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Hollywood Looks at the Big Picture--the World : Movies: CAA seminars explore the new opportunities presented by emerging technology and the growing foreign marketplace.


It was, as director Ivan Reitman commented, "The CAA version of a power breakfast": two early morning seminars organized by the agency for the attendees of the American Film Market, foreign TV and film executives converging on Hollywood this week in search of American product.

The big names--studio chiefs and some heavy-duty directorial talent--did indeed turn out, sipping cappuccino in the lobby of Creative Artists Agency's elegant new I.M. Pei headquarters in Beverly Hills and fielding questions about Hollywood's role in a changing worldwide entertainment community.

Thursday's event focused on the business side of film making; Friday, with the creative end. "We don't have all the answers," noted CAA President Michael Ovitz, "but we're interested in starting a dialogue. We have an opportunity to create a Common Market of talent, product, and ideas to bring to the entire world."

"We're off to a good start," joked Terry Semel, president of Warner Bros. and moderator of the first day's panel. "This is the first time Mike Ovitz, on behalf of CAA, has admitted that he doesn't know everything. At least we agree on one issue."

The industry, represented by Tom Pollock (president of Universal Pictures), Joe Roth (chairman of 20th Century Fox Film Corp.), Mike Medavoy (ex-executive vice president of production at Orion Pictures) and Harvey Weinstein (co-chairman of Miramax Films), also agreed on another point: that the foreign market is of increasing importance in the Hollywood business picture.

By the end of 1991, predicted Semel, every studio will have operations set up in countries with which they do business.

Pollock contrasted the picture at home with the burgeoning possibilities abroad. "In the U.S., ticket sales have remained the same, cable is declining, TV is in disarray," he said. "Forty percent of Universal's profits now come from the foreign market. In four or five years, that figure will surpass 50%. The main stumbling block is the lack of first-class theaters worldwide. We've spent a lot of time and money building multiplexes in Western Europe and Australia."

Building theaters isn't the answer, asserted Medavoy, who last week stepped down from his post at Orion ("There's nothing worse than being an unemployed executive . . . except maybe being an unemployed actor.").

"It's the emerging technology which will dominate for the next 20 to 30 years . . . maybe forever," Medavoy said. "The fax machine was a big part of changes in the Eastern bloc. Everything is moving faster everywhere. But the early approach can be the road to waste and ruin. By investing in areas in Eastern Europe that don't pay off for a long time you might be out of business."

Quipped Semel: "It's called being a pioneer. Someone's got to do it."

Representatives of the major studios contended that skyrocketing costs of doing business abroad will affect the way the game is played.

"Ten years ago, we worried about posters and newspaper ads," said Semel. "Now we have to concern ourselves with TV, cable, satellites. Fewer players can stand up to this kind of expense--and they're more likely to bypass the 'little' film in favor of those that can potentially 'break out.' "

Fox's Roth concurred: "It now takes $30 million worldwide to drive a major film so money begins to dictate the number of players. A year ago, when I was at (independent) Morgan Creek, I realized that the big players take 95% of the pie."

Weinstein, the only independent in the group, proved to be an articulate and good-natured foil for the titans. In light of the discussion, he wondered, why should he show up at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on March 26, when Miramax's "My Left Foot" is competing for a best picture Oscar? "My company is too small to accept an award," he deadpanned.

Bolstered by what he later termed a "storybook" year ("sex, lies, and videotape" and "Scandal," as well as "My Left Foot"), the Miramax head made a case for the smaller, more "specialized films" that U.S.-European co-productions could help get off the ground.

"Personal statements can not only be heard but can be financially successful," Weinstein said. "Because our overhead is lower, we can narrow-cast, targeting a specific audience as they do in cable, until a film crosses over (into the mainstream). r "What matters in the end is the net (profit). Universal spent $8.5 million on publicity and advertising for 'Do the Right Thing' which took in $28 million. We're going to take in that amount on 'sex, lies, and videotape' having spent only $2.5 million."

Day Two, "Film Makers Look at the Nineties," featured some of CAA's A-list talent: directors Richard Donner ("Lethal Weapon"), Barry Levinson ("Rain Man") and Alan Parker ("Mississippi Burning") as well as actor/producer Michael Douglas. Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters") moderated.

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