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Lionsgate gets creative

Best known for films, the studio is finding ways to get TV series off the ground or back on track despite strike.

February 01, 2008|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

A week ago, Lionsgate executives and striking writers wouldn't have spoken to one another. Then came an announcement that the studio, a small, independent production company best known for films such as "Monster's Ball," "Fahrenheit 9/11" and the "Saw" franchise, had signed an interim deal with the Writers Guild of America.

And then another announcement -- that its television arm had a new project underway, a series based on its Oscar-winning film "Crash" for Starz.

Now, the studio is coping with "an avalanche of e-mails from show runners saying, 'Keep me in mind,' " said Kevin Beggs, president of programming and production for Lionsgate's television group.

Beggs said: "We're putting people back to work. Every reaction I've had so far has been positive and fairly gracious."

Riding a tide of good will, the studio is trying to savor the moment while hustling to get its shows on track. The deal also allows writers on other Lionsgate-produced shows, AMC's "Mad Men" and Showtime's "Weeds," to return to work as soon as Monday.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, February 02, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Lionsgate: An article in Friday's Calendar section about Lionsgate's efforts to get its TV series back into production referred to the firm as "a small, independent production company." While Lionsgate is small compared with the conglomerate members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the company is known as a mini-major studio with a substantial worldwide distribution arm.

As far as staffing, "Weeds" and "Mad Men" will basically pick up where they left off, Beggs said. "Weeds," heading into its fourth season, generally begins shooting in January and hasn't lost ground, but "Mad Men" was scheduled to start production on its second season in November and will have to speed up to make its summer deadline, he said.

And new writers and a show runner are crucial to help define the scope of "Crash," which will begin shooting this spring.

"Crash," based on the 2005 film about race and class in Los Angeles, is being produced by the same creative team involved in the film but will have new and different characters and a wider spectrum of issues, Beggs said.

Director Paul Haggis had originally envisioned "Crash" as a television series, and Beggs said when he saw the film, "My TV wheels started spinning immediately -- the style of storytelling is very episodic, with long arcing stories. There was plenty I wanted to know about what happened after it ended.

"The internal rule we made for ourselves is that we would only be interested in following a character if the original actor would be available to do it," he said. "If we were so lucky to attract the original actors, we would be thrilled," he said. So far, that hasn't happened.

Until recently, the series had been in development at FX Networks. However, Beggs said because FX had filled its schedule with returning series, it would have been at least a year for "Crash," a series of 13 hourlong episodes, to air.

"We didn't want to wait that long," Beggs said. "They graciously let us have it back."

Meanwhile, he said executives at Starz Entertainment were looking for film industry-related projects or titles to adapt to series. "We said, 'You're in luck.' Then the strike began."

Lionsgate has been in the television business for a decade, finding a spot on the map with shows such as USA's "Dead Zone." Beggs said his mission had always been to echo the studio's art-house successes in quality, left-of-center, provocative writing.

"We're taking on an arena networks have not done. Our signature should be high quality and risk-taking," he said.

Besides "Crash," Lionsgate is also producing a horror anthology, "Fear Itself," for NBC, expected to launch this summer.

Beggs said the interim agreement has worked to attract talented writers to Lionsgate projects.

"I think people would all like to get back to work. Some are financially motivated. And talented people need to do what they do. Artists need to make art. It's part of their DNA. They're not as complete as people as they might normally be."

--

lynn.smith@latimes.com

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