LAS VEGAS — As ShoWest ’98 wound to a close Thursday at Ballys Hotel & Casino, Miramax Films unspooled its first-ever confab reel tubthumping 18 pics to an antsy and somewhat weary audience of some 2,500 exhibs.
Miramax’s reel offered enticing footage from John Dahl’s “Rounders” with Matt Damon; the disco-era drama “54,” starring Mike Myers; and the Sharon Stone starrer “The Mighty” — each of which had been featured among indie promos on Ballys inhouse cable TV.
But overall crowd reaction to the clips seemed ambivalent as only about 75% or so of the ShoWesters attended and even more abandoned bleachers and headed for the buffet during speeches by Miramax prexy of international distribution Rick Sands and president of marketing Mark Gill.
Miramax added some star power with appearances by Myers, Salma Hayek, Sela Ward, Brecklin Meyer and Ryan Phillippe along with this year’s Oscar nominees (and ShoWest honorees) from “Good Will Hunting,” Matt Damon and Minnie Driver.
Sands boasted of Miramax’s $400 million B.O. year in 1997 and assured exhibs that this year’s product, 12 to 14 pics, should be just as solid.
Gill said Miramax decided to come to Vegas this year because it had several commercial pics, and it would be worth the expense to put together a ShoWest reel.
Gill also poked fun at the Sony Picture Entertainment live musical presentation two days earlier, which featured Leslie Nielsen portraying Sony prexy John Calley and Robert Goulet as distrib chief Jeff Blake. Gill said Miramax tried to get Goulet to play Sands, but was priced out of the running by Sony, which he said “overpaid, as usual.”
Many clips screened
Miramax co-chairs Harvey and Bob Weinstein were nowhere to be seen at the Miramax luncheon, which also screened clips from “The Big One,” “Nightwatch,” “I Got the Hook-Up,” “Sliding Doors,” “Firelight,” “HavPlenty,” “My Life So Far,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “Smoke Signals,” “Little Voice,” “Shakespeare in Love,” James Gray’s “The Yards,” Kevin Smith’s “Dogma” and “The Rodriguez/Williamson Project,” which teams “Scream” scribe Kevin Williamson and director Robert Rodriguez.
Gill also told exhibs to look for the Sundance acquisitions “The Castle” and “Next Stop Wonderland” as well as “H2O,” the latest “Halloween” fright pic that will team the early chapters’ Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh, star of the pioneering shocker “Psycho.”
The Miramax sandwich break closed a week of studio presentations that left some exhibs wondering: “Where’s the beef?”
Theater owners were disappointed that Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Paramount and MGM decided to pass this year. MGM had a presentation Feb. 17 in Paris for only 30 invited exhibs. Disney, which did sponsor Monday’s international luncheon, plans to entertain selected exhibs in Burbank with a big blowout on April 24.
Even though they weren’t sponsoring events, execs from some of those studios, such as Paramount and Fox, were spotted in the halls and gaming areas, and some met privately with exhibs.
This year’s most conspicuous luncheon absentee, Warner Bros., whose president of distribution Barry Reardon was honored as ShoWester of the year, provided a dozen classic films for screenings Wednesday night at a local multiplex.
Mood was nonetheless upbeat as 3,400 exhibs registered for the convention to catch studio presentations, industry panels and wander through two pavilions outside the hotel to see everything from the latest carpets to plaid seat cushions to newfangled cupholders to state of the art projection equipment. Vendors set up 528 booths for theatrical suppliers.
MPAA president Jack Valenti announced Tuesday that domestic B.O. had topped its previous record with $6.36 billion in grosses in 1997. But he cautioned that production and marketing costs had climbed to $75.6 million per pic, up 26.6% from the prior year.
Real news threatened to break Wednesday afternoon after the Sho-West press room posted a notice announcing a Fox press conference Thursday morning, fueling speculation that the studio had chosen the last day of the confab to announce a deal with George Lucas for distribution of the “Star Wars” prequels.
But despite the appearance of Fox senior distrib and marketing exec Tom Sherak in the blackjack and craps area Wednesday night, a notice outside the Celebrity Room the next morning announced that the presser had been canceled. The studio’s official line was that it hadn’t scheduled a press conference in the first place.
Sony, DreamWorks, New Line Cinema and Miramax gave full-court ShoWest presentations.
During its international luncheon on Monday, Disney showed a Jerry Bruckheimer reel with clips from “Con Air” and the up-coming “Armageddon” to honor Bruckheimer as international producer of the year.
A special independents showcase was very well-attended Monday night, as about 1,500 people turned out for screenings of “The Mighty,” “The Opposite of Sex,” “Under Heaven” and “One Tough Cop.”
The convention was scheduled to wrap Thursday night with presentation of the ShoWest Awards. Previously announced honorees were actor and actress of the year, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Hunt; international star of the year Julia Roberts; director of the year Barry Levinson; supporting actor and actress of the year Burt Reynolds and Joan Allen; stars of tomorrow Matt Damon and Minnie Driver; screenwriter of the year Ron Bass; producers of the year Laurie MacDonald and Walter Parkes; and humanitarian award winner Susan Sarandon.
(Andrew Hindes, Michael Fleming and Kinsey Lowe contributed to this report.)