BOOKING’S A TOUGH JOB

While U.S. pictures in Australia often perform in line with their domestic results, there are exceptions which can surprise even those who book films for a living.

The surprises work both ways. Some U.S. titles shoot way above their U.S. grosses on a pro-rated basis, while others fall below. As a rough rule of thumb, tradesters say major films ought to gross around a tenth of their U.S. total Down Under.

“No matter how long you have been in the business or what formulas you use, the business continues to surprise us. You can’t predict the fickle nature of the general public,” says Peter Cody, Greater Union’s national film buying and programming manager.

As part of the negotiating process with distribs, Cody forecasts the national B.O. total of major releases ranging anywhere from a modest $1.48 million performer to a $14.8 million click.

“You like to think you’ll get more (estimates) right than wrong,” says Cody, who served as national programmer before being upped to his present role in March when vet John Politzer took early retirement.

Among the recent crop, Cody says “Casper,” “While You Were Sleeping,” “Braveheart” and “Species” all fared better than their U.S. figures may have portended.

“Batman Forever” and “Die Hard With a Vengeance” mirrored their U.S. performances, while “First Knight” and “Crims’on Tide” were underachievers, he said.

Australia is not a homogeneous market. Grosses can fluctuate widely from one multiplex to another, depending on their audiences’ demographic profile. But the proliferation of new screens has succeeded in widening the audiences for films that a few years ago would have been classified as having narrow appeal. Cody cites the Irish romantic comedy, “Circle of Friends,” which distrib REP has parlayed to mainstream popularity.

One area where Australia is following the U.S. pattern is the critical importance placed by distribs on getting films to open big. That isn’t always in the interests of exhibs like Greater Union.

“Ideally, we want to get a nice long run out of films,” Cody notes, because the distrib takes a high percentage of the gross in the initial weeks.

Cody started his career in the booking department of Roadshow Film Distributors in Sydney in 1981, and went back there in 1985 after stints with distrib Filmways (now defunct) and the Academy Twin. He remembers “Top Gun” being released in just two Sydney sites – the city and suburban Parramatta – and running for 53 weeks, something that is unheard of in today’s multiplex era, with the rare exception of a “Forrest Gump.”

The exec thinks September and October will be huge with the debuts of “Apollo 13,” “Waterworld,” “Free Willy 2,” “Nine Months” and “Clueless.” He’s also bullish about the Christmas lineup, including “Babe,” “Toy Story,” “Golden Eye,” “Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls” and “Father of the Bride 2.”

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