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KCET to Premiere Indie on 'Opening Night' Film Series

Television: The new venture is expected to provide a showcase for unreleased movies.

April 21, 1998|ROBIN RAUZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here's the way things work: a movie gets made, shown in theaters, released on video and only then broadcast on TV.

At least that's the way things normally work.

Kicking off an unusual series called "Opening Night," public television station KCET-TV Channel 28 will broadcast the independent film "Driven" on Wednesday at 9 p.m. Then, on Friday, the film will open at the Laemmle's Monica in Santa Monica and the Cinemapolis in Anaheim Hills.

"It's totally contrary to the prevailing distribution mechanism today," said Jackie Kain, KCET's director of performance and broadcasting. The station plans to air new films quarterly at first but hopes to broadcast them monthly or even weekly in the future. Each film will be followed by an interview with the filmmakers.

"Driven's" writer-director Michael Paradies Shoob and cinematographer Joseph Mealey pitched the idea to Al Jerome, president of KCET. Jerome has made a point of trying to strengthen ties with Hollywood, Kain said.

"Driven" stars Chad Lowe, Tony Todd, Whip Hubley and Daniel Roebuck as drivers for a Los Angeles taxi company and is based on Shoob's experience as a cabby. The film was screened in several festivals, including Toronto, Palm Springs and the underground Slamdance festival. A distributor bought the international rights, but despite good reviews, Shoob couldn't find a satisfactory domestic distribution arrangement.

"Opening Night" offers potential mutual benefits for KCET and the filmmakers. Though it seems counterintuitive, Shoob believes that showing the film free on TV will make people want to see it in theaters.

"My experience has been that after people see the movie, they want to talk about it and encourage other people to go see it," Shoob said. "I think it's a chance to resurrect the movie and create an excitement. While there are going to be the rare 'Full Monty' or 'Sling Blade' in theaters, it is still really difficult for an independent movie to get attention."

For KCET, showing independent films fills a hole in their--and PBS'--programming: American drama. Since the end of "American Playhouse," all the drama on PBS has been British, Kain said. The station anticipates that a majority of the films will come from American independent filmmakers.

"I want our audience to see new work that is smart, has a fresh perspective, that tells unusual stories," Kain said. Selecting the films may be a chore: KCET has only a three-person screening committee. But Kain hopes to tap into the expertise of organizations such as the American Film Institute, American Cinematheque and the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival for help and guidance.

It is not entirely unprecedented for a film to air on TV before it lands in theaters, but in all the previous cases the films have been on cable pay channels. Showtime struck theatrical release deals for "Drunks" and "Losing Chase." HBO's documentaries "The Celluloid Closet" and "Paradise Lost" wound up in theaters. John Dahl's acclaimed films "Red Rock West" and "The Last Seduction" were seen on HBO but released theatrically after they did well in individual theaters. The relatively new Sundance Channel spawned "Dogs: The Rise and Fall of an All-Girl Bookie Joint" and "Notes From Underground," which then landed in theaters.

Bingham Ray, co-president of October Films, said Shoob is fortunate to get a public television broadcast of his film. Since it's on PBS, which carries an eclectic mix of noncommercial programs, "Driven" won't necessarily be stigmatized as a "made-for-TV movie," Ray said.

There is a downside, however. Because the film has already completed the festival circuit, Ray said, the TV broadcast "would effectively end 'Driven's' chance of getting theatrical distribution in any concerted manner."

A few broadcasts don't necessarily hurt a film, as Ray found out when October distributed "The Last Seduction" after its HBO run. The film went on to gross $6.2 million. But the HBO broadcasts ruled out the film's chance for Academy Award consideration. In the case of "The Last Seduction," that meant Linda Fiorentino couldn't be nominated for an Oscar even though she won a New York Film Critics Circle award.

Kain and Shoob agree that such rules are arcane, especially as TV and film outlets become more fluid. But for Shoob, the more important thing is getting "Driven" seen by an audience.

Noted Shoob: "If the only way we can get it out there is get it on TV, it seems like a good idea to us."

* REVIEW OF 'DRIVEN'

Passionate performances fuel a new independent film about a group of L.A. cabbies. F10

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