Although this was my third year covering the event, seeing the now-familiar lighted entryway at the Paris Centre de Conventions still instills a certain movie geek rush. But said excitement was tempered a bit by the rather depressing sight of this year's incarnation of the Entertainment Tonight screen, on which trailers and ET-produced segments produced exclusively for the event play on seamless, continuous loop. Two years ago, this screen was full Jumbotron size, occupying nearly an entire wall; last year's screen was roughly half the size; this year, it was a widescreen projection television with some dinky speakers on each side. At the current rate of shrinkage, next year's version will probably be a computer monitor.
Counteracting that disappointment, however, was the amusement provided by traditional multitude of movie posters and displays that lined the hallways. As usual, there were a number of one-sheets and standees that were already in theatres, such as those for a pair of major summer tentpole sequels, Fox's X2 and Warner Bros.' Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines--both of which got shockingly little promotion outside of these displays for the entire convention. Some studios staked out larger portions of real estate to tout titles. Columbia and MGM had lighted poster/still displays pushing more than one film, while Warner Bros. virtually had an entire hallway devoted to oversize versions of the entire The Matrix Reloaded teaser poster series. Size is no substitute for creativity, however, and Paramount earned points for its displays for The Core: mock newspaper machines "selling" a new "issue" each day of the convention.
From top to bottom, left to right:
Columbia Pictures hallway display; MGM hallway display;
Warner Bros.' The Matrix Reloaded hallway display; Paramount's The Core kiosk
Creativity isn't as intriguing as the new and unfamiliar, and as with every year the most intriguing posters were those that hadn't yet been released to theatres or preliminary teasers put together expressly for display at the convention. Universal was behind most of these posters while last year's champ, Miramax, only had two posters, both touting the same film. Perhaps it's my shameless bias talking, but both studios took top honors for having most interesting posters: Universal for its teaser series for the horribly-titled The Fast and the Furious sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious; and the 'Max for its pair of teasers for Jersey Girl.
The black Jersey Girl poster was situated right next to the door of the press room, which I found terribly appropriate since my affiliation with Movie Poop Shoot helped me get the elite "Passport" press status for the convention, without which made covering last year's event a bit of an ordeal. Thanks to a little brown booklet that resembles the passport one would use for international travel (hence the name), I was on level ground with the various delegates for the movie theatre chains, receiving priority access to all events for the week--not to mention all of the bags o' swag. So the check-in routine with the ever-helpful publicity crew from Rogers & Cowan was slightly different for me, as this time around I was given more than just the standard press badge: I was also given the passport, an envelope of tickets for all the major events of the week as well as a black briefcase emblazoned with the logos for sponsors CourtTV and everyone's favorite Sunday paper magazine, Parade--and accordingly containing a CourtTV light pen and the latest issue of Parade.
Having a passport this time around, I was also able to receive the ShoWest registration goody bag. Among the items contained in a black tote bearing the Pepsi and ShoWest logos were T-shirts for films such as Universal's American Pie sequel American Wedding, MGM's Chow Yun-Fat starrer Bulletproof Monk and New Line's no-one-asked-for-it prequel Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd; a Focus Features cap (no doubt to herald the recently-formed indie's first ShoWest); a Warner Bros. light pen; a Loews Cineplex Entertainment toy truck; and a bunch of candy, including a small pouch o' treats that would be the only signifier of Jelly Belly's existence for the entire week--please come back to the trade show, Jelly Belly folk!
After meeting up with friend and fellow film writer Adam Mast of ZBoneman.com, it was off to the week's first major presentation. Monday is designated "International Day" at ShoWest, and as such most of the day's events are geared toward exhibitors outside of the United States. However, the "Hollywood Event Films at the IMAX Theatre" presentation by the IMAX Corporation was of interest to exhibitors from anywhere. Held off-campus at the large-format theatre at Luxor, the presentation centered around the announcement/launch of the IMAX MPX theatre system. This new system allows exhibitors to add an IMAX auditorium to a multiplex venue or retrofit two existing standard multiplex auditoriums into an IMAX 2-D and 3-D-ready screen at a lower cost.
To help sell the IMAX cause, Larry O'Reilly, the company's Senior Vice President of Theatre Development and Film Distribution, served up some hard statistics. Surveys showed that moviegoers would be willing to travel longer distances and pay higher ticket prices in order to catch the latest blockbuster film on a large format screen; box office figures support the survey's findings, as showings of Hollywood films on IMAX screens added an average of $20 million to the domestic box office take. They then recapped a successful 2002 for IMAX, during which there was a steady stream of revenue-generating product that played exclusively on the larger screens: the Tom Cruise-narrated documentary Space Station 3-D; Touchstone's extreme sports doc ESPN's Ultimate X; Steve Oedekerk's 3-D computer animated holiday comedy Santa Claus vs. the Snowman; and a quartet of proven hits reformatted to fill the IMAX screen: Beauty and the Beast, Apollo 13, Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones and The Lion King. Conspicuously--though not exactly curiously--absent from this rundown was Disney's Treasure Planet. Granted, the film was a bust on all levels--particularly from a financial standpoint--but it was a glaring omission considering it was the first feature film to premiere day-and-date on both standard and large-format screens.
But, as they say, a picture speaks a thousand words, and when it comes to a picture as large and clear as IMAX's, no amount of hard sell can make up for a good ol' demonstration. Bookending the speeches were two demo reels. The program began with comparisons of key scenes from the original 35mm and digitally reformatted and remastered IMAX prints of Apollo 13. Needless to say, the IMAX presentation was clearly the victor in sound and visuals--and would have been even if they didn't further stack the deck by showing a horribly scratched-up 35mm print with the sound quite obviously cranked to the lower end of the dial. IMAX's superiority well-established, this was followed by the coliseum battle climax from Attack of the Clones: The IMAX Experience. The roughly hour-long-total program concluded with a demonstration of IMAX 3-D: the trailer for Santa Claus vs. the Snowman and some early footage from Warner Bros.' forthcoming auto racing documentary NASCAR: The IMAX Experience 3-D, which began production on February 14 for a Spring 2004 release.
The festivities shifted back to the Paris (specifically, the Champagne Ballroom) for the first major meal-centered event of the week, the International Day Luncheon. Due to a combination of scheduling conflicts with the IMAX presentation and limited seating availability, I was unable to attend. Fernando Meirelles, director of the brilliant, Oscar-nod-snubbed Brazilian crime saga City of God, received ShoWest's International Achievement in Filmmaking award at the event; and Yoji Ikushima, managing director of Warner Mycal Corporation, was honored as ShoWest's International Exhibitor of the Year.
International Distribution and Marketing Presentations
The first of many events held at the Paris Théâtre des Arts for the week were the international distribution and marketing presentations--this year with the word "exhibition" appended to the official title, as this year's program went beyond distributors' previews of the coming year and beyond. That said, a look at forthcoming product was the reason to sit in, as these two hours were by far the most informative as far as what will be hitting screens around the world in the months to come.
The studio's presentation got off to lively start with a briskly-edited montage of scenes from Daredevil, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Le Divorce, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Down with Love and X2 scored to a dance remix of Jennifer Lopez's 1999 single "Feelin' So Good." Things quickly settled down as Twentieth Century Fox International Presidents Stephen Moore and Scott Neeson breezed through a large international slate (which includes films distributed domestically by MGM and Fox Searchlight) by way of slides, video, animations and/or any combination thereof. For the most part, there were only animated slides, trumpeting the likes of the Renée Zellweger/Ewan McGregor retro screwball comedy Down with Love; the upcoming John Grisham adaptation, The Runaway Jury, starring John Cusack; the Steve Martin comedy Cheaper by the Dozen; the Fox Searchlight releases Antwone Fisher, 28 Days Later, and Le Divorce (more on the latter two in Day 2); the Farrelly Brothers' conjoined twin epic Stuck on You, starring Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear and Cher; the domestic MGM release Legally Blonde 2 (curiously promoted sans the Red, White & Blonde subtitle); and the CGI/live action adaptation of Garfield. Moore and Neeson went on about the last title's marketability while curiously skirting the issue of who's starring in the thing--but then again, when the flesh-and-blood actors are Breckin Meyer and Jennifer Love Hewitt, perhaps it's best to keep such information underwraps.
Despite the volume of titles covered in the presentations, there was actually very little video footage shown, and what was shown was not new, such as the trailers for MGM's Frankie Muniz spy yarn Agent Cody Banks and the second trailer for the studio's biggest film of the year, Bryan Singer's X-Men sequel X2. The only material that could be considered somewhat fresh were behind-the-scenes featurettes on Peter Weir's Russell Crowe starrer Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (due out in November) and X2, but both segments had already appeared on Fox's "Movie Buzz" promo DVD that were attached to popcorn bags at certain theatre chains (Regal, Cinemark, Clearview, Century, Hoyts and Famous Players) at the end of January. Nonetheless, both mini-documentaries were welcome breaks from the animated slide shows, not to mention they did their job of whetting the viewers' appetites for both films.
As with last year, the studio also offered vague looks at a few projects in the more distant future: Roland Emmerich's Tomorrow (summer 2004); the Will Smith-starring Isaac Asimov adaptation I, Robot (summer 2004); the long-in-the-coming Mel Gibson sequel Mad Max: Fury Road (summer 2004); the big-budget big screen take on Fantastic Four, directed by Peyton Reed (targeted for early 2005); Robots, director Chris Wedge's follow-up to the smash Ice Age (spring 2005); and the sequel to said surprise blockbuster, Ice Age II (2006). The presentation closed with a look at the studio's extensive marketing campaign on behalf of X2, including dressing up commercial airplanes with full-body paint jobs featuring the motley crew of mutants.
United International Pictures:
Andrew Cripps, President and Chief Operating Officer of the international distributor for DreamWorks, Paramount and Universal releases, began his preview of UIP's release slate by acknowledging the very bad 2002 the company suffered. There was no time to dwell on that fact, however, considering the upswing UIP is currently enjoying with the healthy runs of The Ring, Catch Me If You Can and 8 Mile; this triumphant trio was trumpeted with a quick-cut montage scored to, of all things, Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head."
Another trio of titles were given special spotlight at the top of the presentation: Ang Lee's eagerly-anticipated Marvel Comics adaptation The Hulk; the not-so-eagerly-awaited return adventure of "the first supermodel of the digital age," Lara Croft: Tomb Raider--The Cradle of Life; and Richard Curtis's all-star British romantic comedy Love Actually. Video was shown for the first and the third title, specifically the disappointing Hulk Super Bowl spot and a haphazard (though, from my perspective, seemingly spoiler-heavy) montage of Love Actually scenes set to a choral cover of "All You Need Is Love." Only a handful of still images were available for The Cradle of Life, including a much-lingered-on shot of star Angelina Jolie wearing a silver wet suit. As pleasing as that image was, perhaps most amusing was a slide listing a number of bullet points about the film--one of which was the wonderfully vague "Raising the stakes," whatever that's supposed to mean.
As with the Fox presentation, the UIP program mostly featured slides, with the extra boost of full-motion video only given to a handful of titles; trailers were shown for The Core and the Rowan Atkinson spy spoof Johnny English; a few electronic press kit-style interviews were shown for the Coen brothers' promising new film Intolerable Cruelty, starring the sickeningly attractive pair of George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones; and a taped conversation with Stephen Sommers was shown to promote the writer-director's latest update of classic Universal monster properties, the Hugh Jackman starrer Van Helsing. The latter pits the vampire hunter of Bram Stoker's novels against Frankenstein and the Werewolf in addition to Dracula, but any geeked-up excitement generated by the cool production sketches, animatics and make-up tests was deflated by a simple assurance by Sommers: "Don't worry; it will be a PG-13"--music to exhibitors' ears, no doubt; but film buffs? Not so much.
Receiving simple slide mentions were many 2003-and-beyond titles: Paramount's remake of The Italian Job, directed by F. Gary Gray and starring Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton and Charlize Theron; the DreamWorks animated feature Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, featuring the voices of Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones; Universal's youth sex comedy sequel American Wedding; Paramount's Michael Crichton-based time travel yarn Timeline, starring Paul Walker and directed by Richard Donner; Universal's latest Dr. Seuss desecration--er, adaptation--The Cat in the Hat, starring Mike Myers in a bunch of makeup; Tom Cruise's Paramount spy sequel M:I-3; Universal's live action remake of the beloved '60s "Supermarionation" TV show Thunderbirds; and DreamWorks's computer animated sequel Shrek 2. Going curiously unmentioned in any way, shape, or form was 2 Fast 2 Furious, the sequel to The Fast and the Furious.
United Cinemas International:
The first of the afternoon's exhibition-related presentations was given by Steve Knibbs, Senior Vice President of Northern Europe for United Cinemas International. He compared three distinct European markets--the United Kingdom, Poland and Germany--and the various promotional strategies used to drum up or maintain interest in burgeoning, consistently strong, or faltering moviegoing territories. Most amusing was a look at costumed character appearances at German theatres. While it isn't exactly unusual to see someone dressed up as Spider-Man at a theatre to promote that film, it's quite another thing to see people done up as New England state troopers to promote the indie comedy Super Troopers.
My and Adam's jaws were on the floor throughout the presentation by Vicha Poolvaraluck, Chief Executive Officer of the Thailand chain Major Cineplex. Major's philosophy in theatre construction is quite radical from a western standpoint; instead of targeting young moviegoers by building no-frills multiplexes, Major thinks more long-term, keeping the older moviegoer in mind with their luxurious, hotel-like theatres. The plush screening rooms and ornately decorated lobbies shown in Poolvaraluck's slide and video presentation were enough to make me want to seriously consider taking a trip to Bangkok just to see a film; even the highest capacity auditoriums have large, comfortable seating. Major's screens are also often tied to other attractions such as bowling alleys with--no joke--karaoke set-ups at each lane. If only U.S. theatre chains had such vision.
Industry Address: "Digital Cinema Initiatives: A Worldwide Perspective"
Chuck Goldwater, Chief Executive Officer of NDC (the entity formed by the major studios to develop technical specifications for digital cinema) wrapped up the afternoon with this presentation, whose title is self-explanatory. With the program already running far overtime, Goldwater promised his speech would be brief, and indeed it was--clocking in at perhaps two minutes at the most. Brevity is indeed a good thing, but in this case, it made any solid points he had to make fly clear over the audience's heads.
"The next My Big Fat Greek Wedding." That phrase was the one bandied about most frequently at the annual ShoWest Showcase evening of independent film, which took place at the traditional off-site location of Century's Orleans 18 Theatres at the Orleans Hotel and Casino. After all, the seeds of the startling box office success of Nia Vardalos's semi-autobiographical romantic comedy can be traced back to last year's Showcase, where Vardalos, co-star John Corbett and producer Rita Wilson appeared for a rapturously-received screening of the film. I would be majorly surprised, however, if any of this year's selections achieved even a respectable fraction of that film's success. Five films were screened twice each at 7:30 and 10:00: Newmarket's Whale Rider, which won the audience award at Sundance this year; the Oscar-nominated documentary Winged Migration, from Sony Pictures Classics; First Look's psychological thriller Hypnotic, starring Goran Visnjic; IFC's ensemble comedy Camp, written and directed by Todd Graff; and Lions Gate's The Cooler, starring William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin.
Between the two designated showtimes was the traditional buffet-like reception in the lobby of the theatre; drinks were served as was an assortment of foods ranging from pasta to turkey to hors d'oeuvres. There were no in-person appearances by anyone involved in any of the films, so as was the case two years ago, few people paid much attention to the brief on-stage presentation/remarks. Those of us who did pay attention (yes, count me among them) saw the presentation of the first annual Movie Exhibitor Partnership Award to AMC Entertainment as well as event sponsor awards given to representatives of Dolby Labs and the Newspaper Association of America. Thus began an ongoing mystery: the sponsor awards given throughout the week were aqua gift boxes tied with a white bow, and there was no clues as to exactly what each box contained.