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'Chicago' jazzes up lineup

Miramax piggybacks two underperforming films with 'sneak' showings of the award-winning musical.

January 31, 2003|Anita M. Busch | Times Staff Writer

In a move that bolsters the fortunes of its other films, Miramax Films is using its award-winning musical "Chicago" to increase box office of "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and Oscar hopeful "Gangs of New York."

Last weekend, in addition to the 616 regular engagements, Miramax piggybacked "Chicago" with "Confessions" on 500 screens. In such a case, ticket buyers for "Confessions" were entitled to see "Chicago." The practice, known as "sneaking" a film, usually takes place when a yet-to-open movie needs an extra marketing push through word-of-mouth. Miramax has been rolling out "Chicago" slowly to build interest.

Miramax's strategy has raised eyebrows among seasoned distribution executives. "It's obvious that all they are doing is pumping up the grosses on 'Confessions,' " said one veteran distribution executive. "It's tough to break out how much 'Confessions' got out of last weekend, but the sneak certainly helped....What they are trying to do is capitalize on the success of 'Chicago' and spread it around the rest of the release schedule."

"Regardless of what people say, the sneaks are all about 'Chicago,' " countered Miramax Chief Operating Officer Rick Sands. He said people in smaller towns are hesitant to see musicals "and that needs to be overcome." He said Miramax also wants to maintain the soundtrack's sales momentum.

Beginning today for three days, Miramax is sneaking "Chicago" on a significant number of screens -- 1,200 -- with "Confessions" and "Gangs," which have not performed up to expectations. Because there is no revenue sharing, the other films, not "Chicago," benefit financially. As for how much of a bump in box office "Confessions" received last weekend, Sands said, "it's hard to say ... what it would have done on its own."

The strategy may affect compensation deals made for "Chicago's" filmmakers and on-screen talent. "Chicago" was made for an estimated $45 million. Usually, on a film with such star value -- in this case, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger and Richard Gere -- a moderate budget may indicate that its talent could have forgone their usual fees in exchange for a share in receipts.

What's striking is that Miramax is sneaking "Chicago" in some of the same cities where it has already opened. While sneaking is a normal part of movie marketing, it is unusual when a film has already opened in other theaters in the same city and to stretch it over three days.

It is also not done when the film has already achieved such a high profile. The critically acclaimed "Chicago" has won the Golden Globe for best picture/musical or comedy. This weekend, the musical, which has taken in more than $40 million, will "officially" be in about 620 theaters and will expand to more than 1,800 play dates Feb. 7.

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