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CinemaCon trade show attracts movie studios

The Las Vegas convention for the National Assn. of Theatre Owners will be filled with film companies promoting such projects as 'Frankenweenie,' Oz: The Great and Powerful' and 'The Hobbit.'

April 23, 2012|By Amy Kaufman and John Horn, Los Angeles Times
  • Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and a fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker must rely on each other to survive an epic journey in the movie "Life of Pi."
Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) and a fierce Bengal tiger named Richard Parker must… (Rhythm and Hues, 20th Century…)

For most of the year, theater owners are worried about the price of movie tickets, what kind of candy to stock the concession area with and keeping tweens out of R-rated movies.

But for four days at Las Vegas' CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, exhibitors get to mingle with Hollywood stars and see previews of the industry's most anticipated films. On a trade show floor at Caesars Palace, they can check out vendors pushing new popcorn toppings, the latest 3-D glasses and new 3-D and sound technology. The event kicks off Monday and closes Thursday with a celebrity-studded awards show honoring everyone from Sylvester Stallone to newcomer Diego Boneta.

CinemaCon — formerly known as ShoWest — has assumed a higher profile since it was taken over by NATO in 2010, and this year every major studio will have a presence at the trade show. Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, Sony, 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate all will present a variety of trailers, clips and full feature films in the hopes of generating excitement among exhibitors about their upcoming movie slates.

Disney will trot out Tim Burton and James Franco to help promote some of its upcoming films, including "Frankenweenie" and "Oz: The Great and Powerful." Warner Bros., meanwhile, is planning to show footage of Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit" projected at 48 frames per second. (Currently, the industry standard for showing movies is 24 frames per second, but Jackson and filmmaker James Cameron have long championed faster frame rates to improve the quality of the image.) And Fox will be presenting a number of scenes, all in 3-D, from director Ang Lee's adaptation of "Life of Pi," the acclaimed magical realism novel by Yann Martel about a shipwreck's survivors.

Even though the film from the director of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Brokeback Mountain" does not open until Dec. 21, Fox believes it can start to position the film at CinemaCon.

Tom Rothman, Fox's co-chairman and chief executive, said the screening is designed in some ways "to shatter a lot of preconceptions" about what the film is about. "A lot of people think that the book is unfilmable, and as recently as four or five years ago they were right — it was unfilmable," Rothman said.

The evolution of 3-D photography and visual effects used to create the animals in the film, Rothman said, should startle CinemaCon attendees.

In some ways, such dog-and-pony shows are more useful for the studios than they are for theater owners. Many Hollywood distribution executives say CinemaCon feedback can influence decision-making on release dates and marketing campaigns.

"A few years ago, Summit showed'Letters to Juliet'and afterward we hosted a cocktail party. Everyone was discussing how charming the movie was and how they were happy with the way it evolved," recalled Richie Fay, now president of domestic distribution for Lionsgate, which recently merged with Summit Entertainment.

This year, Lionsgate will debut the trailer for "Expendables 2" and screen "What to Expect When You're Expecting" at CinemaCon. "There's nobody standing there with a clipboard," Fay added, "but those anecdotes from film buyers whose opinions you value can be very helpful down the line."

David Corwin, whose Metropolitan Theatres Corp. has 101 screens in states including California and Idaho, said he doesn't come to CinemaCon for the studio presentations. "I don't think anything we see will change what we book. The major purpose of the show is connecting with people you're doing business with all year long," said Corwin, referring to the studio executives he speaks with via telephone during the rest of the year.

Similarly, Rafe Cohen, whose Galaxy Theatres has 111 screens in Texas, New York and elsewhere, said that networking is the primary reason he attends the show. But he added: "We do look forward to seeing the product reels — it helps us gauge, even in seeing a snippet, what degree of enthusiasm is generated."

Like theater owners, Hollywood brass at CinemaCon also are interested in checking out the latest technology, from 3-D glasses to laser light.

"I like to see what exhibitors are on the cutting edge with technology," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros.' head of distribution. "It's one thing to read about it, but when you see a demonstration of a new lightbulb or a faster projector, you start thinking about working with the filmmakers who are also on the cutting edge of technology."

amy.kaufman@latimes.com

john.horn@latimes.com

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