Terror’ is packed with exploitable elements and a killer cast. So it’s the best of all worlds.”

That’s followed by the shorts/trailers, including the Tarantino-helmed “Cowgirls in Sweden” (which references characters in other Rodriguez films).

Tarantino’s “Death Proof” is a slasher pic set at a fictional movie shoot, in which Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) is a murderous psycho who terrorizes cast and crew.

Tarantino has described it as a slasher pic “fused with high-octane car chases.”

The directors’ names are the selling point. The helmers have shot hours of footage that will be used online and on TV. As Rodriguez says in a promo, movies allow fans to “share an experience the privileged few get when they go to Quentin’s house.”

A teaser trailer has generated more than 1 million hits on Yahoo. Feb. 16 sees the release of a new trailer, in which a voice-over touts the grindhouse as a place of “uncensored sexuality and hardcore thrills.” It also showcases inside jokes, like a car flipping over into a movie marquee sporting titles like “Wolf Creek” and “Scary Movie 4” (two Weinstein-Dimension pics).

Bang-for-buck is a key part of the pitch: the new trailer emphasizes “two explosive feature films for the price of one.”

The company signed exclusive deals whereby Yahoo and Verizon (which aren’t usually marketing platforms for genre pics) will market the film online and on the mobile platform, respectively.

It also has struck deals with a number of male-oriented nets for sponsorships and specials, including Spike; FX (where the company will sponsor the premiere episode of drama “The Riches” with limited commercial interruption); and TNT, where Tarantino will host a “Kill Bill” double feature and flog “Grindhouse.”

Despite the heavy marketing, Weinstein Co. is careful not to reveal too much before the release; as an insider puts it, “The mystique is part of the marketing.”

The mystique has led to some confusion. A recent New York Times piece sought to emphasize the daunting two-in-one film, but the newspaper piece made the film’s central concept hard to fathom.

And online interest has been occasionally too enthusiastic. The Weinstein Co. had to ask that YouTube remove some unauthorized footage that had leaked on to the site.

As much an educational experiment as a movie release — many members of a younger generation aren’t familiar with exploitation pics — the company has to explain the genre even as it markets the movie.

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