New HBO Films Unit Wants Honed Edge

Author:
Publish date:

Tougher competition in the made-for-TV-film category
prompted Home Box Office to merge its two movie units, which will allow the programmer to
expand the scope and talent base of its telepics, according to company officials.

"We want to completely revitalize our movie
slate," said Colin Callender, who was named president of the new HBO Films unit,
which was created through the consolidation of HBO Pictures and HBO NYC.

"We want to protect the core qualities that our movies
have, but broaden the range of audiences that we speak to and attract more
filmmakers," he added.

The newly formed film unit comes as HBO -- which has been
aggressively moving into the series genre with shows such as The Sopranos --is
looking to keep its competitive edge in terms of original movies.

While HBO once had a stranglehold on that programming, and
it consistently walks away with the Emmy Award for best original movie, a wide variety of
premium and basic services -- from Showtime to Turner Network Television to MTV: Music
Television to Black Entertainment Television -- are currently producing original movies.

HBO has aired nine original movies this year, and it plans
to increase that volume to 12 to 15 per year, Callender said.

The creation of HBO Films marks the second stage of an HBO
restructuring that began in April and resulted in the resignation of HBO Pictures
president John Matoian.

At the time, Chris Albrecht was promoted to president of
HBO Original Programming -- a move that added overseeing films to his duties. As a result,
Matoian left, and Callender was promoted to the slot of president of HBO Original Movies.

Callender had previously been executive vice president of
HBO NYC, a boutique unit that created more offbeat, less mainstream movies for the premium
service.

With the most recent reorganization, HBO is looking to
create a range of movies from lower-budget, independent-type films to its traditional
big-event movies, according to Callender.

"We don't want to segment those two approaches,"
he said. "I want our more mainstream work to be informed by the edgier values of HBO
NYC."

Merging both the NYC boutique unit and the more mainstream
division will hopefully bring "an entrepreneurial era of activity" to HBO and
permit it "to bring to the screen material that we may not have gotten before,"
Callender said.

HBO also wants to reach new audiences with its latest movie
slate, he said. For example, one of its new projects is Cheaters, a look at a
true-life scandal in a contemporary high school that will star Jeff Daniels. That telepic
is aimed at younger viewers than HBO typically targets.

"It's a movie we wouldn't have made before,"
Callender said.

HBO Films will also be open to cofinancing movies --
something that Callender said HBO did in its early days, roughly 15 to 20 years ago, but
then stopped doing. HBO began fully financing its movies so that it could retain total
control over them, according to Callender,

"We decided to fully finance so we would be in control
of our destiny," he said. "We can still fully finance our movies, but where
there is third-party foreign funding, we will consider that."

HBO's mainstream movies are typically budgeted at $8
million to $10 million.

HBO Films' production slate also includes Path to War,
which will be directed by Barry Levinson and co-executive-produced by Levinson and Tom
Fontana.

Wesley Snipes will star in and executive-produce Disappearing
Acts
, based on the best-selling novel by Terry McMillan. And Dame Judi Dench will star
in The Last of the Blonde Bombshells,from the producers of Fargo and
Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Related