B.O. tide turns in U.K.

In UIP’s third largest market, the United Kingdom and Ireland, there are comforting signs that the poor year so far for distribs in general is taking a turn for the better. Despite a long-running heat wave, audiences are flocking to a powerful summer lineup.

“A few years ago,” says UIP (U.K.) managing director Chris Hedges, “this weather would probably have been murderous for the film business. But movies like ‘Batman Forever,’ ‘Waterworld,’ ‘Casper’ and ‘Judge Dredd’ have performed very strongly.”

On U.K. biz for the past 18 months, Hedges notes, “In the first half of this year, admissions were down by about 15%, but last year there was an extraordinarily strong lineup of pics from all companies.”

Though UIP’s international operation is based in the West London district of Hammersmith, Hedges’ lair, responsible for the U.K. and Ireland, is downtown in offices inherited from United Artists when it merged with UIP’s predecessor, CIC. About 40 staffers are spread across marketing, sales, finance and technical departments. In Dublin, there’s a branch office of four employees.

UIP (U.K.) distribbed nine of the territory’s top 20 films last year, including third-place “The Flintstones,” “Schindler’s List” (seventh), “True Lies” (eighth), “Forrest Gump” (ninth), “Wayne’s World 2” (13th), “Addams Family Values” (14th) and “Beethoven’s 2nd” (16th). Sneaking in at Nos. 18 and 19 were “Clear and Present Danger” and “Naked Gun 331/3: The Final Insult.”

Of the 1994 releases, Hedges says “Rob Roy” has so far done very well and he’s delighted with “Star Trek: Generations,” which went way beyond the biz recorded by recent entries in the series. Topper also notes with relief that “The Little Rascals” caught on, despite “a lot of people writing it off as being too American a subject.”

Hedges is bullish on future titles. “We’ve a very strong lineup for the rest of the year – Apollo 13,’ ‘Species,’ ‘Clueless,’ ‘Babe,’ ‘Goldeneye’ – and we’re going into Christmas with the new Rob Reiner film, ‘The American President.’

“In 1996, the product is equally strong,” he says. “We’ve got ‘Casino,’ ‘Sabrina,’ ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ‘Get Shorty’ and ‘Birds of a Feather.’ ” Around March will come a major British entry, “Fierce Creatures,” the long-awaited followup from the creators and cast of “A Fish Called Wanda.”

The lag between Stateside and U.K. openings is now down to a week or two with big titles. Extensive overnight media coverage of U.S. preems has created a demand to see the product quickly, says the exec.

“Waterworld” bowed in the U.K. two weeks after its domestic opening. “Goldeneye,” with Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond, opens Nov. 24, a week after its U.S. bow. “The American President” shows a month after the States.

However, UIP (U.K.) marketing director Ken Green notes openings sometimes need to be delayed to create awareness or benefit from promo opportunities.

Recalls Green, “When we launched ‘Wayne’s World,’ we felt there was a clear need to establish not only the film but also the characters of Wayne and Garth. They were totally unknown in this country.

Of future releases, “Apollo 13” was put in holding position until after its screenings at the Venice and Deauville fests, and until Tom Hanks and other crew members, plus helmer Ron Howard, were available for promo chores.

The gang at UIP (U.K.) says it’s generally very happy with the international campaigns devised in Hammersmith. Occasionally, they need some fine-tuning for the local market. “The design team is sitting in London,” explains Green, “so they take British needs into account anyway.

“Sometimes, it’s just a matter of changing a copy line or putting in pull-quotes. Sometimes, we’ll produce our own TV spots or add to American material a particular angle that’s relevant to the U.K.

“One example is the one-sheet and ads for ‘Babe’ that are being released later this year. We felt it was important to get across the Dick King-Smith book (‘The Sheep-Pig’) the film is based on, as it’s a popular British kids classic. It may not mean a thing in other countries, but it’s relevant to us here.”

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