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ALMOST HOLLYWOOD...THEY'LL KILL FOR A CHANCE AT THE BIG TIME : . . . Just About Anything Goes in the Quest for Foreign Sales : Movies: At this year's American Film Market, international buyers aren't looking for art films. They want--and find--flying fists, nude women with guns, car crashes and lots of stunts.

March 03, 1994|ROBERT W. WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While debate rages in America over the level of violence in entertainment programming, Hollywood continues to spew out a steady stream of graphic movies to the world, many that end up on video in foreign countries.

For months Hollywood has been under siege by the White House, the Justice Department and segments of the public to clean up its act, forcing TV networks to tone down the content of shows and movie studios to boost production of family films.

Yet, for the past week in sun-drenched Santa Monica, hundreds of international buyers are trekking to the Loews Hotel for this year's American Film Market, on the hunt for product to fill their theaters, video outlets and air waves in their respective nations.

The sellers at the market are not the major studios but by and large small, low-end independent product suppliers, who are hawking such action/erotic titles as "Teenage Catgirls in Heat," a wacky comedy from the people at Troma, Inc., Crown International's "Housewife From Hell," "Skinner," an exploitative "Silence of the Lambs" wanna-be directed by Ivan Nagy of Heidi Fleiss fame.

Look down any hallway at the Loews, enter any guest suite, survey any display at the AFM--and the chances are good you'll see movie posters and slick brochures depicting actors brandishing guns. Show a seductive woman gripping a gun and you have the ultimate sales pitch.

Bob Kronovet pops a videocassette into the VCR and invites a guest to watch the trailers from a trio of low-budget films his company has produced. It doesn't take long for the action to commence.

*

Fists fly. Guns fire. People fall down dead. A partially-nude woman gets sliced up the belly by a madman named Jack. Two lifeless women sit side by side, their blood-smeared necks slit from ear to ear.

"I don't believe any of these films are violent just for violence's sake," Kronovet explains--perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek--over the sounds of women screaming and guns blazing in "Deadly Eyes," "L.A. Task Force" and "Blind Vengeance."

Kronovet is president of Gun for Hire Films, a small production company that is selling its product to foreign buyers at AFM.

"At Gun for Hire Films, we have a moral in our stories. The moral is very simple. The good guy wins, the bad guy loses hard," he says in an interview at which he hands a guest a complimentary key chain with a dangling miniature revolver.

To be sure, there are companies like Capella International, Miramax or Ciby 2000 that offer quality films with A-list actors and directors at the AFM, but most buyers come to find gunplay and sex. For discerning buyers, they can purchase such higher-quality films as "Nell" with Jodie Foster from PolyGram Film International, Jack Nicholson in "The Crossing Guard" from Miramax and "Two Bits" with Al Pacino and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio from Capella.

In addition, there are nine films for sale that were well-received at the Sundance Film Festival.

But whether it's the promise of an action film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, which Imperial Entertainment is pre-selling months before the untitled film is even shot, buyers know they aren't necessarily coming to AFM to purchase art-house pictures.

Those film companies that have artsy dramas and comedies for sale, find that they just don't sell like hard action movies or erotic thrillers.

"Dogs Bark Blue," a family drama about two boys trying to work through the death of their father, proved to be a tough sell, according to Scott Wiseman, executive vice president of Falcon Arts & Entertainment. On the other hand, he has had success with "Hard Evidence," which he describes as "a 'Lethal Weapon' kind of action film--car chases, explosions, gunshots."

Wiseman said foreign buyers rarely want to know about the plots of his movies.

"I had some buyers from Brazil who came in and said they wanted erotic pictures with a story line, " Wiseman recalled with a laugh. "I looked at them and said, 'Yeah, one or the other, which one do you want? I got them both.' "

Knowing that censorship varies from country to country, some sellers shoot several versions of their films.

"Improper Conduct," a story of sexual harassment in the workplace from Everest Entertainment, was filmed in three versions: G-rated for American television, an R-rated version for late-night cable, and an even stronger version for video outlets.

"Japan would like a lot of sex but not violence and sex combined," said Jag Mundhra, president of Everest. "But many European markets want stronger films."

Buyers from Eastern Europe, where communist governments once prevented gratuitous violence or erotic entertainment, now want both, AFM vendors say.

"We distribute to Eastern Europe and they do not want films that are cut," said Arthur Schweitzer, president of Cinevest Entertainment Group. "They'll take gratuitous violence. . . . On the other side, we deal with Islamic republics and these countries, whether they be Malaysia or Pakistan or other countries, have strict censorship of gratuitous violence."

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