WB hits ShoWest with guns blazing

With all the confidence of an 800-pound gorilla, Warner Bros. stormed NATO/ShoWest ’94 on Wednesday, unleashing a 44-minute product reel and flexing some serious corporate muscle.

The company delivered exactly the type of thing that impresses mom-and-pop exhibitors and corporate exhibition executives in town with their families — big Hollywood stars.

Warren Beatty, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Demi Moore, Jodie Foster, Michael Douglas, Randy Quaid, Kevin Costner and Macaulay Culkin took turns on the dais of the Goldwyn Events Center in Bally’s Hotel & Casino.

The lineup prompted Warner Bros. president Terry Semel to quip that he would introduce the industry’s No. 1 box-office draw, but there was “an enormous concern everyone in the front row would stand up.”

Semel couldn’t resist throwing in a dig at competitor Buena Vista. Referring to BV’s presentation Tuesday night, which featured the characters from “Aladdin” flying over the auditorium on a magic carpet, Semel joked, “We’re not going to have anyone come out and fly across the stage or anything else like that.”

In one of the afternoon’s funnier turns, “Love Affair” star Warren Beatty lightheartedly took issue with NATO/ShoWest’s decision “to make someone Star of the Century.” Harrison Ford was skedded to receive the accolade at the Paramount Picture’s dinner later Wednesday.

“I had someone call (WB president of distribution) Barry Reardon and see if he could have someone negotiate — cut a deal — to name me star of the last 150 years,” Beatty said.

“He negotiated down to 125 years. I’d encourage you to look at some of the work I did during the Spanish-American War, and Michael Douglas did some very good work with Fatty Arbuckle.”

Several key pictures in the 44-minute spool were well received by the audience of exhibitors, including New Regency’s “The Client,” the Gibson/Foster pairing “Maverick,” producer Joel Silver’s “Richie Rich” and the adaptation of Michael Crichton’s “Disclosure.” But exhibs were denied an early glimpse of Cruise as vampire Lestat in director Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Ann Rice’s “Interview With the Vampire.”

Mann Theaters head film buyer Mike Pade said WB took a “shotgun approach” to showing its wares, impressing exhibitors with the sheer volume and quality of product.

One of the major beneficiaries of the WB product reel was the Kevin Costner/Dennis Quaid pairing “Wyatt Earp.” The footage was well received, though some exhibitors earlier had been concerned over its anticipated three-hour-plus running time. Director Lawrence Kasdan said he made it a point to take a day off from editing “Wyatt Earp” to see the NATO/ShoWest reaction.

“It is always a priority to speak directly to exhibitors,” said Kasdan. “A long movie is always a challenge in terms of selling and exhibiting, but a good story always takes care of itself.”

Also of note was the company’s continued emphasis on its family film label, prominently featured on the front of previews for the animated “Thumbelina,” enthusiastically received “Black Stallion” and “Free Willy” sequels.

The WB luncheon always looms as major event at NATO/ShoWest because of the studio’s track record with exhibitors, who point to its three consecutive years in the top spot at the box office and a stable management team as its most attractive features.

“From an exhibitors standpoint, the continuity of Warner’s management is what comes through at ShoWest,” said AMC president of film marketing Don Harris. “The fact that there is a constancy of management is demonstrated when you see the same faces (of the same executives) up there each year.”

Lou Lencioni, operator of the booking/billing agency Alamo Theater Services, said the WB presentation has always been effective in generating an early buzz. “They have big expenses, bringing people in and creating excitement,” Lencioni said. “Exhibitors don’t always appreciate the money the distributors are spending” to deliver the glitz.

“Love Affair” director Glenn Gordon Caron concurred with Kasdan that NATO/ShoWest is a good early sounding board for filmmakers. “Its the first time you show film to people outside of the process,” said Caron. “Even though it’s not the film itself, it is images” shown to “showpeople essentially in the same business we are.”

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