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Fox’s Film Unit to Skew Younger

Times Staff Writer

Following the lead of rival studios, Fox Filmed Entertainment has formed a new division to produce, acquire and market films aimed at teens and young adults.

Peter Rice, who for the last five years has run the studio’s successful Fox Searchlight specialty film unit, will take on additional duties overseeing the soon-to-be-named label, the company announced Monday.

Rice said the unit would make films with budgets averaging $20 million, mixing horror flicks, thrillers, action movies and comedies to target 13- to 24-year-olds, prized by studios because they visit the multiplex so frequently.

The start-up will release as many as eight films a year through parent 20th Century Fox. Rice said he planned to have about 50 production and marketing executives, similar to Searchlight’s staff.

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Rice’s new unit will focus mostly on features to be widely released on 1,600 to 2,400 screens, but it also plans to create shorts, episodic films and other content for the Internet and mobile devices. Some of that content will be distributed through social networking website MySpace.com and popular game site IGN, which were recently acquired by Fox parent News Corp.

“It’s the exact same audience,” Rice said. “And they consume entertainment voraciously.”

Although he would not identify any prospective hires, several sources said Rice was in advanced negotiations to bring aboard as his second in command John Hegeman, the architect of the Internet marketing campaign that turned Artisan Entertainment’s 1999 movie “The Blair Witch Project” into a sleeper hit.

Fox is entering an already crowded field populated by such competitors as Universal Pictures’ recently launched Rogue Pictures, Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems, Lionsgate and Bob Weinstein’s Dimension Films. Fox hopes to duplicate the success of such mass-appeal franchises as Dimension’s “Scary Movie” and “Scream” series and Lionsgate’s gory “Saw” hits.

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Insisting the new label will not be “genre” specific, Rice acknowledged the crowded playing field but said he believed that plenty of room remained.

“It is very competitive, but these are the most avid moviegoers of any audience segment,” Rice said.

At Fox Searchlight, Rice, who just signed a new five-year deal, oversaw such hits as “Sideways” and “Napoleon Dynamite.”


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