Scheduling battles between studio execs and theater owners are a weekly occurrence, but a particularly heated standoff in the high-profile Westwood market this week had even jaded distribution veterans buzzing.
As the week began, Mann Theaters found itself in the normally envious position of playing three of the nations’ four highest-grossing films in its top Westwood houses. DreamWorks’ “Saving Private Ryan,” Warner Bros.’ “The Negotiator” and 20th Century Fox’s “There’s Something About Mary” were going great guns at the National, the Village, and the Bruin, respectively.
The problem: Mann had already committed to opening Paramount’s “Snake Eyes” in the National starting Friday.
Neither DreamWorks, WB or Fox wanted to give up their coveted berths, citing weekly grosses of over $40,000 each. Paramount too, refused to take one of the circuit’s lesser sites (such as the Festival or the Plaza) leaving Mann topper Jeff Lewine with his back to the wall.
According to sources, the dust-up escalated to the point where DreamWorks’ topper Jeffrey Katzenberg called Lewine directly.
The situation was further complicated by the fact that Paramount and WB, which, until recently, co-owned Mann, are the circuit’s biggest suppliers, while Fox runs a close third. The three studios’ pictures often play in the circuit’s less lucrative complexes in smaller markets as well as the Chinese Theater and Westwood sites.
The stalemate threatened to carry on past noon Wednesday, the deadline for the all-important Sunday newspaper movie listings.
In the 11th hour, however, Fox agreed to move “Mary” across Wilshire Blvd. to General Cinemas’ Avco, “Ryan” marched into the Bruin and “Snake Eyes” slid into the National, as planned.
Lewine described the tense game of brinksmanship as a throwback to the old days of single theaters, but added “I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary rough and tumble of Westwood.”