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Universal's Sequel Strategy Powers DTV

11 Sep, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

Universal Studios Home Video is readying a made-for-video sequel to Bring It On, the cheerleader comedy starring Kirsten Dunst that grossed more than $68 million in theaters in the summer of 2000.

Bring It On Again, which is set for release sometime next year, was produced at a budget far less than the original, which cost $10 million to make, and has all new cast members -- “a great-looking, high-energy bunch of new actors,” according to Louis Feola, who oversees Universal Pictures' made-for-video operation.

“We really believe in the made-for-video category, because we really believe in the made-for-video category,” Feola said. “When you look at the audience for video, it's the largest segment of the entertainment industry at the consumer level — and yet it's also the marketplace that does not have its original product category.

“That's the full driving force behind our enthusiasm and our scope.”

Bring In On Again is the latest in a line of sequels to theatrical movies Universal has been quietly releasing since the middle 1990s. While the animated sequels to The Land Before Time have been getting the lion's share of the attention -- and generating nearly $1 billion in consumer spending -- the studio, under Feola's auspices, also has produced nearly 20 made-for-video sequels to live-action films, generally moderate box office successes like Tremors and K-9.

In addition, Universal also has produced several original films for video release -- all part of a business plan that began with The Land Before Time II in December 1994 and was formally adopted in 1998 with the mandate to release six to eight made-for-video features, live-action as well as animated, each year.

This sets Universal apart from most other studios, which typically rely on acquisitions for product they release directly to video. Feola said the advantages of producing features in house include tighter control over finances and significantly more creative leeway.

“We don't give someone a check and say let us know how the movie turns out,” he said. “We are highly focused. We do development, we work with writers, and we function almost like a ministudio.”

The sequels benefit from brand-name awareness, Feola said.“Rather than starting out at ground zero, you start with a brand already familiar to consumers, to the trade, and to broadcasters,” he said.

The ideal candidate for a made-for-video sequel, he said, is a film that did moderately well in theaters “but really found its life on video and on television.”

In some cases high-profile cast members return, but generally they do not.

“When it makes sense to have returning cast members, we go in that direction, assuming the budget can support it and the talent is available and wants to do it,” Feola said. “But in the case of Bring It On Again, for example, Kirsten Dunst's character isn't in it. The first film was primarily about cheerleading, a very sweet story about people being challenged and rising to the occasion, and what's what we captured in Bring It On Again as well.”

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