By Ray Bennett
Take veteran top-level Hollywood producers, add the UK’s leading supermarket and mix with some of the most popular novelists in the world and you have Amber Entertainment, which founder Ileen Maisel describes as a new paradigm for bringing entertainment to a mass audience.
Amber is a production company making a series of movies that will be sold exclusively on DVD online and in-store at Tesco. Beginning in early summer with “Paris Connections” by Jackie Collins, the films will have bright stars, exotic locations and expensive production values, Maisel says.
The former New Line executive says that budgets for the films will range from £1 million to £3 million but the money will all be on the screen. “Our pitch to Tesco was that they will smell, taste and look like feature films,” she says.
Maisel with partners Mark Ordesky, Jane Fleming and British documentary filmmaker and television producer Lawrence Elman set up Amber Entertainment last year with offices in London and Los Angeles.
Elman says that Maisel developed the idea while at New Line when she realised the paradigm of making films was changing: “She had spent a lot of time in Europe the last 20 years and knew there are so many authors who are overlooked. She’s an avid reader and she had forged relationships with them over the years, so the idea was to create a new media company that would find new ways to get that creative content out there.”
Maisel says the notion came from a complete love of books. Brand-name writers have been involved with TV in the past but not in a way that gave them control: “Jackie Collins did her early works on TV but it had not been done with DVD premieres, and not with authors as branded entertainment. I asked myself, why didn’t somebody think of it? These authors deserve to have their books made into films but the business is constricting. TV is constricting. We needed a different outlet. We’re not trying to compete with the cinema or TV. The choice we made was that this is the primary place for this.”
She sees the tie-in with Tesco as empowering the retailer with content: “People will always want to go to theatres but they also enjoy their entertainment at home. It’ll be a fun experience with maybe a Jackie Collins hen party with all the stuff from Tesco. Kids can go to Tesco and invite their friends over. Audiences benefit and we care about reaching audiences in as many ways as possible.”
The same is true for the other authors that Amber has lined up including Dick and Felix Francis, Philip Pullman, Judy Blume, Karin Slaughter and Anne Perry. Collins says, “It’s a really exciting project for me. I’m on Twitter and lots of my fans tell me they would love to see DVDs of my books so this will give them the opportunity.”
“Paris Connections”, which is drawn from Collins’ book “L.A. Connections”, stars Nicole Steinwedell (“A Single Man”, TV’s “The Unit”) as investigative journalist Madison Castelli involved in a murder mystery in the French capital.
Maisel says that Collins is a producing partner on the project and was involved in the script and casting from the start: “Jackie loved Nicole. She’s strong and sexy, intelligent and vulnerable. The idea was to mix up an American and European cast.”
Anthony Delon (“Frenchman’s Creek”) plays photographer Jake Sica with Charles Dance as Russian oligarch Aleksandr Borinksi, Trudie Styler as his assistant, Hudson Leik (Callisto in “Xena: Warrior Princess”) as a fashion designer and Caroline Chikezie (“Footballers’ Wives”) as Madison’s best friend.
Maisel says the films will reflect the mood of the writers involved: With Blume, it’s about the angst, under-standing and compassion of teenagers, so that’s what will happen. With any adaptation you’re turning it into a visual piece: ‘Paris Connections’ will have extraordinary romance, glamour, and fun. That’s what Jackie C’s readers want.”
The veteran producer confesses, though, that she wasn’t sure she’d be able to make the film in Paris, where it is notoriously expensive to shoot: “Many people choose to shoot in Prague or Romania, but Jackie didn’t write ‘Prague Connections’, she wrote ‘Paris Connections’. When I asked her, Jackie said, ‘Of course Paris.’ I didn’t think it would be that easy.”
This story appeared in Cue Entertainment.