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Docurama Into Another Kind of Reality TV

21 Feb, 2003 By: Holly J. Wagner

Think of it as reality TV without the glitz. There's the genre that fuels the national obsession with "Joe Millionaire" and "Jackass," then there's the real reality programming, documentaries -- slices of somebody's real life, not contrived scenarios.

It's a genre that has typically remained in the background, a fact that prompted New Video principals Susan Margolin and Steve Savage to launch their boutique Docurama label three years ago.

"Documentaries have been around before reality TV, but the popularity of reality TV is opening up a lot of minds," Margolin said. "Audiences don't just want to see actors on the screen, they want to see real people in real situations."

Since its inception, the label has gained several critically acclaimed titles, often besting larger suppliers for award winners like its pending release Children Underground, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2001 and won awards at the Sundance Film Festival, the Gotham Awards, Independent Spirit Awards and from the International Documentary Film Association the same year. The title, due Feb. 25, is the first of 27 coming from the supplier this year. Due March 25 are Southern Comfort, about a transsexual rodeo cowboy who finally finds love with another transsexual at the end of his life; and Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy. Following April 29 is Murder on a Sunday Morning, a courtroom drama of a wrongly accused man that won the 2001 Oscar as Best Documentary Feature.

"Because we have a focus on documentaries, filmmakers have heard about us in the community and, in some cases, will walk away from more lucrative deals," Margolin said. "Southern Comfort and Murder on a Sunday Morning are tentpoles for us. You go to the bigger studios and they are not tentpoles. If a studio has Lord of the Rings coming out, they can't spend a lot of time marketing Murder on a Sunday Morning."

Margolin said the company looks to "really nurture each film and work hard through grassroots marketing. We are working the Web and very targeted marketing."

Many people don't think of rushing down to the neighborhood video store to rent a documentary on Saturday night, but Margolin thinks certain titles, such as Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, fit the rental model.

Meanwhile, the phenomenon of category management is helping the indie label at some retailers and making the road a little tougher at others. "Category management so far has really helped us at Borders, for instance, as the research they did on the nonfiction category showed them that nonfiction was a great match with their customer base. As a result, our product is easier to find at Borders, and better presented," Margolin said. "The places where we've had difficulty placing our products, e.g. Wal-Mart and mass merchants, will become even harder to get into."

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