Shorter calendar may lengthen odds

Exex view change as more options

As Oscar veterans try to digest the news that the show is moving up to February, those trying to schedule and sell kudos contenders are both celebrating and fretting.

Many distribution and marketing execs see immediate benefits, such as cheaper, shorter award campaigns and more room for films that may not be awards bait but still deserve an audience.

Others contend that smaller companies and less commercial films could get squeezed.

“With an independent film, time is typically on your side,” says David Dinerstein, co-prexy of Paramount Classics. “The film needs a longer run to find its audience.”

Moving pics up several weeks to accommodate the earlier Oscar date, however, would represent a major change in the December ritual for awards hopefuls. Four of the five best picture nominees last year came out after Thanksgiving.

“The awards season goes too long and puts a damper on the marketplace,” says Steve Gilula, distrib prexy at Fox Searchlight. “Contracting the process is absolutely a positive.”

Agrees Steven Friedlander, distrib chief at Fine Line, “It gives you more options. You don’t have to do as many one-week qualifying runs and then bring films back.”

Friedlander points to pics like “Monster’s Ball” and “I Am Sam,” suggesting their Oscar noms would have been even sweeter earlier in their runs.

“The real money is not in the win,” he notes. “It’s in the weeks between the nominations and the awards. That won’t change, it’ll just move up.”

In recent years, films like “Shakespeare in Love,” “Traffic,” “Gosford Park” and “A Beautiful Mind” have platformed from a December launch to Oscar glory.

This year figures to be no different. The slate on Christmas week alone is already crowded with “The Hours,” “The 25th Hour,” “Catch Me If You Can,” “About Schmidt,” “The Chambermaid,” “The Pianist” and “Max.”

Miramax currently has four films slotted for Christmas Day or Dec. 27: “Gangs of New York,” “Chicago,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “Pinocchio.”

Miramax opened “In the Bedroom” last Nov. 23 and gradually widened it out over the next few weeks. The film went on to collect five Oscar noms, including one for best picture, grossing $36 million domestically.

Some cite “Bedroom’s” November bow as the new model. But don’t forget that families dominate that period, as the B.O. figures for “Harry Potter” and Disney toons attest.

“If you open up in November, you’ve got to gross well enough to stay on the screen,” points out Revolution’s Tom Sherak, who guided last year’s “Black Hawk Down” and is gearing up for a December launch of “Punch-Drunk Love.”

“It’s a long time between November and December,” he adds. “What happens if you burn out?”

Sony Pictures Classics co-topper Tom Bernard believes the shift could level the playing field for indies. Under the new deadlines, “The nominations and results will certainly rely more on the merits of the pictures rather than the amount of money spent.”

Mark Urman, who served as co-prexy of Lions Gate Releasing before joining ThinkFilm, takes a different view.

“If the time in which you get to be a nominee is abbreviated, then the much-needed box office bonus you get disappears,” Urman says. “The new time frame will require all of us to tinker with our ideas.”

Certain films, he adds, “need to build to a crest. If they start as dark horses and don’t have the full length to run their course, they might not make it to the finish. Would Halle Berry have won the Oscar if the ceremony were held in February?”

(Charles Lyons in New York contributed to this report.)

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