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LIGHTS, CAMERA, INTERACTION! INTERFILM'S MOVIEGAMES PUT THEATER AUDIENCES IN THE DIRECTOR'S SEAT

By Published on .

Interfilm Technologies doesn't make interactive movies anymore. Now it makes movieGames.

The difference is in the marketing. New York-based Interfilm is set to distribute its third theatrical release, "Ride for Your Life," with a marketing campaign created by Seiniger Advertising Group, Beverly Hills, that repositions its products as games, not movies, targeted at Nintendo-fluent kids and teens.

"Ride for Your Life" will open May 5 in 37 theaters in 32 cities. Using pistol grips mounted on armrests (it costs $100,000 to "Interfilm" a theater), the audience must make choices every 15 to 60 seconds that determine the story's plot (majority rules), so an audience won't see or play the same "Ride" twice.

"Ride" boasts a new feature, "Most Influential Voter," whereby the computer managing the link between audience and game periodically grants control of the story to a single player.

"Ride" arrives three months after "Mr. Payback," a joint venture with Sony Corp. "Payback" received negative reviews, with critics harping on the film's crass subject matter and humor. William Franzblau, Interfilm's exec VP-chief operating officer, said "Payback" was "erratically successful"-Interfilm doesn't disclose box office results-but adds it might have done better if Sony had marketed it differently.

"We take the approach that it's a game," said Mr. Franzblau. "Sony chose to tout `Mr. Payback' as a `movie with choices.'*"

Mr. Franzblau said Interfilm was leery of seeking pricey marketing assistance from Hollywood ad agencies, but found a talented and inexpensive ally in Seiniger, an agency trying to make a name for itself in interactive-entertainment marketing.

"We know entertainment and we know movie marketing," said Marty Mueller, the agency's creative director. "Now we want to take that background into the world of computer-driven entertainment. It's the way of the future."

Seiniger has done work for releases from nearly every Hollywood studio, including "Outbreak" and "The Fugitive." The agency created a movie trailer and TV and newspaper ads for "Ride"; the media strategy, developed by Bohbot Communications, New York, targets homes within a 10-mile radius of theaters and includes spot cable as well as city, college and even high school newspapers.

Interfilm also is developing a site on the World Wide Web to promote its products.

Interfilm plans to release four movieGames next year. In the future, Mr. Franzblau hopes to woo corporate sponsors to help defray costs; movieGame budgets usually reach $2 million.

"For a car company, we can find out the type of model or color consumers prefer if we create a movieGame that asks the audience to choose the kind of car a character drives," he said.

A more difficult marketing challenge looms in Interfilm's immediate future: how to promote its next film, "The Bombmeister," in the aftermath of last month's bombing in Oklahoma City. Slated for an August release, "The Bombmeister" tells the story of a twisted inventor who goes on a bombing spree against the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr. Franzblau said Interfilm will delay the movie's release if it thinks there will still be backlash in midsummer.

"Nobody in their right mind would-or should-try to capitalize on that," he said. "We're not a company looking to cause controversy. We're looking for kids."

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