When the three-channel universe morphed into 3,000, however, things changed for the MOW. “We needed to find a way to reach women with a different kind of film,” Bureau says. “We liked the idea of a thriller with a woman in the lead.”
Although MOWs were no longer a staple of network fare, they were still routinely screened on specialty channels aimed at women. And as the Incendo team learned, these movies have legs. Given the taste for American-style entertainment, the Incendo formula could play to a broad range of audiences worldwide. “We wanted something sexier, edgier,” Greenberg adds. “We wanted to open up the genre a bit.”
Bureau and Greenberg listened carefully to Miller, and it paid off: He was the international distributor for their debut film.
Greenberg and Bureau's first collaboration was The Rendering, in which Shannen Doherty (famous for her 90210 stint) plays a woman who suspects her husband is a serial killer. Doherty is stalked by the killer, only to realize that he's a recently released convict and that her husband is, in fact, innocent. The twisty-turny plot, with curveballs thrown in at regular intervals, created a basic template for Incendo movies.
Incendo's script department gets hundreds of pitches from screenwriters every year. But there are certain things Incendo looks for, in addition to a female protagonist facing various dilemmas. “It needs to be contemporary, with an urban setting,” says Bureau. “The woman should be bright and intelligent, a professional. We want the films to reflect the reality of modern living in the city.”
Though there are shades of Harlequin escapism, romance is not a necessity. These women are not screaming victims, waiting for a square-jawed hero to show up and save the day. “One of our upcoming features is about a woman who has created a blog that's very successful,” Bureau says. “It's a blog where women can share their experiences of domestic violence. She has an affair with a man who is not the serial killer, but she thinks he is the serial killer. He's actually a very nice guy who ends up dead. Then she actually meets the serial killer.”
Greenberg and Bureau used money from their distribution operation, as well as a distribution advance from Bill Miller, to bankroll the first film. And they remained determined not to make the mistakes they'd seen others in the industry make. Rather than buy equipment or hire staff permanently, they hired cast and crew on contract, and rented production facilities locally.
At times, Incendo plot synopses sound like borderline camp. “We're trying to have as many twists as possible, but without going too wild,” Bureau insists. “Surprises, yes, but not what-the-eff-is-that?”
“We don't want to go too crazy,” Greenberg adds. “These are for mainstream audiences.”
With such titles as Deadly Betrayal, Deadly Encounter, Flirting with Danger, Legacy of Fear, Final Verdict, Ring of Deceit and Wandering Eye, an initial glance at Incendo's production list might lead you to believe the movies are strictly formulaic. Not so, Bureau argues. “There's a sense of creative space within the thrillers. Yes, there's a female lead and some kind of suspenseful conflict, but there's a whole world to be created within that framework. There's no formula in terms of who's going to be the bad guy, or how it's going to unfold. It's a genre, but within the genre there's a lot of ways to express creativity. Our clients say they like that all our films are a bit different, with a different director, but they also like the fact that they're the same. That's what they can market in their local TV guides.” Critics have, for the most part, simply ignored Incendo movies, if a Google search is any indication. The site Almost Fabulous Movie Reviews had a lone post describing the company's 2004 entry False Pretenses as “standard made-for-TV fare and nothing special. Only worth watching if there's nothing else on.”