Universal cuts another slice of vid 'Pie'

Working on sixth inexpensive, lucrative DTV sequel

Bye bye, Miss "American Pie"? Not hardly. The franchise lives, both as a proven moneymaker for Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Rogue Pictures and as a poster boy for the hot new business of producing inexpensive sequels to theatrical blockbusters exclusively for DVD.

Principal photography began last month in Toronto on "American Pie Presents: Beta House" and is on target to end next week. This holiday season, the film will follow "American Pie Presents: Band Camp" and "American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile" in coming directly to DVD. The two rank at No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, on the list of best-selling live-action, nonfamily direct-to-video offerings, with "Band Camp" (released in December 2005) at 2 million units and "Naked Mile" (December 2006) at 1.5 million units.

"The 'American Pie' franchise has already harnessed a staggering half-billion dollars and continues to tip conventional industry scales despite its R-rated nature," said Craig Kornblau, president of Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Universal Pictures Digital Platforms Group. "Not only has the brand made an indelible imprint at retail, but its success also is a testament to the power of Universal's DVD Originals line."

Over the past few years, more than a dozen direct-to-video sequels have come to market with high-profile pedigrees and compelling sales numbers. 20th Century Fox had "Behind Enemy Lines 2: Axis of Evil" and "Just Like Mike 2"; Paramount had "Save the Last Dance 2"; New Line had "The Butterfly Effect 2"; and Warner had "The Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning," which actually was a prequel.

But none has performed like Universal's "American Pie" franchise, a direct-to-video juggernaut based on the trilogy of off-color comedies about teens and sex, the first of which hit theaters in the fall of 1999 and boasted as its tagline the double-entendre, "There's something about your first piece."

Together with 2001's "American Pie 2" and 2003's "American Wedding," the three films generated more than $350 million in combined boxoffice earnings, but after "Wedding" the decision was made to go the direct-to-video route with future installments. Well-known cast members were systematically replaced with younger, greener stars and tapped as relatives of the original characters. The exception: Eugene Levy, who appears in all six "American Pie" films, both the three theatrical features and the three direct-to-video sequels.

"Over the past eight years, the 'American Pie' films have transcended their blockbuster success to become a pop cultural phenomenon," Kornblau said. "The outrageous yet heartwarming humor and characters that are hallmarks of the 'American Pie' series continue to entertain both loyal and new audiences, and this latest escapade holds true to that tradition."

"Beta House" was scripted by "Naked Mile" screenwriter Erik Lindsay and directed by Andrew Waller ("Taking 5"). The film reunites several cast members from the previous installment, including John White as Erik Stifler, Steve Talley as Dwight Stifler, Jake Siegel as Mike Coozeman, Jordan Prentice as Rock and Christopher McDonald as Mr. Stifler.

New cast members include Bradford Anderson ("General Hospital"), Meghan Heffern ("The Fog," "Flight 93") and Jonathan Keltz ("Breach").

The story finds the "Pie" gang moving from Great Falls to a university in Michigan, where the Stifler-led contingent competes against a rival fraternity for social supremacy.