Funding Family Friendly Films

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"The Passion Reloaded"?

A prominent Christian businessman, aiming to capitalize on the current interest in Bible-based stories, has launched a nonprofit group that will fund faith-based and family-friendly feature films. Mike Ilitch Jr., whose family owns the Little Caesar's pizza chain, the Detroit Red Wings and other sports and entertainment properties, has started the Christian Film Fund through his Florida-based Prelude Worldwide Ministries.

"We want to be the Miramax of the Christian-filmmaking industry," said Mark Koch, founder and co-chair of Prelude Pictures, Prelude Worldwide's entertainment arm. `"The Passion' has shown that there's an audience out there, and we want to give them a choice and make it A-list."

Prelude executives, who were marketing partners on "The Passion of the Christ," intend to go through the same grassroots outreach that made "The Passion" leap out of the box office to solicit donations for the filmmaking fund. It will have an undisclosed amount of seed money from Mr. Ilitch for projects ranging from "romantic comedies with a clear message of moral responsibility to Hitchcock-type thrillers focusing on social reform or personal accountability," according to the fund's mission statement.

Mr. Ilitch and Mr. Koch likely will seek funds from their personal and business network that includes Lowell "Bud" Paxson, chairman-CEO of Paxson Communications Corp., billionaire H. Wayne Huizenga, Blockbuster founder and Miami Dolphins owner, and Phil Anschutz, owner of Anschutz Entertainment Group and Regal Cinemas.

Prelude executives, who will administer the nonprofit fund, will look for scripts to develop from the ground up, and also will co-finance films. They intend to keep control of ownership, talent choices and marketing, though they will try to make alliances with major or independent studios for distribution.

The fund's mission statement tells potential donors that no more than 10% of the fund will be used for overhead, and profits will return to the filmmaking kitty.

The Christian Film Fund is somewhat similar to the advertiser-backed Family Friendly Programming Forum that gives money for TV script development. It's trying to ramp up the quality of Christian entertainment, which has been decidedly B-list in the past, Mr. Koch said.

One project in the works is a feature with a $35 million budget that's about to snag what Mr. Koch called "an A-list director." Another project, he said, is from a script called "Our Father" by the late comedic actor John Candy. Mr. Koch describes the property as `"Sister Act' meets `Kindergarten Cop."'

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