America Saga sets patriotic pics

Private investors to fund TV projects

A group of private investors has created America Saga Prods. to bankroll as many as five longform projects a year “portraying the best in America.”

First on the drawing board is “The Line,” a four-hour contemporary thriller about violence along the U.S.-Mexican border, with Robert Duvall to star and direct.

Two movie and television veterans have signed up to help shepherd America Saga: Nick Grillo, who was a top production exec for Neufeld/Rehme on movies including “The Hunt for Red October” and “Clear and Present Danger,” and Jerry Offsay, who spent 10 years as president of programming for Showtime and now runs his own company, Parkchester Prods.

Michael Leighton, who’s chairman of investment company Sentinel America, the parent of America Saga, said he’ll shoulder the entire $12 million cost of “The Line.” Instead of asking for a license fee from the broadcast or cable network that ends up carrying “The Line,” America Saga will cover its production cost by taking a share of the advertising revenues from the network run and by distributing the pic to TV and DVD outlets outside the U.S.

American Saga hopes to lure name actors and directors, Leighton said, by sharing a portion of those aftermarket profits with them. In a statement, Duvall signed off on Leighton’s “assurances that we will participate in a true, precise share of adjusted worldwide-gross revenues.”

The company’s goal is to finance five projects a year, none longer than four hours, at production costs that range from a low of $12 million to as high as $25 million for a lavish historical epic.

The website of Sentinel America makes it clear that its toppers don’t like much of the content in current TV programming. American television, the company says, “both overtly and subtly demeans, assails and belittles American patriotism and traditional values and standards.”

But Offsay, a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Sentinel America’s general statement of principles doesn’t mean the movies will peddle right-wing propaganda. “We’ll do mainstream commercial projects, which won’t be tied to politics, whether left, right or center,” he said. “If we get up on a soapbox, the movies won’t be entertaining, and nobody will watch them.”

The projects will certainly go easy on the sex and violence. “We don’t want a project to come out looking like vanilla,” Leighton said. “But we do want it to be advertiser-friendly, something that the whole family can enjoy.”

“The Line,” which begins a seven-week shoot in the fall, reunites Duvall with his producing partner Rob Carliner and screenwriter Alan Geoffrion The trio teamed on the AMC two-part movie “Broken Trail,” which won four Emmys in 2006 and scored the highest ratings in the cabler’s history.

Leighton said he, Grillo and Offsay will start pitching networks on taking “The Line” later this month.

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