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Genius Ready to 'Feast' on Success

14 Sep, 2006 By: Thomas K. Arnold

LAS VEGAS — The Weinsteins now have their own video company, and it's about to flex its muscle.

Genius Products, which recently closed its deal to become 70% owned by Bob and Harvey Weinstein's The Weinstein Co., has drafted plans to release between 250 and 300 DVDs next year, including about 30 theatrical features, 24 from TWC and six from Bauer Martinez. The release schedule also includes about 30 platform releases from IFC.

“We want to become a mini-major,” CEO Trevor Drinkwater said just before the theatrical premiere here of the Project Greenlight horror movie Feast, which is being rolled out to 200 theaters in 100 markets for midnight screenings Sept. 22 prior to its Oct. 17 DVD debut.

“The Weinsteins are giving us our lead content,” Drinkwater said, “and then the others are giving us the critical mass.” Distribution deals over the last few months have been cut with such major content owners as ESPN for sports programming, Tartan Video and IFC for independent films, Classic Media for family and Wellspring for lifestyle.

Drinkwater, a former Warner Home Video executive, joined Genius Products a year and half ago, when it was known primarily for its dollar DVDs and “Baby Genius” infant titles. One of his first orders of businesses was going after the Weinsteins when news broke they were going to leave the Walt Disney Co., a successful pursuit he said gave Genius “credibility” among both retailers and the industry at large.

At the time he joined Genius, Drinkwater said, the company had 30 employees. Just five of those originals remain, part of a 101-member work force that consists primarily of fellow major-studio alums from such studios as Warner, 20th Century Fox, MGM and DreamWorks.

“We're trying to create a company that looks and feels like a major when it comes to the supply chain,” Drinkwater said, “but thinks like an indie when it comes to content.”

He said he and his executive team are in “high collaboration” with the Weinsteins and plan to continue to grow the company's asset library in both the physical and the digital realms.

Aside from Feast, upcoming releases include Cinema Paradiso, which snagged a best foreign-language film Oscar in 1990, on Nov. 7, and writer-director Kevin Smith's Clerks II on Nov. 28.

Later this year, Genius will release its first seven HD DVD titles, drawn from recent TWC theatricals like Derailed, in two waves. Early next year the company will enter the Blu-ray Disc camp with releases from ESPN, which is owned by ABC/Disney, a big Blu-ray backer.

Feast is the first Project Greenlight film to be released by Genius and is being brought to market under the Dimension Films banner, a carryover from the Weinstein's Miramax days at Disney.

The gruesome horror film, about a family of monsters that attacks a group of motley characters holed up in a roadside bar, is the product of the third season of the Bravo network's reality show “Project Greenlight,” a screenwriting contest launched in 2000 by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in partnership with American Pie producer Chris Moore and Miramax Film and Television.

Feast was made by “Project Greenlight” winner and first-time director John Gulager, who despite the gruesome nature of his film appeared very much an “aw-shucks” type of guy.

Sharing the red carpet with Affleck and Damon, he characterized the whole “Project Greenlight” experience as “pretty wild. This whole thing is just a total surprise. I recently said if I use the word ‘surreal' one more time…but that's really what it's been like.”

He said prior to “Project Greenlight” the powers that be in Hollywood “were iffy about me, but now they're willing to talk to me. Working with the Weinsteins has given me access I never would have had before. I mean, to think that I'm actually talking to Bob Weinstein—are you kidding?”

Later, introducing his film in the theater, he confided Damon had told him “my speechmaking abilities are a train wreck.”

The Feast premiere was held at The Palms in Las Vegas, a hip off-strip casino and hotel owned by the Maloof family, which also funded the film's production. Executive producers include Affleck, Damon, Moore and legendary horror director Wes Craven.

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