‘Hounddog’ dogged by conservatives

Empire Film acquisition critically lambasted

Not all press is good press after all.

Just ask execs at Empire Film Group, who are licking their wounds after opening their troubled Dakota Fanning starrer “Hounddog” last week.

The distrib forked over a $1 million advance for a re-edit of the film which features a more mature perf from the youthful Fanning, as well as a notorious rape scene. It was hoped the new cut would eclipse a disastrous Sundance preem, early negative reviews and efforts by interest groups to keep the pic out of theaters.

“Hounddog” was to be the flagship for a new kind of product at Empire. The publicly traded company owns the literary and DVD publisher Hannover House, which helped it post a Q2 profit with films like “Blonde and Blonder” and “Tyra Banks: Supermodels in the Rainforest.” For Q3, the company had projected “Hounddog” would help bring $5 million in revenues and establish Empire as a new specialty banner.

On the eve of the pic’s New York premiere, Empire CEO of distribution Eric Parkinson was happy with the press. The new edit had brought some good reviews and a half-page New York Times feature. “That feature story has 100 times the impact than the small ad we took out,” says Parkinson.

Also having an impact, however, were the Christian Film and TV Commission and the Catholic League, which have lobbied against the film ever since script pages of the rape scene appeared on the Smoking Gun during the pic’s Sundance debut.

“Hounddog” opened to just over $13,000 on 11 screens.

“We got dogged at the box office,” Parkinson says. “The censorship campaign pushed us into lower-traffic locations and destined the film for lower grosses.”

Undeterred, Parkinson says the distrib will retool the release to secure the best possible theaters.