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News From Hollywood

– DEAL ‘EM OUT With Sundance 2002 already done and gone, we got to thinking about one of last year’s festival films, Raw Deal: A Question of Consent.

After its Sundance debut, the documentary about an alleged rape at a Florida frat house, which included explicit footage of the actual sex acts, generated buzz among festivalgoers and landed on the front page of the New York Post (below). Artisan soon shelled out around $100,000 for the flick and announced plans for an August 2001 release. But the movie has since moldered on the shelf, and the relationship between the studio and 23-year-old filmmakers Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben has disintegrated. ”It was a bad marriage,” says Spellman. ”We’re in the process of reacquiring the rights.”

At issue, according to Artisan, are 28 song snippets that play in the background during dorm-room footage; Corben and Spellman haven’t been able to get permission to use the music, and can’t remove it from the scenes for technical reasons. ”We remain very excited about this film,” says Artisan spokesman Paul Pflug. ”But until the filmmakers are able to obtain music clearances, we aren’t in a position to release it.”

Producer Spellman, on the other hand, claims that Artisan’s turbulent year – which included an aborted IPO and near cessation of filmmaking activity – distracted the studio, and that Artisan has simply soured on the movie. ”The differences with Artisan were creative,” he says. ”Legal and insurance issues were ironed out months ago.”

So what gives? It’s another case of his lawyer said, her lawyer said. Both sides agree that last spring, the filmmakers found an insurer willing to issue a policy that could have covered damages resulting from music lawsuits. But the two sides disagree about whether the policy, which assumed that the First Amendment protected the use of the songs, would hold up in court. Artisan’s lawyers say a judge would void it faster than he would void a racy Austin Powers title, leaving the studio liable.

”[The filmmakers] are trying to create controversy where it really does not exist,” says Artisan’s Pflug. ”Simply put, no one can release films when the rights have not been cleared.”

Now Spellman and Corben want to go elsewhere, and Artisan wants its money back. ”We’re in final negotiations with a new distributor,” says Spellman. ”Raw Deal will be out this summer.” Now where have we heard that before?