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ShoWest . . . Now a Look at Coming Attractions : Movies: Theater owners, studios and stars will add some glitter to Las Vegas as they gather for an annual convention to preview upcoming films. It is expected to be the largest event in the group's 20-year history.


LAS VEGAS — Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures will pit their star rosters against one another at this week's '94 National Assn. of Theater Owners/ShoWest convention, which organizers say will be the largest gathering of exhibitors and distributors in the event's 20-year history.

Each year, the major studios spend an average of $1 million or more to promote their top brass, upcoming movies and big stars to theater owners from across America and abroad.

This year's gathering kicks off today and runs through Thursday at Bally's Hotel and Casino, with an expected guest list of 6,500, including such top Hollywood stars as Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Eddie Murphy, Harrison Ford, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robin Williams, director Steven Spielberg and "Jurassic Park" author Michael Crichton, as well as industry heavyweights such as Ted Turner and Sumner Redstone.

Both Turner, with his recent acquisitions of independent movie companies Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema, and Redstone, whose company, Viacom Inc., just fought a bloody battle for the ownership of Paramount Communications, are Hollywood's newest movie moguls.


Redstone delivers the keynote address here Tuesday, using the opportunity to discuss how he beat out Barry Diller and QVC for the entertainment giant.

On the convention's last day, Turner joins Universal Pictures chairman Tom Pollock and a panel of exhibitors to discuss the future of theatrical exhibition in the coming age of the information superhighway.

Most exhibitors today remain bullish about their business--which hit a record $5.2 billion in '93--and pooh-pooh the notion that video-on-demand, cable, pay-per-view and 500-channel information superhighways will render movie theaters obsolete.

"If you take the statements being made today and compare them to what the media wrote in 1953 when they predicted we'd all go broke because of TV, it's the same speech," says Michael Patrick, owner of the 1,735-screen Georgia-based circuit Carmike Cinemas.

Chan Wood, film buyer for Los Angeles-based Pacific Theaters, predicts new integrated delivery systems are "still five or 10 years away." He doesn't seem worried. "Look what happened with video. It leveled off and theaters kept on going. People want escapism . . . they want to go out, have popcorn and see a movie."

While there's certain to be plenty of heady talk at the show, exhibitors really come to see what they can expect to book in their theaters in the coming year. Studios fork out from $750,000 to $1.5 million on "product reels," clips of their upcoming movies that they hope will excite exhibitors and ensure prime bookings.

By previewing the movies, exhibitors can plan their Memorial Day through Christmas schedules. "You get a flavor of anywhere from 10 to 20 films from each studio," says Pacific's Wood, noting the real value is not previewing trailers from the more sure-fire big star offerings, but seeing those of smaller, unknown films.

Wood recalls past years when exhibitors discovered such surprises as "Free Willy" and "Edward Scissorhands," neither of which had any buzz going into ShoWest. "As an exhibitor, all you need is one or two sleepers and it can make your quarter," Wood says.

The same rule holds true for the distributor. Warner Bros. distribution chief Barry Reardon says: "A little-known picture can get kosher at ShoWest. We can spend hundreds of thousands of (advertising) dollars, but put 3,500 exhibitors in one room and have them buzz about a movie--that's an impossible effect to duplicate." ShoWest, he acknowledges, may be "about hype, but if you show the right product there, the payback is incalculable."

But a great trailer doesn't necessarily mean a great film. And in cases where movies have not been shot yet, exhibitors see only title treatments, slides or teaser trailers, which can be unsatisfying.

Carmike's Patrick says he wishes ShoWest would move to mid-April to allow exhibitors to see at least two- to three-minute trailers on completed movies.

"ShoWest is too early, and it's been disappointing in the last few years because we did not get to see the amount of product we were led to believe from the majors," said Patrick, who like some exhibitors prefers to see movies in their entirety at the sister convention, Showeast, held every October in Atlantic City.


One thing most exhibitors--particularly ma-and-pa theater owners from small-town America--love about ShoWest is the Hollywood glamour. And this year, it doesn't appear they'll be disappointed.

Wednesday will be the most star-studded day, with Warner Bros. and Paramount sponsoring lunch and dinner events, respectively. With last-minute commitments still being finalized, expected guests on Warners' dais include Macaulay Culkin, Cruise, Costner, Gibson, Foster, Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Michael Douglas and James Garner.

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