UNIVERSAL CLINCHES BILLION-DOLLAR DEAL

Marking one of the biggest movie-financing deals in Hollywood history, Relativity Capital has agreed to put up more than $1 billion to finance at least 75 percent of Universal Pictures films through 2011, published reports said today (Thursday). Daily Variety said that the deal would "funnel billions into the studio's slate." The Los Angeles Times observed that the deal, which is expected to cover about 45 films, will allow Universal to shift its focus away from financing movies to marketing and distributing them. "We always look to manage risk and volatility," Universal executive VP Michael Joe told the Times. "A deal like this allows us to do that while keeping distribution rights to the movies worldwide."

CASTING DIRECTOR ASKS FOR "INBRED"-LOOKING EXTRAS, IS FIRED

The casting director for a horror movie being shot in West Virginia has been fired after putting out a call for extras with facial features that would make them look "inbred." Casting director Donna Belajac was dismissed after Gov. Joe Manchin released a statement describing the casting call as "offensive." He added that he thought that the movie, a horror flick titled Shelter, produced by Nala Films of Los Angeles, "does not sound like a movie worth watching." Producers Emilio Diez Borroso and Darlene Caamano Loquet apologized "for the very insensitive casting call sent out without our knowledge." The incident also drew the attention of West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, who released a statement saying, "Unfortunately, some in the filmmaking industry have decided that perpetuating stereotypes and insulting generations of West Virginians means cash at the box office."

REDBOX SEEING GREEN

Redbox, which already has 6,800 DVD-rental kiosks installed in the U.S., plans to increase that figure by more than 25 percent when it installs an additional 1600 at Walgreens stores throughout the country. Redbox says that it expects to have 11,000 kiosks in operation by the end of the year. It is expanding at the same time as -- and probably because of -- the closures of hundreds of brick-and-mortar stores owned by Blockbuster, the largest video-store chain, and Movie Gallery, the second largest. The company is jointly owned by McDonald's and Coinstar.

BAD NEWS FOR BLOCKBUSTER CUSTOMERS IS GOOD NEWS FOR NETFLIX

Blockbuster's recent decision to raise prices redounded to the benefit of Netflix, the online renter said Wednesday. The company said that it expects to report subscriber growth to 8.26 million from its earlier forecast of 8.05 million. Netflix also said that Blockbuster's price increase resulted in Netflix's existing subscribers spending more. The victory of Blu-ray over HD DVD in the high-definition format war will also allow Netflix to increase its inventory of Blu-ray titles, the company said, noting that it expects to add as many as 1,500 Blu-ray movies to the current 400.

AMERICAN GANGSTER TOPS DVD CHARTS

American Gangster shot its way to the top of the DVD sales and rental charts last week, selling some 4 million copies and taking in $9.7 million in rentals, according to data compiled by Nielsen VideoScan First Alert and Home Media magazine. Coming in second with about 1.2 million copies sold was Michael Clayton, the Oscar nominee for best picture. It took in $8.2 million in rentals.

TOSHIBA HASN'T LET DREAMWORKS ANIMATION OFF THE HOOK

Toshiba may have thrown in the towel in its battle with Sony over high-definition players, halting production of its own HD DVD units and leaving Sony's Blu-ray as the de facto standard. Nevertheless, Toshiba apparently has not yet let DreamWorks Animation out of its exclusive deal to produce HD DVD titles only. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the studio's CEO, told Reuters that Bee Movie, the studio's next home video release, will be issued only on HD DVD unless Toshiba releases DreamWorks Animation from its current contract. "It's really in their court at this point to really declare what the next step will be," Katzenberg told the wire service. He pointed out that his studio had been "well compensated" by Toshiba for agreeing to release its films in high definition exclusively in the HD DVD format.
Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.