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HD Net plans to produce, screen hi def films

By Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Catherine Cuellar, KERA 90.1 Reporter: It's pretty much accepted fact that films open at a megaplex for $7 to $14 a ticket, then, over a period of months, make their way to DVD and video and ultimately, cable. But Dallas entrepreneur Todd Wagner hopes to change that.

Todd Wagner, Chief Executive Officer, HD Net Films: People that want to go to the theater, we want them to go to the theater. But you know what? If you don't want to go, you've got three kids at home, you can't get out that night, can't get a sitter? I want you to be able to have the movie on DVD as well, at the same time.

Cuellar: Wagner's idea may sound crazy to the regular moviegoer, but he's gained some credibility as a businessman with his partner, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Together, they created broadcast.com, which streamed radio and TV before most people had high-speed connections, then sold it to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion. They now own the satellite and cable television channel HD Net, as well as TV and film production companies.

Wagner: If I'd said to you a year ago, "Yeah, we're going to make movies and maybe we'll put 'em on HD Net, but maybe we'll put 'em in the theater at the same time," people would've been, "That's nice. How're you going to convince the theaters to do that?" They're always going to say, "We need to run it first." Well, looks like we need to own some theaters then, doesn't it?

Cuellar: So this fall, they acquired the nation's largest independent movie theater chain, Landmark, including the Inwood and the Magnolia in Dallas. They've also created a new business specializing in High Definition productions.

Wagner: A film division, HD Net Films, will be making movies that will be only shown on HD Net, and then also in Landmark Theatres, to the extent that they're appropriate to be seen there.

Cuellar: HD Net Films can create eye-popping features for less than $2 million - still small potatoes compared to the money poured into Hollywood blockbusters. The cost of digital distribution, as opposed to shipping reels, also drastically reduces the overhead per picture. The news thrills independent filmmakers like Rodney Lee Conover, whose Hi Def film "Bachelorman" has won 14 festival awards since April.

Rodney Lee Conover of Conover-Gould, producers of "Bachelorman": What's great now is, with the advent of digital distribution, not only can a smaller filmmaker get his project made, it increases greatly the chances it will get seen by an audience, which is, of course, the ultimate goal. Even if it's seen by a small amount of folks, it can do well and take off and get seen by a gigantic audience.

Cuellar: But Cuban and Wagner's farm-to-market ability makes New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell wary.

Elvis Mitchell, New York Times Film Critic: It's what the justice department did away with by divesting the studios of theater chains in the 1940s. I would like to think somehow it would be great for filmmakers who get the attention of these guys that go along with what you want to do. But these kinds of set-ups can end up being coercive and a real threat to independent filmmaking

Cuellar: HD Net has a modest goal of producing up to eight films a year, so Wagner says they're far from a monopoly. Yet, their ownership of the Landmark Chain does give them some leverage. Again, indie producer Rodney Lee Conover.

Conover: They're still going to have to make good movies and acquire good movies and use fresh writing, directing, and acting talent. If they don't, it will be the opportunity for someone else to spring up with a brand new idea in distribution and beat 'em at their own game.

Cuellar: They're not without competition on all fronts, but based on Cuban and Wagner's previous successes, Hollywood is watching. For KERA 90.1, I'm Catherine Cuellar.

 

Email Catherine Cuellar about this story.