Sony’s party atmosphere

Studio's circus-like lunch a ShoWest highlight

LAS VEGAS — In what one exec dubbed an “egalitarian” approach to a ShoWest slate party, Sony brass mingled with exhibs entertained by acrobats, dancers and costumed characters at an unconventional lunch hosted by the studio on the final day of ShoWest 2002.

“We wanted to do something a little bit more ‘Las Vegas,’ ” Sony Pictures chair John Calley explained.

In the process, Sony also gave exhibs an opportunity to kibbitz with studio execs who normally would be out of reach high up on a dais while the exhibs sat at tables lunching through a long showreel of movie clips. Instead, guests munched sandwiches and pizza while strolling among minstrels and dancers, and each guest got a videotape of clips from upcoming pics.

Meanwhile, with perhaps the industry’s most tentpole-studded summer slate, Sony marketing and distrib boss Jeff Blake predicted 2002 could prove massive for the studio. Blake, who oversees the setting of release skeds, among other duties, introduced Sony execs to a theater full of exhibs at a pre-luncheon screening of upcoming Adam Sandler starrer “Mr. Deeds.”

“With a management team like this, how could we ever have had a bad year?” Blake asked. “It must have been the guy picking the release dates.”

Meanwhile, Sony Corp. of America topper Howard Stringer claimed 2001 was a good year in its own right.

“We were profitable for the first time in 10 years,” Stringer told Daily Variety.

For 2002, Sony’s big summer movies also include high-profile sequels “Men in Black 2” and “Stuart Little 2,” plus the hugely anticipated “Spider-Man.”

But though Stringer agreed with Blake’s prediction of a banner year in ’02, Stringer told a reporter it’s unlikely Sony Corp. will mount its much-mulled spinoff of entertainment assets any time soon, due to a poor climate for initial public offerings.

Sony’s novel approach to its ShoWest slate luncheon saved some bucks to boot, marketing maven Geoff Ammer said. A show reel alone normally costs up to $3 million to produce, he noted.

“And then you guys in the press pick out two or three pictures as important, and the rest goes to waste,” Ammer reasoned. “I said it doesn’t make sense to do that.”

An awards gala closed ShoWest on Thursday night, and Sony got some extra exposure for its upcoming slate from the participation of pic talent as recipients and presenters. Among them, “Men in Black 2” co-star Will Smith and “Enough” topliner Jennifer Lopez accepted awards for male and female star of the year, respectively; “Master of Disguise” thesp Dana Carvey emceed the event.

Logistics involved no fewer than a half-dozen private jets to assemble the phalanx of talent involved in an array of projects scattered nationwide.

Overall, ShoWest 2002 drew 2,675 registrants, said Robert Sunshine, chairman of show organizer Sunshine Group Worldwide. That’s up a bit from the 2,600 who attended the trade show last year.

The Sony event was one of a pair of splashy studio luncheons offered at ShoWest 2002, following an earlier MGM extravaganza. Last year there was only the Warner Bros. lunch, while three were offered at the annual confab two years ago.

This year’s ShoWest set a fresh benchmark for screenings of commercial movies, with three: “Mr. Deeds,” MGM’s military actioner “Windtalkers” and Universal/Working Title’s Hugh Grant topliner “About a Boy.”

Those were in addition to ShoWest’s usual offering of several specialty pics. The commercial fare normally is offered only at fall’s ShowEast confab.

“What we’re saying is that we’re going to support this film,” U chair Stacey Snider said of the “Boy” screening. “We’re saying, ‘This is important.’ ”

Sandler introduced “Deeds,” which was preceded by well-received sneak peaks of “Spider-Man” and Sony/Revolution Studios’ Vin Diesel thriller “XXX.”

“I think ‘XXX’ is going to be the biggest picture for us this year,” Revolution topper Joe Roth told Daily Variety, traipsing amid the Sony luncheon throng, noshing finger food from a napkin. “What we’ve shot looks just great.”

“What a thrill it is for you to be in the room with me,” Sandler deadpanned. “You can go home and tell the kid what an asshole I am.”

The additional screenings were popular with attendees, and exhibs always get a kick out of the appearance of Hollywood talent at lunches and other receptions.

Stunting by Bruce Willis and “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin highlighted the post-“Windtalkers” MGM bash, and one of the indie offerings also drew some star power. Producer Rita Wilson and cast members Nia Vardalos, John Corbett and Michael Constantine mingled with exhibs at a post-screening reception for upcoming IFC/Playtone laffer “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Also well received was a Lucasfilm presentation on the digital-production techniques employed in the shooting of George Lucas’ upcoming “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.”

After showing a lengthy reel of outtakes plus a first look at pic’s 2½-minute trailer, “Clones” producer Rick McCallum offered exhibs a cheerleader’s assessment of the benefits to image quality possible from marrying digitally produced pics with digitally projected presentation in theaters. The message was a tacit acknowledgement of exhibs’ continuing reluctance to invest in the conversion of any substantial number of screens to digital-projection systems.

(Dade Hayes contributed to this report.)

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