Distributor ready to market testimony Video: MPI of Chicago plans to sell copies of the president's taped testimony.

September 19, 1998|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,SUN STAFF

Deadly dull or a blockbuster to rival "Titanic"?

The first videotaped testimony of a president in a criminal matter is about to be released, and many top documentary filmmakers won't go near the historic material.

They are labeling it "LCD" -- lowest common denominator -- programming and including themselves with the majority of Americans who say they've had enough of the pornographic details of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Still, MPI Home Video, one of the largest independent video distributors in the country, is going to produce the video for sale, probably within two weeks.

Even in the visual age, few predict how it will sell, particularly since it's also the age of the VCR, and the video of Clinton's testimony will saturate television airwaves all weekend.

MPI, a suburban Chicago distributor that specializes in historic films, was standing by today to download the four hours of testimony the moment it is beamed to broadcasters by satellite.

"We are prepared to put it out in its entirety so that the American public, if they choose to watch it can judge for itself," said Natalie Olinger, spokeswoman for MPI.

MPI plans to market the president's taped testimony to stores like Sam Goody and Suncoast Video, but spokeswoman Olinger predicted that the likely buyers will be university libraries or law offices. She said the initial run would be conservative.

MPI's biggest seller, with 300,000 copies sold since its release this July, is a 45-minute documentary on the so-called Zapruder film, the home movie of the Kennedy assassination. But Olinger said she didn't think the Clinton video would sell that many.

"You have to listen to public opinion as well," she said, referring to recent polls showing that Americans, by a 2-to-1 margin, say releasing the tape is unnecessary.

The market for historic documentary is skittish.

MPI's top-selling documentary before the Zapruder film was "Schwarzkopf -- How the War Was Won." More than 200,000 copies of the general's Persian War press conference sold. But a video version of opening arguments in the O.J. Simpson trial was a flop -- people were tired of it.

Sales could be affected by whether the video is released full or edited to drop the dull moments inherent in a legal proceeding.

"These types of things could be intriguing or just dull video, unless packaged well," said Joel Levitt, owner of Action Duplication, a Philadelphia-based audio-video duplication company.

Sheila Nevins, HBO senior vice president for documentaries, predicted that the president's testimony would be a big seller whether it's dull or edited -- a prospect she said sickens her. Her company will stay far away, she said.

"It's licensed porn," she said. "It's so disheartening it makes you lose faith in the Pledge of Allegiance."

MPI's unedited Clinton video, tentatively titled, "The Grand Jury Testimony of William Jefferson Clinton," will sell for $14.95 in about two weeks. (It can be ordered by calling 1-800-323-0442.)

"It's going to have a huge distribution," predicted Kirby Whyte, president of Creative Video of Washington, a video production company. "It may blow (out) 'Titanic'for the movie of all time."

Or, as Dino Devic, production supervisor for Allied Digital Technologies Corp. in Landover, says: "It'll be hot for a month, then drop like lead."

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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