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State OKs $15M Loan for Show

By Andrew Webb
Journal Staff Writer
    SANTA FE — The state Investment Council voted Tuesday to loan $15 million to the producers of “Crash,” a television series based on the award-winning 2005 film of the same name.
    Though it was a banner year for film and television production in the state, the loan is only the second made to film producers by the council this fiscal year. The state has used permanent funds to help finance more than 25 locally filmed movies and television shows since 2003.
    Like the movie, “Crash” the television series will have a diverse cast of characters dealing with bigotry, prejudice and other social barriers in a series of intertwining stories. Peter Dekom, an attorney who advises the council on film-related investments, said the show will be a high-quality, adult-themed show along the lines of “The Sopranos.”
    Lionsgate Entertainment and its subsidiary, Lionsgate Television, will produce a 13-episode first season for Starz. “Crash” will be the first original drama for the premium cable channel.
    The series’ producers will include Paul Haggis (“Valley of Elah”), who wrote and directed the film version, and Lester Berman, who produced the locally filmed hit Lionsgate show “Wildfire” for ABC Family.
    The state Investment Council has had a long relationship with Lionsgate — it helped finance the pilot and four seasons of “Wildfire” for the company, as well as the studio’s 2006 comedy “Employee of the Month.”
    In all, the state has loaned Lionsgate $77 million, though the studio has paid back about $4 million. The other loans have not come due.
    Under the terms of the “Crash” agreement, Lionsgate will pay back a previous $15 million loan for the first season of “Wildfire,” which isn’t due for another two years.
    The new loan has a five-year term with no interest, and the state will receive 18 percent of any profit generated by the program. Television shows typically don’t make a large profit until they reach the lucrative metric of about 60 episodes, after which DVD sales and syndication on other channels can reap significant gains.
    Dekom said the project had a good chance of making a profit, based on the popularity of other high-end premium cable series such as “Sex and the City.”
    “Typically, the edgier the series, that equals more (sales of) DVD units,” he said. “Also, international interest will be much higher.”
    The loan principal is guaranteed by Lionsgate itself.
    New Mexico Film Office director Lisa Strout said “Crash” is an R-rated type show and is being entirely filmed in New Mexico. The series began shooting in early June in Albuquerque, Bernalillo, Rio Rancho, Cochiti Lake and other locations.
    Dekom acknowledged that a looming actors strike could temporarily halt the project.
    On the heels of a 100-day Writers Guild strike, which resulted in a winter of television reruns and reality shows, the Screen Actors Guild and its smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, may do the same.
    Their contracts with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expire at the end of this month.
    Berman said if there is an actors’ strike, Lionsgate has plans in place to hold on to crew and cast until production can restart.
    “Lionsgate is totally prepared to assume any related costs and start again,” he said.
    Despite record numbers of film productions taking place in New Mexico in the past year, the loan to Lionsgate is only the second — alongside $15 million to the Gerard Butler action flick “Game” — during fiscal year 2008, which ends July 1.
    State Investment Council spokesman Charles Wollmann said the slowing loan activity was due to a combination of two things — the appearance here of more well-funded productions that didn’t want to bother with the state’s loan requirements and a more conservative stance by the state.
    “We’ve been looking for bigger, more high-profile projects,” he said.