A quick look at the Paris' Centre de Conventions, and one would say that nothing was different from the set-up for ShoWest 2001. The same lighted ShoWest entryway greeted you as you entered the main hallway, which was once again done up with numerous movie poster images: in big lighted displays, on the floor, behind the rows of check-in booths that lined the hall, as large theatre-issue standees. Taking a closer look, however, and there were subtle differences: there weren't quite as many of these posters, which the previous year had quite literally cluttered every last corner of every last hallway; the Jumbotron on which trailers and ShoWest-exclusive segments produced by Entertainment Tonight was decidedly less jumbo, less than half of the previous year's size.
After checking in at the press room and receiving my press badge (but not, quite notably, a little red booklet called a "passport," which allowed access to all ShoWest events and is only given to big name outlets--outlets that, I must greatly emphasize, generally only show up for the celebrity parade of Thursday), there was a bit of dead time before first official event of the entire convention, so I took some time out to take a closer look at the posters on display. The most intriguing ones were, of course, not the ones that are already featured in theatres (such as those for Columbia's Spider-Man, MGM's Windtalkers, or New Line's Blade II) but preliminary promo ones for films still in production. Miramax had the most of these early posters, which touted films such as Martin Scorsese's famously delayed Gangs of New York (featured in three posters that individually showcased stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, and Daniel Day-Lewis); George Clooney's directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind; and the Gwyneth Paltrow flight attendant comedy View from the Top. As slick as the 'Max's posters were, the one early poster that caught the most attention--for the wrong reasons--was one from DreamWorks: the sloppily slapped-together Catch Me if You Can image, which merely gathered publicity headshots of director Steven Spielberg and stars Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio.
From left to right:
Miramax's posters for Gangs of New York and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind;
DreamWorks' poster for Catch Me if You Can
Monday at ShoWest is always devoted to the international exhibition industry, and the day's events came to a start at the Paris' Champagne Ballroom with, appropriately enough, the international day breakfast, sponsored by Warner Bros. International Theatres, at the Paris' Champagne Ballroom. The atmosphere of the event was casual--after all, it was a continental breakfast, not a true meal--but the mindset was decidedly businesslike (which, I suppose, would also be reflected by the continental breakfast). The keynote address by Warner Bros. International Theatres president Millard Ochs centered around how a smooth chain of leadership can lead to greater success in running movie theatres and culminated with the announcement that his company plans on opening theatres in mainland China.
More interesting, but no less business-related, was the industry address given by United International Pictures president and COO Andrew Cripps. After an uncomfortable delay due to a technical snafu with his slide presentation, Cripps launched into an overview of "the good, the bad, and the ugly" in the international film exhibition industry in 2001. The good: 21 films grossed over $100 million worldwide; the resurgence of local product in non-U.S. cinemas. The bad: the escalation of marketing and print costs; rampant piracy in Taiwan; and expansion of cinemas that yield little return. The ugly: September 11 and the ensuing global financial turmoil, especially the economic meltdown in Argentina. As a solution, Cripps offered a couple of "good" things to sustain: more trailering, as in U.S. theatres; and offering special discount days. A "bad" thing to avoid would be a "cookie cutter" approach to exhibition; that is, showing the same films found at all other theatres and not using multiplex screens to offer diverse product. "Ugly" things that continually threaten are premium offerings (as in the luxury theatres currently cropping up in the States); escalating ticket prices; and focusing too heavily on non-film offerings, such as concession items.
The week's first batch of awards were given out at the International Day Luncheon, sponsored by ACNielsen EDI and IMAX, also taking place at the Champagne Ballroom. IMAX earned the distinction of offering the first event-related bit of swag for the week, a black cap with a blue IMAX logo. After some introductory remarks by program moderator Mark Zucker, Senior Executive VP of Buena Vista International, all guests dined on a Caesar salad and then a tasty gourmet entrée: three green pasta tubes filled with veal and spinach, topped with chicken, tomato, and artichoke.
Everyone's stomachs filled, it was then time for some good old fashioned back-patting. Mark Zoradi, President of Buena Vista International, presented the International Exhibitor of the Year award to Paul Johnson, CEO of Hoyts Cinema Ltd. Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the recipient of the other award of the afternoon, International Achievement in Filmmaking, could not attend the luncheon due to prior commitments. Accepting on his behalf was Rick Sands, chairman of worldwide distribution for Miramax Films, who gave a box office stat-heavy speech that Jeunet surely would not have delivered.
International Distribution and Marketing Presentations
Apparently the international contingent at this year's ShoWest opted to largely wait for the studios' big presentations for domestic exhibitors throughout the rest of the week, for attendance at the international distribution and marketing presentations at the Paris' Théâtre des Arts was sparse at best. Maybe this should have come as no surprise, for most of the trailers and footage shown during these presentations had already been shown on stateside screens, and the big exclusive sneak peeks were yet to come during the week.
The studio's mixed slide/trailer presentation was highlighted by the theatrical spots for the current hit animated feature Ice Age; the Ashley Judd-Morgan Freeman reteaming High Crimes; the Richard Gere-Diane Lane-starring, Adrian Lyne-directed erotic thriller Unfaithful; the Angelina Jolie-Edward Burns comedy Life or Something Like It; the teaser for Steven Spielberg's Minority Report; and a preview for the Fox Searchlight release Super Troopers that was considerably more risque than the one that ran in U.S. theatres (and, as an added plus, did not feature that idiotic Ain't It Cool News pull quote). Also featured in their trailer reel was John Woo's Windtalkers, for which Fox handles international distribution rights. Still images were shown touting Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones; the DreamWorks/Fox co-production The Road to Perdition, starring Tom Hanks and directed by Sam Mendes; the oft-delayed Joel Schumacher-directed thriller Phone Booth, starring Colin Farrell; and the Fox Searchlight releases Kissing Jessica Stein, One Hour Photo (starring Robin Williams and directed by Mark Romanek), and The Banger Sisters (starring Goldie Hawn and Susan Sarandon).
The studio also showed slides that showed nothing more than text credits for a few still-in-production or soon-to-begin-production titles: Sin Eater, which reteams director Brian Helgeland with his A Knight's Tale stars Heath Ledger and Shannyn Sossamon; The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, starring Sean Connery; the George Clooney-starring remake of Solaris, sold as "James Cameron presents a film by Steven Soderbergh"; the screen adaptation of the comic Daredevil, starring Ben "Cough Curer" Affleck; and another comic adaptation, Bryan Singer's X2, the sequel to his hit 2000 take on X-Men. That last slide also featured the first (and far from the last) spelling error of the afternoon: Sir Ian McKellen's last name was misspelled, as it commonly is, with an "a" replacing the second "e."
Fresh off of his stint as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's award proxy, 'Max worldwide distribution chairman Rick Sands began his presentation with a long, off-the-cuff speech about how independent distributors are dying and that the international exhibition market is crucial to their survival. His rant over, Sands went over a laundry list of Miramax's upcoming releases without the benefit of visual aids--though given that a number of the titles he mentioned had promo posters in big ShoWest hallway, he could have easily borrowed a few. The company's highlights: Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal, which recently had its American release pushed back from March to August; Robert Rodriguez's adventure sequel Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams; Shekhar Kapur's The Four Feathers (which will be distributed in the U.S. by co-producer Paramount), starring Heath Ledger; and Harvey and Bob's big Oscar hopefuls for 2002, the eagerly anticipated film version of the hit musical Chicago and Roberto Benigni's take on Pinocchio. Sands ended his presentation wtih a tease for 2003--namely, a mention of Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino's long-gestating fourth film, which is currently set to begin a globetrotting production (in Japan, Mexico, the U.S., and China) in June, with a possible premiere at the '03 Cannes Film Festival.
United International Pictures:
Being the international distributor of Paramount, Universal, and DreamWorks releases, UIP naturally had the largest slate to tout and, accordingly, the slickest presentation. Given the size of their slate, the UIP reps didn't go through their upcoming releases, instead leaving the brunt of the work to a flashy clip package that covered films from the E.T. 20th anniversary edition to the upcoming Jackie Chan-Jennifer Love Hewitt action comedy The Tuxedo.
With most of the titles covered in short order, the two UIP representatives focused on two of their releases, both from Universal. As one of the reps dramatically declared, "Two very different films, but two that have a shared destiny: a destiny to become international blockbusters." After a pause to let the audience recover from the sting of that cornball bit of hyperbole, he named the films: The Scorpion King, the not-so-awaited spin-off of The Mummy Returns; and About a Boy, starring Hugh Grant. The two UIP reps then went into extensive detail about marketing strategies for both films, and while the presentations were slick and full of visual support, they were also full of errors. Not only did one of the speakers refer to The Scorpion King co-star Michael Clarke Duncan as "Michael Duncan Clarke," the onscreen graphic also spelled out his name as such. In the About a Boy presentation, co-star Rachel Weisz's first name was misspelled "Rachael," and a chart showing the success of British romantic comedies inexplicably included the decidedly non-romantic and only somewhat comic Billy Elliot.
UIP rounded out their program with a reel of trailers that can currently be seen in stateside theatres. Offered from the Paramount end were three films that were interconnected in some way: K-19: The Widowmaker, a submarine thriller starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson; Changing Lanes, starring Ben Affleck and Samuel L. Jackson; and The Sum of All Fears, with Affleck taking over Ford's old role of CIA analyst Jack Ryan. From the Universal side came the trailers for the long-delayed spy yarn The Bourne Identity, starring Matt Damon and Franka Potente; the Eminem starring vehicle 8 Mile; plus two previews not currently shown on U.S. screens. One was the raunchy trailer for Ali G Indahouse, starring British comic Ali G (best known to Yank audiences as the limo driver in Madonna's "Music" video); and the other was a truly enticing clip from the comedy The Guru, starring Heather Graham, Jimi Mistry, and Marisa Tomei. This clip featured Graham and Mistry in an opulent, Bollywood-style musical number of... "You're the One that I Want" from Grease. Needless to say, that closed out the international marketing presentations with a somewhat puzzled but no less strong buzz.
While the trade show floor opened a day later than usual, the companion digital demonstration rooms were open for business on the first day of ShoWest. The most popular demonstation appeared to that be of Kodak's Digital Cinema System at the Pacific Ballroom at Bally's. The Kodak system is not so much a digital projection platform--though that is a part of the greater whole--than an entire theatre operation system. With an entire multiplex wired to the system, one is able to assemble full programs (including trailers, ads, sound system spots, etc.) for each screen with mere clicks of a mouse and set exact start times for each program to unspool. Also, one can use the Kodak system to project and rotate digital poster art and even trailers in lobby displays, not to mention add some lively animation to the pre-show on-screen entertainment, which is generally shown by slide projector. The entire set-up was indeed impressive, and the trailers shown as examples--one for DreamWorks' animated feature Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and one for a still-in-production documentary called America!--looked great. However, the post-presentation Q&A brought up all the usual concerns for exhibitors: installation and operation costs, as well as compatibility issues with other systems, for so many companies are peddling their own hardware/software systems (as evidenced by the numerous demo rooms at this convention).
Day one of ShoWest 2002 came to a close with, as has become tradition, the ShoWest Showcase evening of independent film at Century's Orleans 18 Theatres at the Orleans Hotel and Casino. Five films were screened twice each, at 7:30 and 10:00: Sony Pictures Classics' Dogtown and Z-Boys, the smugly indulgent skateboarding documentary that has somehow become a film festival favorite; Fine Line's Human Nature, the latest bit of inspired dementia from Being John Malkovich scribe Charlie Kaufman; IFC's My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a cute, if slight, romantic comedy produced by Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson; Manhattan Pictures' WWII codebreaker thriller Enigma, directed by Michael Apted and starring Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet; and USA Films' romantic drama Possession, directed by Neil LaBute and starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Aaron Eckhart.
Of these five, the hottest ticket was Greek Wedding, which was somewhat surprising considering it had the least amount of star power--even including the documentary Dogtown, which is narrated by Sean Penn. But then again, considering the aggressive promotion for the film during the day (promo postcards for the film were given out in Le Centre de Conventions by representatives wearing My Big Fat Greek Wedding T-shirts--and, in one case, a wedding dress), it wasn't too surprising, not to mention when keeping in mind that it was the only film screened that night that boasted in-person talent appearances: star/writer Nia Vardalos, co-star John Corbett, and producer Wilson. For those who didn't get into the film's first, star-attended screening (where all attendees were given one of those T-shirts), the trio took the stage during the food- and drink-filled reception that took place between the movie showings.