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Accent on Originals

12/12/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Gossip hounds who watched IFC’s January 2003 second-season premiere of the Dinner for Five series probably weren’t surprised when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner started dating this year.

One year before Affleck and Jennifer Lopez broke up, the actor had spoken glowingly of Daredevil co-star Garner. 'She’s f---ing tough!” he said.

That sort of spontaneous, revealing moment is one reason the Jon Favreau-hosted feast has become IFC’s breakout program, helping the network attract media attention and new audiences. It’s also a major reason why IFC is so popular among A-list talent.

“I like the personalities. I’m kind of a sucker for talk,” says Craig Phillips, associate editor at the independent-film Web site www.greencine.com. “You get interesting people, and I felt like I was there.”

Which is precisely what IFC’s Alison Bourke and Debbie DeMontreux were looking for when Favreau pitched the idea to them in 2000. Bourke, the network’s director of original programming, says Favreau based his idea on his experiences while filming a movie.

“You’d be on a set in the middle of nowhere and have dinners. Suddenly everyone would be swapping stories,” Bourke says.

BULLISH ON ORIGINALS

IFC continues to push its original development with three scripted series in “various stages of development,” says executive vice president and general manager Ed Carroll, who declined to elaborate other than to say any new show “really has to be a unique format” that involves the world of independent film.

One concern: “It can get expensive … [and] the prevailing wisdom is it’s hard to do and do well,” he says.

Dinner for Five was not IFC’s first original program, but it proved popular enough to encourage the network and parent company Rainbow Media Holdings to pour more money into original series, documentaries, and other specials.

The show runs Fridays at 10 p.m. as part of the network’s weekly one-hour block of originals. IFC generally has four series in its lineup or in production at any one time, a pace the network expects to continue.

They’ve included Rocked with Gina Gershon, a six-part documentary about Gershon’s tour with her rock band to promote the Prey for Rock & Roll theatrical; Ultimate Film Fanatic, in which film geeks — uh, fans — compete to prove their devotion to movies; and Film School, IFC’s just-completed take on a reality series, showing the struggles of four New York University filmmakers trying to complete their graduate projects. Henry’s Film Corner, a 10-part series in which Henry Rollins leads discussions about film, the movie culture and DVDs, bowed Dec. 4.

WALKING A FINE LINE

IFC’s documentary slate has provided an apt illustration of how the network has tried to walk the fine line every channel does, balancing the need to expand its base while keeping its core audience content.

The network recently ran Slasher, a John Landis-helmed documentary that chronicles the life of a man widely considered to be the best used-car salesman in America.

“We’ve broadened our mandate to be the receptacle of offbeat stories told in interesting ways by interesting artists,” Carroll says.

FUELED BY PASSION

Passion is the fuel that drives filmmakers to work for IFC — and what draws the network to certain projects, says DeMontreux, IFC director of production development. “It’s a film living inside their head, in which the director is saying, 'If I don’t make this film my head will explode.’”

The most recent example of how far IFC has come with its original productions is its upcoming documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, directed by Alexandra Cassavetes, the daughter of film legends John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands. Z Channel became the first film made for the TV network to be showcased at the Cannes Film Festival. It tells the story of the maverick Los Angeles-based film channel of the 1970s and 1980s whose decline coincided with the psychological implosion of its founder Jerry Harvey.

“Some of the things we found out about Jerry Harvey were shocking and devastating,” says Bourke.

Other original programs in the pipeline include a documentary on the importance of New York City’s Puerto Rican Day Parade directed by actress Rosie Perez; a one-time reincarnation of Greg the Bunny, the quirky puppet comedy that debuted on IFC before Fox turned it into a short-lived sitcom; Wanderlust, a documentary about road movies from the creators of American Splendor; and a second season of Film Fanatic for early next year.

Besides gaining the elusive artistic freedom they crave, some Hollywood veterans are eager to deal with IFC because of the economic certainty they gain working within IFC’s budget restraints while avoiding the middleman inherent in theatrical deals, says Myrl Schriebman, an independent producer and adjunct professor of film and television at University of California, Los Angeles.

“When independent producers are confronted with a limitation of money and time, their creativity really starts to flourish,” Schriebman says.

 

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