News for 3/16/2005

Weekend Boxoffice

'Robots' Tops Box Office Over 'Pacifier'

LOS ANGELES (AP) - "Robots" handily won the battle of family films at the weekend box office, bringing in just over $36 million. Vin Diesel's hit "The Pacifier" lost its one-week grip on first place with an $18.1 million take.

The top 20 movies at North American theaters Friday through Sunday, followed by distribution studio, gross, number of theater locations, average receipts per location, total gross and number of weeks in release, as compiled Monday by Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. and Nielsen EDI Inc.:

1. "Robots," Fox, $36,045,301, 3,776 locations, $9,546 average, $36,045,301, one week.

2. "The Pacifier," Disney, $18,152,357, 3,166 locations, $5,734 average, $54,477,697, two weeks.

3. "Be Cool," MGM, $10,250,128, 3,216 locations, $3,187 average, $38,375,714, two weeks.

4. "Hostage," Miramax, $10,214,734, 2,123 locations, $4,811 average, $10,214,734, one week.

5. "Hitch," Sony, $8,786,575, 2,975 locations, $2,953 average, $149,840,901, five weeks.

6. "Million Dollar Baby," Warner Bros., $5,153,356, 2,375 locations, $2,170 average, $84,054,207, 13 weeks.

7. "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," Lions Gate, $4,876,399, 1,605 locations, $3,038 average, $44,019,656, three weeks.

8. "Constantine," Warner Bros., $3,838,380, 2,170 locations, $1,769 average, $66,518,726, four weeks.

9. "Man of the House," Sony, $1,770,456, 1,903 locations, $930 average, $16,523,056, three weeks.

10. "Cursed," Dimension, $1,564,363, 1,687 locations, $927 average, $17,759,198, three weeks.

11. "Because of Winn-Dixie," Fox, $1,432,433, 1,702 locations, $842 average, $29,015,769, four weeks.

12. "The Aviator," Miramax, $1,359,048, 1,002 locations, $1,356 average, $99,061,021, 13 weeks.

13. "The Jacket," Warner Independent, $1,339,283, 1,331 locations, $1,006 average, $4,990,169, two weeks.

14. "Sideways," Fox Searchlight, $1,326,550, 804 locations, $1,650 average, $68,124,638, 21 weeks.

15. "Bride and Prejudice," Miramax, $826,724, 282 locations, $2,932 average, $3,861,584, five weeks.

16. "Hotel Rwanda," MGM/UA, $678,012, 485 locations, $1,398 average, $21,761,845, 12 weeks.

17. "Finding Neverland," Miramax, $604,386, 500 locations, $1,209 average, $50,497,544, 18 weeks.

18. "Are We There Yet?," Sony, $506,452, 843 locations, $601 average, $79,535,490, eight weeks.

19. "Meet the Fockers," Universal, $430,745, 397 locations, $1,085 average, $276,573,235, 12 weeks.

20. "The Incredibles," Disney, $404,137, 361 locations, $1,119 average, $260,658,938, 19 weeks.

Sam Jackson Snakes onto 'Flight'

LOS ANGELES ( - Samuel L. Jackson, one of the busiest men in Hollywood, has signed on for yet another film.

The 56-year-old actor will star in the New Line thriller "Flight 121," report news sources.

The project centers on an FBI agent (Jackson) whose goal is to bring a mob boss to justice. He puts a witness in protective custody and transports him on a commercial flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the wicked mob boss has loaded the cargo hold with a slew of deadly snakes.

The film was previously known as the much more delightful and descriptive title "Snakes on a Plane."

"Cellular" director David Ellis will begin shooting in May.

Jackson next reprises his roles in the upcoming "XXX" sequel and the final "Star Wars" installment "Revenge of the Sith," which will be released April 29 and May 19, respectively.

Left Behind: World War III Starts Production

Source: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Left Behind - World War III -- the latest installment of the Christian-themed films based on the hugely popular "Left Behind" series of books, has begun principal photography in Toronto. Oscar-winner Lou Gossett, Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman, TV's Resurrection Boulevard) and Kirk Cameron (TV's Growing Pains, "Left Behind" movies) lead the cast under the helm of highly respected director Craig P. Baxley (Storm of the Century, Kingdom Hospital). The feature film will be produced by Cloud Ten Pictures working closely with the creative group at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

"Signing on a respected, Oscar winning actor like Lou Gossett, Jr. is a clear indicator of the new direction we seek to take with Christian film," says producer Andre van Heerden. "Collaborating with the creative team at Sony has provided a different level of expertise in everything from casting, the script, the visual effects and the overall feature film feel this film will have. Yet, the core gospel message remains squarely in our hands."

After the film's theatrical release, Left Behind - World War III will be distributed on DVD and videocassette by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (SPE) as part of its overall video distribution deal for the faith-based product produced by Cloud Ten.

Benjamin S. Feingold, the President of SPHE notes that there is a growing marketplace for faith-based films. "The Cloud Ten slate of titles has performed very well and their popularity will continue to increase as awareness and product availability among its unique audience widens. SPE is delighted to be able to work with Cloud Ten to broaden the availability of these films in the home entertainment market."

The "Left Behind" films are based on "The New York Times" #1 Best-selling books which have achieved phenomenal popularity throughout the world and which have sold more than 60 million copies combined. Written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the books follow the lives and struggles of those left behind on Earth after the Rapture takes place as foretold in The Bible.

Video Software Dealers Association named the first Left Behind film "Best Selling Title of the Year by an Independent Studio" and the next film debuted at the U.S. box office second only to Spider-Man.

'Ray' Gets Prism Award Nod

LOS ANGELES ( - Jamie Foxx is up for another award.

The Oscar winner nominated for a Prism award for his portrayal of late blues genius Ray Charles, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Entertainment Industries Council, Inc. (EIC) annually presents the Prism Awards for outstanding efforts in the accurate depiction of drug, alcohol and tobacco use and addiction in film, television, interactive, comic books, music, and video entertainment.

Besides Foxx, the film itself is also nominated in the best picture category, competing against the Cole Porter biopic "De-Lovely," the comic book-inspired "The Punisher" and "Walking Tall," starring The Rock.

Foxx's contenders in the best film performance category include John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson for "A Love Song for Bobby Long," Ashley Judd for "De-Lovely" and Christopher Walken for "Around the Bend."

In television, ABC leads the networks with 16 nominations.

The ninth annual Prism Awards will be held on Thursday, April 28.

Pantoliano & Faison Get Under My Skin

Source: Production Weekly

Joe Pantoliano and Donald Faison (Scrubs) will star in Under My Skin for brothers Mike and Steve Cerrone, who will make their directorial debut on the film. The duo co-wrote the feature with Glenn Nicholas Ciano.

In the film, little Renato is found floating in a river in Italy and is then spirited off to the U.S., where he is raised by his doting parents Enzo (Pantoliano) and Maria. But Renato (Faison) happens to be African American by birth, and the truth about his parentage takes him - and his Jewish girlfriend Laura - completely by surprise.

Filming is scheduled to begin next month on location in Providence, Rhode Island.

American Gangster Gets Another Shot

Source: Variety

Universal Pictures and Imagine are ready to give American Gangster another chance with Hotel Rwanda writer/director Terry George, reports Variety.

In October, weeks before production was set to begin, the studio pulled the plug because of fears that the period film would cost more than $100 million. Antoine Fuqua was to direct Denzel Washington and Benicio Del Toro, who both had pay-or-play deals.

Imagine's Brian Grazer and Universal vice chairman Scott Stuber will redevelop the film with George into a $50 million project. It is rumored that George's Hotel Rwanda star Don Cheadle may play the lead role of Frank Lucas, the mastermind of a scheme to smuggle heroin into the U.S. in the caskets of soldiers killed in Vietnam.

Del Toro had been set to play narcotics lawman Richie Roberts, who brought down the Harlem drug kingpin called Superfly and then drafted Lucas to help bring down the dirty cops and overseas conspirators who made it easy to import heroin into the U.S.

Revolution Studios' Rent Begins Production

Source: Revolution Studios

Filming has begun in New York and San Francisco on Revolution Studios' Rent, an adaptation of the acclaimed Broadway musical of the same name, it was announced today. Directed by Chris Columbus from a screenplay by Columbus and Stephen Chbosky, the film will be released by Columbia Pictures on November 11th, 2005.

Rent is being produced for Revolution Studios by Robert DeNiro and Jane Rosenthal and 1492 Pictures' Columbus, Mark Radcliffe and Michael Barnathan. Jeffrey Seller, Kevin McCollum, Allan S. Gordon and Lata Ryan are serving as executives producers. Julie Larson, sister of the late Jonathan Larson, serves as co-producer.

Based on Puccini's classic opera La Boheme, Jonathan Larson's revolutionary rock opera Rent tells the story of a group of bohemians struggling to live and pay their rent in the gritty background of New York's East Village. "Measuring their lives in love," these starving artists strive for success and acceptance while enduring the obstacles of poverty, illness and the AIDS epidemic.

One of the longest running shows on Broadway, "Rent" was the winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Obie Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, four Tony Awards and three Drama Desk awards.

"'Rent' is one of the most influential musicals of this generation, and we are tremendously excited to be able to bring the film adaptation to the screen," said Revolution Studios founder Joe Roth. "Chris Columbus is the ideal filmmaker to deliver a faithful yet cutting-edge adaptation of Jonathan Larson's compelling story to existing fans of the musical and to a brand new audience."

"When we learned that Chris Columbus was going to be directing 'Rent,' we were thrilled beyond belief," said Julie Larson. "Everyone involved with the production has become part of our ever-expanding family, and we are all delighted that this movie will be the next chapter in the continuing legacy of Jonathan's vision."

The cast features many of the original Broadway performers who originated the roles in 1996, along with several other notable actors.

Taye Diggs originated the role of Benjamin "Benny" Coffin III. Diggs currently stars in and produces the television series Kevin Hill. His film credits include Basic, Chicago, Brown Sugar and The Best Man.

Wilson Jermaine Heredia originated the role of Angel Schunard, for which he won a Tony Award. His film credits include Flawless and Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God ... Be Back by Five.

Jesse L. Martin originated the role of Thomas B. "Tom" Collins. His other credits include his portrayal of Detective Ed Green in Law & Order and a recurring role on Ally McBeal.

Idina Menzel originated the role of Maureen Johnson. In 2004, Menzel won a Tony Award for her role in "Wicked." Her film credits include Ask the Dusk, The Tollbooth, Just a Kiss and Kissing Jessica Stein.

Adam Pascal originated the role of Roger Davis. His Broadway credits include "Cabaret" and "Aida." He also starred in the feature films School of Rock and SLC Punk.

Anthony Rapp originated the role of Mark Cohen. His film credits include A Beautiful Mind, Road Trip, Twister, Six Degrees of Separation, Dazed and Confused and School Ties.

Rosario Dawson will portray Mimi Marquez. She will next appear in the film Sin City. Her credits include Alexander, Shattered Glass, 25th Hour and Men in Black II.

Tracie Thoms will play Joanne Jefferson. Her credits include the film Warrior Class and the televisions series Wonderfalls and As If.

Chris Columbus most recently directed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He also directed Mrs. Doubtfire, Home Alone and Stepmom.

Revolution Studios was formed by Joe Roth in May 2000 to independently produce and finance films in partnership with Sony Pictures, Starz Encore Group and Fox Entertainment Group.

Rock Comedy Rolls to UPN

LOS ANGELES ( Think of it as "Chris Rock Me, Baby." Or, better yet, don't. UPN has greenlit a semi-autobiographical comedy from Chris Rock.

"Everybody Hates Chris" was originally developed by FOX as a possible late pilot addition last spring when it was a 20th Century Fox TV production. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the single-camera comedy has been moved to Paramount Network TV, where it will still be executive produced by Rock and Ali LeRoi along with Michael Rotenberg and Dave Becky of 3 Arts Entertainment.

The series is described as a coming-of-age comedy about the eldest of three African-American children raised by a strict family and attending a mostly white Brooklyn school in the 1980s. It's based on Rock's own experiences and the comic will reportedly narrate the pilot.

Rock recently completed an exhaustively hyped appearance as host of ABC's Oscar telecast. Rock is also a three-time Emmy winner, picking up trophies for his HBO special "Bring the Pain" as well as his regular HBO show. A cast member on both "Saturday Night Live" and "In Living Color," Rock's other credits include "New Jack City," "Bad Company" and the upcoming remake of "The Longest Yard."

News for 3/10/2005

Was race an issue in ‘Hitch’ casting?

By Jeannette Walls

Casting Will Smith’s love interest in “Hitch” was not a simple black or white decision.

Eva Mendes was given the role opposite Smith because the moviemakers were worried about the public’s reaction if the part was given to a white or an African American actress, according to Smith. The actor is saying that it was feared that a black couple would have put off worldwide audiences whereas a white/African American combo would have offended viewers in the U.S.

“There’s sort of an accepted myth that if you have two black actors, a male and a female, in the lead of a romantic comedy, that people around the world don’t want to see it,” Smith told the British paper, the Birmingham Post while promoting the flick overseas. “We spend $50-something million making this movie and the studio would think that was tough on their investment. So the idea of a black actor and a white actress comes up — that’ll work around the world, but it’s a problem in the U.S.”

Eva Mendes — who is of Cuban descent — was seen as a solution because apparently, the black/Latina combination is not considered taboo.

Sony didn’t return calls for comment.

Chiwetel Ejiofor on Serenity

Source: Edward Douglas

Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor first got attention for his leading role in Stephen Frear's Dirty Pretty Things as an immigrant bellhop, and after a minor role in Spike Lee's last film, he kicks off 2005 by being the first black actor to have a major role in a Woody Allen film, the upcoming Melinda and Melinda.

Later this year, he will be starring in a few bigger films including Joss Whedon's science fiction epic Serenity, a feature film adaptation of his FOX show Firefly. While in Allen's hometown of New York to talk about Melinda and Melinda, Ejiofor told how working with Whedon compares to working with Allen on a significantly more moderate budget. "That was a very big jump, because Joss' mind in terms of science fiction is very different," he told us. "With both of them, there is an extraordinary amount of detail that goes into everything, but just the scale of it is extraordinary. It deals with universes and so on. It's the world of sci-fi but very intelligently put together. It was an extraordinary experience and I get to fight, a bit of general martial arts and hanging on wires."

He talked about playing a villain in the film. "I think that one of the great things about the profession is that you're able to tap into very different parts of yourself, and it's always exciting to do that. Villains are always pretty interesting to play. What he's trying to achieve in 'Serenity' is, in his belief, perfectly valid and can be argued for, so it's not an out-and-out villain in a sense. It's more someone who does bad things, but for what he perceives to be very good reasons.'

Ejiofor also just finished shooting The Kinky Boot Factory, about an Englishman trying to save an old shoe factory, and he'll be playing a bad guy in John Singleton's next film Four Brothers, a revenge-thriller which he shot in Toronto.

Melinda and Melinda opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 18. Serenity is scheduled to open on September 30, and the tentatively titled Four Brothers is scheduled to open on August 12.

Crystal & Franklin in Hairspray Talks

Source: Variety

Billy Crystal, now starring on Broadway in his autobiographical "700 Sundays," is in talks to play Wilbur Turnblad in New Line Cinema's Hairspray, says Variety. Also, Aretha Franklin is negotiating to play R&B record shop owner Motormouth Maybelle.

New Line said no offers would be made to cast the film until screenwriter Leslie Dixon (Mrs. Doubtfire, Look Who's Talking) finishes the script. She recently replaced the musical's original book writers, Thomas Meehan and Mark O'Donnell, on the project.

Hairspray is expected to go before the cameras in September. John Travolta is said to have the inside track to star as zaftig leading lady Edna Turnblad, Wilbur's wife.

The Rock and Ryan Reynolds Ride Along

Source: Variety

New Line is developing the action-comedy Ride Along as a starring vehicle for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, reports Variety.

Roger Kumble has just been set to direct the film, and he will do a rewrite of a Greg Coolidge script to tailor the film to the stars. Production on the film is targeted for later this year.

Johnson will play a tough cop who tries to halt a budding romance between his sister and a fellow schoolteacher.

Johnson, who currently can be seen in Be Cool, next stars as a football coach in the Sony drama Gridiron Gang.

Reynolds just wrapped the Kumble-directed Just Friends for New Line and will next be seen in the MGM/Dimension remake The Amityville Horror.

In My Country -Interview with Samuel L. Jackson, Juliet Binoche & John Boorman

La Salle Acquires a Marble Sky

Source: Variety

Former ER star Eriq La Salle's Humble Journey Films has acquired film rights to John Shors' "Beneath a Marble Sky: A Novel of the Taj Mahal" and has partnered with India-based Cinemaya Media to develop the project, reports Variety.

The novel is centered on the eldest daughter of the emperor who built the Taj Mahal. Humble Films executive Terri Lubaroff made the deal for the book, which was published last spring. La Salle and Lubaroff will produce.

The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by Hindustani emperor Shah Jahan to symbolize the love between him and his wife after she died during childbirth. The story traces the construction of the mausoleum against the background of war, rebellion and religious fundamentalism, and it contrasts the opulence of the court with the severe poverty of the citizens.

Lots of Eyes Watch Oprah's 'Watching God'

LOS ANGELES ( The past two Sundays have been "Desperate Housewives"-free, but that's scarcely mattered to ABC.

A week after the Oscars became the most-watched entertainment broadcast of the 2004-05 season (although their ratings dipped from last year), ABC followed that up with the top-rated TV movie in several years.

"Oprah Winfrey Presents: Their Eyes Were Watching God" attracted an audience of 24.5 million Sunday (March 6), according to preliminary Nielsen figures (final numbers are due Tuesday). That makes it the highest-rated telefilm since CBS aired the documentary "9/11" three years ago. (ABC makes the further distinction that the last fictional TV movie to draw a bigger audience aired in November 1999.)

"Their Eyes Were Watching God," an adaptation of the Zora Neale Hurston novel that stars Oscar winner Halle Berry, also drew an 8.5 rating among adults 18-49, the favorite demographic among advertisers. That too is the best performance by a TV movie since "9/11."

Both the total audience and 18-49 numbers compare favorably with the average for ABC's usual lineup for the time period, "Desperate Housewives" and "Boston Legal."

"Oprah Winfrey Presents" in the title of a movie usually translates to solid ratings, but Sunday's broadcast delivered the biggest audience under that banner since "Before Women Had Wings" in November 1997. "Watching God's" 18-49 ratings were the highest for a Winfrey-backed production since "The Wedding" in February 1998.

News for 3/7/2005

Weekend Boxoffice

'The Pacifier' Tops Weekend Box Office

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Vin Diesel's family-friendly comedy "The Pacifier" pulled in $30.2 million on its opening weekend to rank as the nation's top-grossing movie, turning his action-star image _ and box-office expectations _ upside down.

Proving he's more than biceps and tattoos, Diesel's performance as a Navy SEAL turned baby sitter easily outdistanced the weekend's other major opening, "Be Cool" with John Travolta.

"Be Cool," the sequel to the 1995 comedy "Get Shorty," took in $23.5 million for Travolta's largest weekend opening, according to studio estimates.

"'Pacifier' did better than anyone expected, but you can't underestimate the family audience," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box-office figures. "I think people like to see a fish-out-of-water story _ an action star in a very unexpected role."

In the Disney comedy, Diesel plays a tough guy who's brought down to size when he's forced into the role of a father figure. The PG-rated makeover recalled another action star's detour into comedy _ Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Kindergarten Cop," in which the actor known for the violent "Terminator" and "Conan" roles played a police officer facing a classroom of kids.

Diesel proved "the old axiom that funny is money," said Chuck Viane, Disney's head of distribution. Moviegoers want "to laugh and escape for a few hours."

The film earned an average $9,653 per theater, well ahead of "Be Cool," which averaged $7,307.

Holding the third spot was Will Smith's romantic comedy "Hitch," which took in $12.5 million to push its four-week total to $138 million.

"Diary of a Mad Black Woman," the top film last weekend, dropped to fourth place. Its $12 million box office was off 45 percent from the previous week. The drama-comedy is based on a script by Tyler Perry from his play of the same name and features him as a cross-dressed, gun-toting grandmother.

Big-studio films often plunge 50 percent or more in the second weekend.

In its 12th week, "Million Dollar Baby" appeared to get a lift from its haul of Academy Awards, including best picture. The film grossed $8.5 million to secure the fifth spot at the box office, up from $7.2 million and No. 6 in last weekend's rankings.

Miramax's "The Aviator" dropped out of the top 10, falling to 11th with $2.3 million.

Among film's with limited release, Warner Independent's "The Jacket," a time-travel story with Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley, was No. 10 with $2.7 million.

Final figures were to be released Monday.

Revenue from the top 12 movies was estimated at $111 million, down 16 percent from the same weekend last year, when Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" banked $53 million in its second weekend.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations:

1. "The Pacifier," $30.2 million.
2. "Be Cool," $23.5 million.
3. "Hitch," $12.5 million.
4. "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," $12 million.
5. "Million Dollar Baby," $8.5 million.
6. "Constantine," $6 million.
7. "Cursed," $3.9 million.
8. "Man of the House," $3.5 million.
9. "Because of Winn-Dixie," $3.4 million.
10. "The Jacket," $2.7 million.

News for 3/2/2005

'Black Woman' on Verge of Crossover at Box Office

By Nicole Sperling

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - When actor-writer Tyler Perry struck a deal with a top executive at Lions Gate Films early last year to produce and distribute his movie "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," they both agreed it would open huge and all of Hollywood would wonder where Perry had come from and how this little indie film could make such a splash.

Hollywood has responded in just that fashion, with the movie surprising everyone last weekend by opening at No. 1 with ticket sales of $22 million.

But Lions Gate production president Mike Paseornek is no soothsayer. He was paying attention to the growing buzz surrounding Perry, who is as much of an entrepreneur as he is an auteur. During the past 13 years, Perry has developed a loyal following among blacks nationwide with his one-man-band stage productions and DVD sales.

Now Lions Gate and Perry hope the No. 1 slot and a slew of publicity events, including Perry's scheduled appearance Friday on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" will help expose the romantic comedy to a crossover audience. Lions Gate will expand "Woman" this weekend by several hundred theaters from its current 1,483 -- less than half of the most of the movies in the top-10.

"It's a real testament to the management here, including (CEO) Jon Feltheimer, who supported and greenlit a movie with a guy they never heard of for an underserved audience," said Paseornek. "We believed in Tyler, and we believed in the people who we spoke to who knew all about him."

Lions Gate's confidence in Perry stretches beyond "Woman." The studio announced Friday that it has greenlighted a second Perry film, "Madea's Family Reunion," to be released in February. This time around, Lions Gate will finance the entire production, said to be bigger budgeted than "Woman." (For the first film, Perry contributed $2.5 million of his own financing to the $5.5 million production.)

All of Perry's success did not make the once-homeless New Orleans native an obvious sell. Perry's agent Charles King from William Morris Agency had taken the Perry package, including a tape of the play "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," and a script for the film to two other studios before reaching Lions Gate.

"I was done by the time Lions Gate came along," Perry said. "I was frustrated with the studios. I was getting notes. I was being told that black people that go to church don't go to the movies. But Lions Gate stepped up, they saw my vision and I became No. 1 because of their support."

The studio's support included an artfully timed marketing campaign, at first largely driven by Perry's loyal base. The studio began with a teaser trailer that ran in September with Lions Gate's "The Cookout." The marketing team also handed Perry a copy of the trailer he promoted religiously after each stage play, reaching on average 30,000 people a week.

In January, the campaign kicked into high gear, tying promotional materials to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, then moving into February with Black History Month and Valentine's Day. According to Lions Gate president of worldwide marketing John Hegeman, the company used the other black romantic comedy in the marketplace, "Hitch," for support.

"The bottom line is six months ago we knew we wanted to open at No. 1 and we wanted to gross between $15 (million)-20 million," Hegeman said. "We knew 'Hitch' was coming before us, and we knew the core audience would have already seen it, so we made a short trailer to debut ahead of 'Hitch.' A bunch of other films were trying to get onto "Hitch," so the only way was to make it short to make it easy for exhibition to add."

Other promotional efforts included two SUVs touring both coasts plastered with Perry's face and the rest of the "Woman" cast and promotions on radio stations and retail stores. The company also orchestrated a big online push with Perry's fan base and online ticket agencies. E-mail blasts went out whenever new theaters came aboard, encouraging advance group ticket sales with faith-based groups and nonreligious organizations. The online push proved a big help, with group ticket sales making up a significant component of the gross.

Perry is gratified by the film's opening-weekend success, but now his sights are set on broadening its audience with what he firmly believes is a comedy with universal appeal.

"African-American people are so many kinds of people, different classes and different levels. 'Diary' crosses all of those," Perry said. "I'm telling a universal story; it crosses all generations, crosses all races. Once people find it, they'll latch on and appreciate it."

Glover's Film Company Has Serious Mission

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Danny Glover has a serious mission for his new movie production company: Louverture Films will develop and produce movies of historical relevance, social purpose, commercial value and artistic integrity.

Glover formed New York-based Louverture Films with co-founder and producer/screenwriter Joslyn Barnes, his Los Angeles publicist, Arnold Robinson, said Tuesday.

In all its ventures, Louverture Films "will support the employment and training of cast and crew from the African Diaspora, minorities and/or marginalized communities," the announcement said.

Louverture Films plans to produce six independently financed feature and documentary films over the next three years.

Glover will direct Louverture's historic action epic "Toussaint," based on the Haitian Revolution (1789-1804) and the life of Toussaint Louverture, a former slave who rallied blacks.

Another project is "God's Bits of Wood," based on the African literary classic and written by filmmaker Ousmane Sembene. It's about the 1947 strike on the Dakar-Niger railway that ignited the independence movement in West Africa.

Glover starred in the "Lethal Weapon" films, "Beloved" and "The Royal Tenenbaums."

Blair Underwood Takes Lead in 'Purlie'

AP Drama Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Blair Underwood will portray the title character in "Purlie," that newfangled preacher man, when the show plays "Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert" at City Center March 31-April 3.

The musical, based on the late Ossie Davis' play, "Purlie Victorious," will also star Tony winner Anika Noni Rose as Lutiebelle, the young woman infatuated with the charismatic minister. Also in the cast are Broadway veteran John Cullum as Ol' Cap'n, Lillias White as Missy and Doug E. Doug as Gitlow.

The original production of "Purlie," starred Cleavon Little and Melba Moore. It opened on Broadway in 1970 and ran for nearly 700 performances. Underwood is best known for his TV roles on "L.A. Law" and "LAX." Rose won a Tony Award last June for her performance as the rebellious teenage daughter in "Caroline, or Change."

The "Encores!" version of "Purlie" will be directed by Sheldon Epps, artistic director of the Pasadena Playhouse. Epps has scheduled a full production of the musical at the California theater this summer. It will run June 24-July 31.

"I am hoping that some of the actors who are involved in `Encores!' will also be interested in doing it in Pasadena," Epps said in a telephone interview. "But we haven't put out any offers yet.

"I am surprised that `Purlie' has not had a major revival (since the original) because it is an incredibly strong show, and the score (by Gary Geld and Peter Udell) is wonderful," Epps said. "It is truly one of the shows that sparked me to the power and electricity of the theater."

For more information on the "Encores!" production, visit the Web site . For info on the Pasadena production, visit .

'ER' Alumnus La Salle Gets 'Conviction'

By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Eriq La Salle will star in the CBS pilot "Conviction," a legal drama about a team of lawyers who prosecute major cases.

La Salle, an original "ER" cast member, will play a veteran assistant district attorney. Since leaving "ER" in 2001, he has appeared in such features as "One Hour Photo" and "Biker Boyz."

'Mad Black Woman' Creator in Home Video Deal

By Brett Sporich

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Days after the surprisingly strong No. 1 box office bow of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," the film's producer on Tuesday closed a home video distribution deal with its distributor Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.

The agreement calls for Lions Gate to market and distribute seven of Tyler Perry's plays. "Madea's Class Reunion," "I Can Do Bad All by Myself," "Madea's Family Reunion," "Meet the Browns," "Madea Goes to Jail" and two additional plays yet to be announced will be released in conjunction with the summer home video release of "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," which Perry produced, starred in and wrote.

Although Perry has been selling DVDs of these plays online, Lions Gate executives believe that Perry's work can grow beyond his core black audience -- the same audience that bought $22 million worth of tickets for his film last weekend.

"We believe that the DVD releases of these seven plays will complement our feature films in bringing Tyler Perry's humor, faith, compassion and popularity to a greatly expanded national audience, building a remarkable new franchise in the process," Lions Gate Entertainment president Steve Beeks said.

While Perry expressed confidence that his comedies would be embraced by mainstream America, he added that it was rampant disc piracy that drove him toward seeking a home video distribution deal.

"I am deathly afraid of big studios," Perry said. "But Lions Gate had an intimacy about it, and the (DVD) piracy issue has reached a point were I can no longer distribute on my own."

Perry said he has received several offers from major Hollywood studios to distribute his plays on video but has turned them all down. "Most of the studio offers were so offensive that I didn't even entertain them," Perry said.

News for 3/1/1005

'Mad Black Woman' Returns for 'Reunion'

LOS ANGELES ( - Madea, the gun-toting, no-nonsense grandma from "Diary of a Mad Black Woman," is back.

Writer/actor Tyler Perry, who cross-dresses to play the role, will make his directorial debut in his "Madea's Family Reunion" with Lions Gate Films. The deal was announced on Friday, when "Diary" opened in theaters and before it won the top spot at the weekend box office with $22.7 million in ticket sales.

"Making 'Diary of a Mad Black Woman' with Lions Gate Films has been a terrific experience, and I could not be more thrilled to embark on the film adaptation of 'Madea's Family Reunion' with them," says Perry.

Perry, 35, has written a number of wildly popular plays revolving around Mabel "Madea" Simmons. For "Reunion," he will direct, write, produce and play the title role in the film.

"Tyler Perry is an incredibly funny, multi-talented artist whose plays, and now films, have developed a hugely devoted following across the country," adds Mike Paseornek, President of Production, Lions Gate Films. "He has crafted an unforgettable, hilarious character in Madea."

"Reunion" is scheduled for a February 2006 release.

Big Momma's House 2 Starts in April

Source: Production Weekly

According to Production Weekly, a mid-April start date is planned for Big Momma's House 2, the 20th Century Fox comedy sequel starring Martin Lawrence.

Screenwriter Don Rhymer, one of the co-writers of the original, is rewriting the script for the film, in which Lawrence will reprise his starring role as master-of-disguise FBI special agent Malcolm Turner.

Directly disobeying orders to steer clear of the case, Turner disguises himself as his robust alter-ego, Big Momma, in order to nail his ex-partner's murderer. But when Big Momma goes undercover in the home of suspected computer criminal Alan Fuller, she/he finds himself getting deeply attached to the troubled Full children - Molly, Carrie, and Andrew.

Malibu's Most Wantedidirector John Whitesell will begin filming April 18th in Los Angeles and New Orleans.

Fuqua Helming Gibson in Under and Alone

Source: Variety

Warner Bros. Pictures is negotiating with Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, King Arthur) to direct Mel Gibson in his next film titled Under and Alone, reports Variety. The project is being prepped by Icon partners Gibson and Bruce Davey.

Written by Ned Zeman and Daniel Barnz, who developed it with Gibson, Under and Alone is based on the true story of Vietnam veteran William Queen. He channeled his Special Forces training into undercover work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and became a full-fledged member of the San Fernando chapter of the Mongols motorcycle gang.

The movie is expected to shoot this summer. It will mark Gibson's first major role since M. Night Shyamalan's Signs in 2002. Though he had a small role in The Singing Detective, Gibson took time off from acting to direct The Passion of The Christ.

Chris Rock Assesses His Performance

By Mike Szymanski

LOS ANGELES ( -- Chris Rock himself says he thinks he did a fine job hosting the 77th Academy Awards.

Just as the media were clearing out of the Interview Room at the Renaissance Hotel after the Oscars on Sunday night, Rock poked his head in for a few questions.

"Sure, I'd do it again," Rock says. "I enjoyed it. Who knows if they would want me again -- let's not assume."

Rock's reviews for the show are generally good, and many people tuned in because they wanted to see what the controversial comic would say. The restrictions of profanity on live TV wasn't an issue, Rock says.

"I don't curse in front of my mother and there she was in front and center," Rock says. "I could never curse in front of Rose Rock."

Also, the protest against him because he said only gay men watch the Oscars didn't seem to affect him either.

"The controversy never really affected me, it seemed made up," Rock says. "I'm out among the country, my fans are black and white, gay and straight. I didn't think there was any controversy at all."

He says the wins for African American actors Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman in the acting categories were good because "it always feels good to see some color in the room that don't have mops."

Although Republicans say he may have bashed the Bush administration a bit too much, he took shots at Democrats too, saying "Oprah Winfrey is so rich I saw John Kerry proposing to her."

After the show, Winfrey says she cringed watching Rock. "It was like watching my son, and I kept thinking, 'Don't go there, don't go too far,' but I thought overall he did a great job," she says.

Backstage, African American broadcaster Ron Brewington of B&B Productions, says he was disappointed by Rock. "He brought the whole thing down a bit, he wasn't very classy," Brewington says. "That whole routine about interviewing black people at their neighborhood theaters and showing that they only saw 'White Chicks' was just in poor taste."

Just before he went on stage, Rock says he thought to himself: "You have to bring this s--- in, m------f-----, bring it. You give yourself a little pep talk."

Earlier in the week Rock thought he would go after the Oscars and do a stand-up routine at a comedy club, but he realized he would be too tired. So, after midnight he popped in to the Vanity Fair party.

"What will I be doing the rest of the night?" Rock laughs. "I'll be doing various drugs."