Studio hopes to lock in 'Superman' partner

Warner Bros. is in talks with Burger King about a first-look arrangement to be the promotional partner on the long-in-development “Superman Reborn,” which the studio is preparing for summer 1998. The effort to lock in the No. 2 fast-food restaurant is extremely unusual because it comes a year and a half before the film’s targeted bow and when there is no director or script for the project (it is currently being rewritten by Kevin Smith).

Offering BK the right of first refusal is a way for the studio to try to nail down a major promotional partner – and along with it some $30 million to $40 million in media muscle – way ahead of its rivals. But it sets a precedent for getting the promotional partner involved in the filmmaking process much earlier than had previously been customary.

The plan also outlines how intensely battle lines over promotional partners have been drawn since the Walt Disney Co. took McDonald’s Corp. out of the game when the two aligned in a 10-year, exclusive promotional partnership (Daily Variety, April 10).

With the No. 1 fast-food giant out of the loop, and BK on Universal/Amblin’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” Warner Bros. found itself in a jam with its most important film franchise, “Batman and Robin.” The studio ultimately tied in with Taco Bell, which brings in substantially less money for promotional purposes than McDonald’s or Burger King.

After flirting with WB for its animated ” Quest for Camelot,” BK opted for Fox’s animated “Anastasia,” and Warner Bros. ended up with with Wendy’s, a partner that brings less far less money to the table.

Project sketchy

Warner Bros. is hoping to get Jon Peters Entertainment’s “Superman Reborn” into pre-production in June for a fall start. So far, the project only has sketch drawings.

The talks with BK come at a time when other studios (with the exception of Disney) are finalizing summer and fall 1997 promotional tie-ins.

The Superman franchise is well-established and the studio is planning a major facelift for the superhero. BK is quite familiar with the new property because it has a relationship with the brand overseas with the animated “Superman” TV series,WB insiders note.

Promo crown

By bringing in BK in so early, the studio is clearly hoping to expand and improve its relationship with a partner that is considered the top money player in town. The relationship between WB and BK has been almost non-existent as BK had previously been tying with rival Disney’s animated musical features.

WB and BK have never joined hands on a feature film promotion. Insiders on the corporate side noted that the studio was trying to keep the current talks quiet.

Such an early move by WB challenges other studios to start digging into their development chests to find properties that might suit promotional partners. Some studio execs noted that a decision to move forward on a film becomes easier to make when a promotional player is offering millions to help promote the property.

Corporate influence

The influence of corporate players in Hollywood has grown exponentially over the past few years.

Never has it been so evident than on Disney’s upcoming live-action “George of the Jungle.” Once the studio and McDonald’s agreed that “George” would become the recipient of a tie-in from the fast-food giant, Disney targeted the picture as “an event.”

The budget ballooned from $28 million to $55 million and after McDonald’s got involved, the production hired CGI effects house Dream Quest to create state-of-the-art computerized creatures (such as a special effects elephant) for the film, which bows this summer.

According to one high-ranking studio production executive: “On one hand, it’s great to have the money, and on the other hand it’s really sad that it has come to this.”

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