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For Maloofs, Blood Is Key to Gutsy Bets

A clan that controls a sports and gaming empire is making a play for Hollywood by helping to bankroll the campy, gory `Feast.' Are they in it for fun or fame?

September 25, 2006|Claire Hoffman | Times Staff Writer

When one goes Hollywood, where better to do it than from a booth at the Beverly Hills Hotel's famed Polo Lounge?

Which is where the brothers Maloof were jammed last week, proudly showing off their Screen Actors Guild cards as they explained why they were plunging into the treacherous movie business when their family had a perfectly adequate gaming and basketball empire.

This weekend, the Maloof-financed horror flick "Feast" opened in a limited theatrical debut in advance of its pre-Halloween DVD release. The film's credits read like the RSVP list for a family reunion: brothers Gavin, George Jr., Joe and Phil are executive producers, as is sister Adrienne and mother Colleen. Even in nepotistic Hollywood, that's a lot of family blood on one project.

With flesh-eating monsters the main attraction, "Feast" emerged out of the Bravo TV series "Project Greenlight." The reality show features aspiring screenwriters and directors who make films with the help of actors-cum-producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

In the latest season, filmmaker John Gulager and others labored to bring his campy monster movie to the big screen, with horror legend Wes Craven even showing up as a producer. But as the gore flowed, the money dried up. Enter the Maloofs.

"We were like the white knights," said Phil Maloof, 39, the youngest of the brothers, who has been named family point man on all things Hollywood. "They were short. And so we pitched in and gave them enough to finish the last week."

That final shove allowed the movie to be completed, with the family's ticket into Hollywood costing just $700,000. Equally important as supplying funds, the Maloofs have activated their well-oiled marketing machine to promote the film.

The family, whose Maloof Cos. is based in Las Vegas, is best known for turning the Palms Hotel and Casino, just off the Las Vegas Strip, into one of the hippest resorts in the U.S. In Sacramento, the Maloofs' Kings NBA franchise regularly packs Arco Arena despite being one of the league's smaller-market teams. The family's Sacramento Monarchs recently made it to the WNBA finals, but lost.

Now, the low-budget monster movie they bankrolled is being marketed to the millions of fans and guests the Maloofs entertain. Visitors to the Arco Arena may see a trailer flash across the Jumbotron, while guests at the Palms will find the "Feast" DVD tucked near the peanuts in their rooms. The Maloofs also are aspiring music moguls. They featured one of their artists, Narwhal, on the film's soundtrack via the Maloof label they created with Interscope Records in 2004.

"We're fusing the Kings with the Palm, the Palm with Hollywood and Hollywood with the Kings," said Gavin Maloof, 49, who oversees the Kings with Joe.

It's what the family likes to call the Maloof touch, which happens to be the name of a reality TV series they are pitching in which they go about their business with jocular enthusiasm. Once, the brothers put up a billboard in Sacramento in which they offered to personally mow a star player's lawn if he signed a new contract with the Kings.

"They are creative guys who like to have fun," said fellow NBA owner Mark Cuban, who also has dabbled in Hollywood.

Successful entrepreneurs have responded to Hollywood's siren call since movies' earliest days, with many finding it full of financial land mines. In the last decade, German and Japanese investors were burned badly.

However, Joe Maloof, 50, insists that the family has a talent for fun. There's an added benefit, he said, in having an operation in which any family member can veto an idea.

"Even though we're rookies at this, we've got a great track record," he said. "If you do deals with good people, you won't get hurt. We won't do a project unless we feel 100% about it."

Ahead are three movies in development, two TV shows, CDs on a budding music label and even acting gigs for the four brothers in a Carl's Jr. ad. As they interrupt one another to rattle off the projects they've taken on, they fall quiet when an attentive waiter serves up a steak. The brothers all murmur, mantra-like, the primary importance of "service, service, service" and "taking care of the customer and taking care of the employee."

That credo is what built the Maloof fortune, they say. Although their wealth -- which Forbes magazine estimates at $1 billion -- has grown significantly in recent decades, the trail to it was blazed by a grandfather who emigrated from Lebanon to New Mexico a century ago, eventually securing the rights to distribute Coors beer.

After son George took over in 1944, he eventually expanded the distributorship to the entire state, which the family still holds today. The hard-driving George built up holdings that once included hotels, a trucking company, a bank and the NBA's Houston Rockets. After he died in 1980, the businesses were turned over to his wife and five children, including his boys, who had apprenticed for him starting on the beer trucks.

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