Exex high on plexes

'Next Five Years' panel talks o'seas B.O.

LAS VEGAS — The keys to boosting overseas B.O. are plex-building and local partnerships, studio and exhibition execs agreed Monday at ShoWest.

At the afternoon panel “The Next Five Years and Beyond” — which was moderated by Daily Variety associate publisher Charles Koones — Paul Johnson of Hoyts Cinemas said worldwide grosses for a single film could climb as high as $3 billion as more screens come online in international markets.

A few years ago, it’s unlikely even “Titanic” would have been able to attain its $1 billion-and-counting B.O., because there wouldn’t have been enough screens to handle it overseas, he added.

No blueprint for success

Coming off a banner year, Buena Vista Intl. president Mark Zoradi and Duncan Clark, president of Columbia TriStar Film Distributors Intl., conceded they don’t have a blueprint for others to emulate. Clark said success is “driven by product” and the result of “a tremendous amount of luck.”

Zoradi attributed BVI’s success to a large degree of autonomy at the local level. Apart from some general guidelines, budget considerations and advice on setting dates, Zoradi said BVI simply tries to hire the best people and turn them loose to do their jobs without a lot of interference from Burbank.

Nadia Bronson, prez of international marketing and distribution at Universal, stressed cooperation and partnership in local markets, particularly in increasing distribution of indigenous product. She said the costs are low, relative to U.S. production, and hopefully the pictures will travel outside their home territories.

Local participation

Zoradi agreed that it’s good to be part of the local industry. He cited BVI and parent Walt Disney Co.’s success with “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” in Germany, “Ashes of Time” in Venezuela, and several other indigenous productions.

Bronson likewise said U is partnering on several local productions in Asia and Europe.

As for the effect on growth by the currency crisis in Asia — or similar problems anywhere else — panelist Tim Warner of Cinemark Intl. said his company experienced a similar situation a few years back.

Mexico’s fiscal problems hit not long after Cinemark entered the market, but the company weathered the crisis and Warner said exhibition is now healthy in Mexico for rivals Cinemex and the Ramirez Group as well as Cinemark.

Commitment vs risk

Hoyts’ Johnson concurred that when a company makes a long-haul commitment in any market, there are bound to be bad times. The trick, he said, is to be prepared and to stick to your commitments.

The panelists cited escalating marketing costs as the biggest obstacle to continued international growth.

Bronson said she’d like to see greater marketing cooperation between exhibs and distribs. By way of example, she praised Greater Union in Australia, declaring that hardly any picture lost money there, and “if it did it wasn’t for lack of effort” on the part of the exhib.

In a similar vein, Clark suggested greater cooperation at the trade level, between exhib and distrib orgs.

Other obstacles

Trade barriers such as quotas and piracy were also cited as significant obstacles.

Returning to the panel topic of what the next five years will bring, Warner said projection technology and delivery of product would be completely different, alluding to electronic delivery of product to theaters.

Somewhat surprised at Warner’s optimistic timetable, Col TriStar’s Clark said he thought 15 years was a more realistic estimate.

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