New HBO Films Unit Wants Honed Edge

Tougher competition in the made-for-TV-film categoryprompted Home Box Office to merge its two movie units, which will allow the programmer toexpand the scope and talent base of its telepics, according to company officials.

"We want to completely revitalize our movieslate," said Colin Callender, who was named president of the new HBO Films unit,which was created through the consolidation of HBO Pictures and HBO NYC.

"We want to protect the core qualities that our movieshave, but broaden the range of audiences that we speak to and attract morefilmmakers," he added.

The newly formed film unit comes as HBO -- which has beenaggressively moving into the series genre with shows such as The Sopranos -- islooking to keep its competitive edge in terms of original movies.

While HBO once had a stranglehold on that programming, andit consistently walks away with the Emmy Award for best original movie, a wide variety ofpremium and basic services -- from Showtime to Turner Network Television to MTV: MusicTelevision to Black Entertainment Television -- are currently producing original movies.

HBO has aired nine original movies this year, and it plansto increase that volume to 12 to 15 per year, Callender said.

The creation of HBO Films marks the second stage of an HBOrestructuring that began in April and resulted in the resignation of HBO Picturespresident John Matoian.

At the time, Chris Albrecht was promoted to president ofHBO Original Programming -- a move that added overseeing films to his duties. As a result,Matoian left, and Callender was promoted to the slot of president of HBO Original Movies.

Callender had previously been executive vice president ofHBO NYC, a boutique unit that created more offbeat, less mainstream movies for the premiumservice.

With the most recent reorganization, HBO is looking tocreate a range of movies from lower-budget, independent-type films to its traditionalbig-event movies, according to Callender.

"We don't want to segment those two approaches,"he said. "I want our more mainstream work to be informed by the edgier values of HBONYC."

Merging both the NYC boutique unit and the more mainstreamdivision will hopefully bring "an entrepreneurial era of activity" to HBO andpermit it "to bring to the screen material that we may not have gotten before,"Callender said.

HBO also wants to reach new audiences with its latest movieslate, he said. For example, one of its new projects is Cheaters, a look at atrue-life scandal in a contemporary high school that will star Jeff Daniels. That telepicis aimed at younger viewers than HBO typically targets.

"It's a movie we wouldn't have made before,"Callender said.

HBO Films will also be open to cofinancing movies --something that Callender said HBO did in its early days, roughly 15 to 20 years ago, butthen stopped doing. HBO began fully financing its movies so that it could retain totalcontrol over them, according to Callender,

"We decided to fully finance so we would be in controlof our destiny," he said. "We can still fully finance our movies, but wherethere is third-party foreign funding, we will consider that."

HBO's mainstream movies are typically budgeted at $8million to $10 million.

HBO Films' production slate also includes Path to War,which will be directed by Barry Levinson and co-executive-produced by Levinson and TomFontana.

Wesley Snipes will star in and executive-produce DisappearingActs, based on the best-selling novel by Terry McMillan. And Dame Judi Dench will starin The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, from the producers of Fargo andFour Weddings and a Funeral.