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Company Town : REPORT FROM CANNES

Another Twist in the Path to Filmdom

May 09, 1997|MARK SAYLOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CANNES, France — It's not quite Ingmar Bergman, but in his own small way, Adam Berns figures he's done something no one else in the movie industry ever has.

Berns, 35, a Los Angeles-based producer, is attending the 50th edition of the International Film Festival this week, selling what he says is the first film derived from a live-action, interactive game.

There have been other efforts to make movies from successful computer games, notably "Mortal Kombat" and "Super Mario Brothers." And there have been efforts to create movies simultaneously with CD-ROM games.

Berns' unique twist in the multimedia business was to film the game with financing from a game company, hold on to the underlying film rights, then return later to make a movie.

His is one of the more than 1,000 movies being hawked at Cannes to film distributors from virtually every country in the world.

The effort to build a small company starting with one movie contrived in an almost bizarre way underscores the wildly

chaotic nature of the international film marketplace and its thousands of buyers and sellers with their varying levels of credibility, experience and financial wherewithal.

"We wanted to be in the movie business, and this was a way to do it that sidestepped the agencies and the other usual routes," said Berns, a hyper-energetic former lawyer for Latham & Watkins.

This is not a path for the faint of heart, and Berns doesn't recommend it to others. But he's happy with how it worked for him and for 3vision, the company he founded with his brother Michael, who directed the movie, and Matt Pyken, who co-produced it.

After working as a lawyer and as an assistant in the talent agency business, the MBA-trained Berns decided the clearest path to the entertainment business was in the fast-changing interactive industry, which is less mature than the movie or television world, which have their own established methods of doing business.

The upshot is "Fox Hunt," an over-the-top action comedy that Berns describes as "James Bond meets 'Dumb and Dumber.' " It will be distributed on television and directly to video.

His company began with a low-budget live-action interactive game, "National Lampoon's Blind Date." With that under their belt, the company founders persuaded game company Capcom to give them more than $1 million to produce "Fox Hunt," which came out early last year and has sold about 50,000 copies for CD-ROM and Sony PlayStations.

The company persuaded Timothy Bottoms and Rob Lowe to play small parts, and it shot more than three hours on 16mm film--including nine different endings--to make the game. Berns and his partners earned a small fee while keeping both international rights and the rights to the film stock.

Berns made his first visit to Cannes last year, bringing with him a trailer for the proposed movie assembled from footage shot for the game. Represented by Venice, Calif.-based sales agent Redwood Communications, Berns sold rights to the film in about a dozen countries, including Germany, Korea and Brazil.

That gave the company sufficient funding--a few hundred thousand dollars--to shoot fresh footage and combine the old and new into a movie that may not be great art but will make some money for the creators.

Berns expects to gross about $1.5 million when he finishes selling the film. He's still searching for a U.S. distributor.

Berns concedes that his company's method is not likely to be emulated soon. Among other things, he had to negotiate with the Screen Actors Guild so he could use the footage, shot under an interactive contract, for a film.

Now Berns and his partners want to continue in the movie business, and Berns is trying to find financing for several other projects here.

Noting that "Fox Hunt" the game required about 20,000 edits to handle its complex interactive story flow, compared with about 900 for "Fox Hunt" the movie, Berns says, "After doing interactive, movies are simple."

Really Important:

Before the 50th edition of the film festival is over May 18, there are likely to be many superlatives thrown about. The first is that French film company Gaumont may have set a record for the most expensive party ever thrown in Cannes.

After the elaborate opening ceremonies and screening of the film "The Fifth Element" at the Palais des Festivals on Wednesday night, Gaumont sponsored a party for hundreds of guests that cost more than a million dollars--according to some sources, more than $3 million.

"The Fifth Element," a cartoonish sci-fi film directed by Luc Besson and starring Bruce Willis, is the most expensive French film ever made, at a cost of $70 million or more. Sony is distributing the film in the U.S., where it opens today.

For the party, the company built a tented structure covering about an acre alongside the yacht basin. It was designed to resemble the futuristic flying cruise ship from planet Phloston in the film. Guests had to display specially designed Swatch watches to gain entrance.

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