Spot shop ready to roll with 'Third Wheel'
HSI/Tomorrow pic stars Wilson, Richards and Affleck

July 25, 2001 - By Kathy A. MacDonald

As a plotline it's very familiar: A seasoned vet partners with a young, hip rookie and the resultant pairing is explosive, action-packed and profitable (hopefully).
That same story is being played out in real life as cutting-edge spot shop and musicvid house HSI Prods. has paired up with seasoned distrib exec Yoram Pelman's company to form the HSI/Tomorrow Films banner.

Indie scene observers will finally get a chance to see the fruits of this partnership (Tomorrow Films gets a first look at all HSI feature projects) in the next quarter.
Since its inception in 1997, the indie venture has completed three films (icluding "Thicker Than Water" for its urban film division) and has two set for production in the fall.

As HSI feature exec Adam Rosenfelt (formerly a Gersh Agency tenpercenter) explains, the film business was a natural extension of HSI's commercial production business; the spot shop initially had aimed to manage the feature careers of its stable of directors.

"What started the move to feature business ... was that we were eager to develop projects for our directors, but what has evolved is something bigger. We've shown the community we can work with anyone," says Rosenfelt.

HSI/Tomorrow's "The Third Wheel" is an upcoming release for Miramax. Brought into HSI by its producer, the film was exec produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and stars Luke Wilson, Denise Richards and Affleck. Helmer Jordan Brady is a commercial director, although not repped by HSI.

Also coming from Brady and HSI/Tomorrow is "American Girl," which co-stars Jena Malone and Brad Renfro.

Pelman, who describes "American Girl" as a film with a risky, indie feel but a commercial upside, explains that the partners are very careful in the selection process, always weighing script potential first.

"Money is not the essential element for making movies and having money is sometimes problematic as projects are not always developed properly," says Pelman, who served as prexy of domestic theatrical distribution for Trans World Entertainment.

Many past indie companies' failures were in part due to having too much money, according to Pelman, with the reality of financing forcing companies to spend money and aim for revenues in the same year. Tomorrow has only eight staffers in its Beverly Hills office; Pelman purposefully keeps the operation lean.
"We feel better to do it right than rather just do it. I like the fact (HSI doesn't) have to make movies all the time and can take time to make movies," explains Pelman.

In addition to the HSI projects, Tomorrow has its own slate of films in production and development.

Financing comes from a combination of equity, pre-sales and gap financing. (The Lewis Horwitz Organization funds the acquisition line of credit; Imperial Bank provides pre-sale and gap financing.) Projects are sold to domestic and international distribs on an individual basis.

Unlike stand-alone indies, HSI is a mature company with more than $100 million in annual billings.

"It's a huge advantage financially and psychologically," says HSI's Rosenfelt. "When someone comes to our office the hustle-bustle and creativity is very impressive. And it works both ways because now we are getting feature directors who want to make commercials. The film division has done a lot for our profile: Musicvideos, commercials and features, have all helped each other."

HSI's creative philosophy extends to its Culver City offices, which boast an extensive contemporary art collection, custom-made furniture and dramatic interiors, with some walls made of forged steel.

"There's nothing corporate about this environment," says Rosenfelt. "It's a creative atmosphere where directors talk about ideas, it's very different because we live with filmmakers and with any aspect of their professional lives, we like to think we're the first place they come."

Rosenfelt and Pelman both credit HSI topper Stavros Merjos for his support of the endeavor. Although adjusting to the glacially moving timetable of the movie business was a learning curve for the entire company; typically the spot shop has 15 to 20 projects ongoing at anytime with the turnaround from hire to delivery sometimes as short as two months.

For the "The Third Wheel," it took a year and a half for thesp Affleck to "say he wanted to do it," remembers Pelman. "The delays caused Stavros to not have much confidence in the film business. But it takes a long time and you really have to look at a project."

HSI/Tomorrow's upcoming slate includes: action thriller "Judas," scheduled for production in the fall directed by HSI's Paul Hunter; "The Blazing Four," a western with a twist, from HSI/Tomorrow's urban specialty arm Endangered Species; a high-speed actioneer "Autobahn," to star Michael Keaton in association with Colomby/Keaton; and "Coney Island Snakefish," from director Samuel Baer's original story.