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TENSE DRAMA WITH A REAL PURPOSE

The time is late evening.

Scene one: An attractive woman in her 20s is showering before bed. She steps from the shower and wraps herself in a towel.

Scene two: Partially hidden by tall shrubs, a seedy-looking man acts suspiciously outside the woman’s apartment building. The woman has put on a short black nightgown, and the intruder watches her through her open blinds.

Scene three : Moving to another room, the woman sets her alarm, climbs into bed and turns off the light.

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Scene four : The man easily forces open the window.

Scene five : Roused by a noise, the woman briefly sits up in bed but decides it’s nothing and goes back to sleep.

Scene six: The intruder opens the bedroom door and enters the room with a flashlight. “Who is it?” the terrified woman asks. The intruder grins at her and approaches. “Oh, my God!” she screams. “All right, shut up!” he shouts. “Don’t hurt me,” she cries.

Scene seven: The intruder is raping his hysterical victim. Suddenly, he pulls a screwdriver from his rear pocket and repeatedly stabs her until she is dead.

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Just another homicide from “Miami Vice”? A story from “Cagney & Lacey”? One more example of gratuitous small-screen violence?

No, none of the above.

The intruder and his victim are actors in “Principles of Home Defense,” an unusual new home video that shows how the small screen can be utilized in bold and valuable ways.

“The opening sequence is something that we found happens a lot, a burglary that turns into a rape when the burglar finds the woman alone,” said Drew Michaels, president of Wild Wing Productions, the young Los Angeles company that produced the 50-minute video.

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“The Principles of Home Defense,” available for $49.95, is a recent entry in the burgeoning home video market whose growth parallels soaring videocassette recorder sales. Oodles of “how to” cassettes, ranging from instruction on cooking to fly fishing, are now available to the public. But Wild Wing is a pioneer in the “how to prevent crime” arena.

Its video consists of a series of well-produced mini-dramas reflecting typical home crime scenarios intercut with commentary and preventive instruction from Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Jim Harris.

“The woman you just saw is unfortunately now just another statistic,” says Harris on camera, following the gory opening. So what’s the message? Women should never shower before bed? Black nightgowns are a turn-on? Hardly.

Another version of the same crime scenario is next shown. The same intruder is outside the apartment, only this time unshielded by shrubs, which have been cut back. He also can’t look through the window because the blinds are closed.

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Unable to force open the window, which is now better secured from the inside, he must break it, awakening the woman. This time she doesn’t subconsciously deny the existence of a threat and resume sleeping. She immediately phones the police and then produces a gun from a combination-locked nightstand drawer.

When the intruder enters her bedroom and lunges at her before the police arrive, she shoots him dead.

Guns loom large in “The Principles of Home Defense.” There is a strong focus on defensive use of firearms, and the video cover features a photo of the woman in the first sequence pointing a handgun at her attacker. Emotionally, you want her to blast him away.

Is the video a Bernhard Goetz approach to crime prevention? Is Michaels advocating an armed populace?

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“Not in the least,” Michaels said. “We are dealing with the reality that millions of people use firearms. We are advocating proper training and safety techniques and that everyone should not use a firearm unless you feel that you can morally deal with having to use it. The use of a firearm is another alternative, no less or no more than having a baseball bat by your bed or front door.”

John Carroll is co-executive producer of the video with Michaels, and William Keys and Michaels co-wrote the script.

Michaels’ TV pedigree includes acting and producing. He had been mulling the idea for something like “Principles of Home Defense” for some time and had even written an original concept. The project began taking shape, though, after Michaels joined the photography unit of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Reserve, meeting fellow reservists Carroll, who is an aerial photographer, and TV writer Keys.

“John and Bill and I talked about the project and realized there was a lot of information we were getting as cadets that could be interpolated into civilian life,” Michaels said.

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Getting financing took more than two years, and Michaels said that he and Carroll ended up paying half the $150,000 production costs themselves.

Michaels originally approached Karl Malden to be on-screen narrator (a box-office name couldn’t hurt sales), but said Malden suggested that an actual police officer would have more credibility. Hence the selection of Harris, who teaches officer survival at the sheriff’s academy.

“If people look at this and then ask what they can do to improve their home security--if we can save one life with this thing--then we’ve achieved our goal,” Michaels said.

Well, one goal, anyway. “Jane Fonda sold more than 700,000 of her exercise tapes,” Michaels said. “If we can sell just 50,000, we’ll make more than $1 million.”

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The principles of home defense meet the principles of profit.


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