Paramount eyes Famous fortune

Direct-to-video initiative sets release, production plans

More than a year after its formation, Paramount Home Entertainment's ambitious direct-to-video initiative has a branded name, concrete production and release plans and a series of senior management appointments.

The unit, under the direction of former Universal Studios Home Entertainment president Louis Feola, will operate as Paramount Famous Prods., a nod to its intent to exploit its library of theatrical features with direct-to-video sequels, prequels and spinoffs.

Principal photography has just wrapped on "Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling," a sequel to the 2004 theatrical comedy about three men on a camping expedition to find the lost D.B. Cooper bounty. It grossed $58.2 million in U.S. theaters.

The DVD is scheduled for release in early 2009. Meanwhile, Par Famous is developing more than a half-dozen other projects, based on such hit movies as "Road Trip," "Bad News Bears," "Naked Gun," "Mean Girls" and "Grease."

Ultimate plans call for the division to release five to six films a year, beginning in 2010, most of them based on theatrical pictures in the libraries of Paramount, Paramount Vantage, DreamWorks, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies. Par Famous also will develop filmed entertainment content with Viacom-owned cable networks such as BET, Comedy Central and Spike TV.

"The name Paramount Famous Prods. speaks to the studio's rich history and reputation for delivering world-class, memorable entertainment to diverse audiences," said Par Famous president Feola. "We plan to continue building on Paramount's legacy and the strength of Viacom's brands by developing tailor-made entertainment to moviegoers who choose to view our films on today's expanding, nontheatrical distribution platforms such as Blu-ray and VOD."

Kelley Avery, president of worldwide home entertainment for Paramount, said she expects Par Famous' DTV movies "will further enhance our robust portfolio and position in the industry." Paramount this year is bringing to DVD and Blu-ray two of the year's top three movies, "Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," as well as "Kung Fu Panda," the year's No. 6 theatrical grosser.

Par Famous also announced three executive appointments to help Feola run the division.

Peter Green, tapped as senior vp development and production, was senior vp programming and production for cable network G4. He spent 13 years at the Walt Disney Co., where as president and producer of Fountain Prods. he developed dozens of projects, including "Parent Trap 2," "Herbie Rides Again" and "Inspector Gadget 2," the latter Disney's first foray into live-action DTV.

Joel Goldstein, senior vp business affairs, spent eight years at Village Roadshow Pictures, most recently as vp business and legal affairs. And Traci Nishida, vp finance, comes to Paramount from NBC Universal, where she spent more than 18 years as a finance executive.

Paramount is one of several major studios plunging into the lucrative business of producing movies directly for the home entertainment market.

This week, USHE released a DTV prequel, "The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior," which division president Craig Kornblau called the studio's "most ambitious" made-for-video production yet.

Universal has made serious money with its DTV movies, Kornblau said. Three sequels to "American Pie" and three more DVD originals based on the cheerleader movie "Bring It On" have sold between 1 million-2 million units each, which translates into total consumer spending of nearly $200 million.