Company Town : What This Show Needs Are Awards : For a New Image, the Film Market Could Honor What Its Folks Do Best

The annual American Film Market in Santa Monica has been trying hard to shed the image it has in some quarters as a schlock fest by pointing out that art films do get sold at the gathering in addition to all of those direct-to-video slasher flicks.

So maybe it's time for the AFM to sponsor an awards presentation in the same spirit as the Cannes Film Festival in France and the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

Rather than honor artistic merit, as those festivals do, the AFM could honor some of the extraordinary marketing efforts by its participants. Based on a random walk through this year's festival, currently going on at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel, here are some suggested prizes:

1. Best Rip-Off of a Failure:

The clear winner is "First Action Hero." According to posters from distributor Peacock Films in Hollywood, "First there was the last, now there is the . . . First Action Hero."

"Last Action Hero," of course, was the much-hyped Arnold Schwarzenegger film that belly-flopped at the box office in 1993. Sources have estimated that it lost about $12 million for Sony Pictures.

2. Best Reason to Be Thankful the Interactive Age Has a Ways to Go:

Being sold by Showcase Entertainment is the movie "Mindbender," which the company says is "inspired by the incredible life story of controversial psychic wonder Uri Geller."

The movie about the spoon-bending psychic is directed by Ken Russell, director of "Tommy" in the 1970s.

Offering an extra incentive, posters advertising the project say: "Watch Uri Geller himself take the movie audience through the first ever interactive demonstration at the end of the feature film. Bring your broken watches!"

3. Best Water-Based Action Movie That Didn't Cost $150 Million:

IQ Entertainment in Marina del Rey is selling a "spectacular eco-thriller" that takes place in the water.

No, it's not Kevin Costner's "Waterworld" but a "docu-feature" called "Ocean Warrior."

4. Best Comeback From Stars Now Seen on the F/X Cable Channel:

"Run for Cover" features former "Batman" star Adam West as a senator. "Sweet Justice" stars former Riddler Frank Gorshin.

5. Most Self-Promoters in a Single Film:

Former New York Mayor Ed Koch plays himself in "Run for Cover." So does the Rev. Al Sharpton and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa.

6. The Michael Cimino Award:

In recent years, the release of ego-soothing "director's cuts" has been in vogue. Presumably, they allow directors to release the kind of movie that audiences would have seen had studio executives and producers not screwed things up and had the film cut.

Being advertised at the market is a director's cut of the cult schlock classic "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." Walt Disney plans a video version to be released around Halloween.

7. Movie That Sounds Most Like a Ricki Lake Show:

"Hollywood Dream" describes its plot as follows: "Jessica loves the wrong man, Al, an egocentric actor who will stop at nothing to further his career, including prostituting his girlfriend. Jessica meets a seemingly homeless man who is so taken with her beauty that he walks into oncoming traffic. Through Jessica's caring for him (a millionaire in disguise) she exorcises her demons and forgets Al when she and James fall in love."

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Unappealing decision: Matsushita Electric Industrial has just lost a key decision from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stemming from a long-simmering lawsuit filed by some former MCA shareholders. They had argued that the Japanese industrial giant gave preferential treatment to MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman and President Sidney J. Sheinberg when it bought MCA.

The decision reverses a summary judgment made by U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real that said the shareholders had no case.

The dispute stems from a pact in which Wasserman agreed to exchange his MCA shares for preferred stock in a Matsushita subsidiary called MEA Holdings. Another point of contention was a decision by MCA, with Matsushita's approval, to pay $21 million to Sheinberg should Matsushita's offer for MCA be successful, according to court papers.

The court also said that a previous class-action settlement in Delaware does not preclude the stockholders from pressing this case in federal court in Los Angeles.

MCA said it had no comment.

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Toon-up: Just how much DreamWorks SKG, the Jeffrey Katzenberg-Steven Spielberg-David Geffen group, is depending on animation to jump-start the studio can be found in numbers being passed around in financing circles.

According to people familiar with the numbers, the three are projecting that by 2003, animation will generate $355 million of the company's earnings before interest, depreciation, taxes and amortization. That compares to $230 million projected to come through live-action films, $95 million from music and $65 million from television.

Financing sources confirm that the three are trying to raise $900 million from investors, who would hold a one-third stake, as well as $1 billion in bank financing. Chemical Bank is said to have the inside track as the main bank, though Bankers Trust and J.P. Morgan have shown interest.

As part of the bank financing, sources said, DreamWorks wants $500 million as a minimum amount underwritten to start. Assuming Chemical does the deal, the bank would then presumably go out and round up a syndicate of banks to fund the remaining $500 million.

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Face-off: Antonio (L.A.) Reid and Kenny (Babyface) Edmunds--whose credits include writing and producing Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" and much of the Toni Braxton album--may have called it quits as a studio team, but they signed an estimated $100-million pact Monday with Arista Records that will allow them to continue running their successful La Face label through the decade.

The Atlanta firm is a co-venture with Clive Davis' Arista, which is owned by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann Music Group.

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Chuck Philips contributed to this column.

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Inside Hollywood

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