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Exhibs tire of free tix

AMPAS, guilds members get many free shows

Once upon a quieter Oscar time, a note at the bottom of newspaper movie ads advised Academy members that their card would admit two to any performance Monday through Thursday.

Originally this was done as a convenience for voters who couldn’t get to special screenings, with studios convincing theater owners that potential Oscar attention was worth eating the free admissions on slow weeknights.

But that was then and this is not your father’s Oscar campaign anymore. These days, belonging to practically any organization known by its initials will get you into a free movie this time of year.

Recent ads for such contenders as “Adaptation,” “8 Mile,” “The Quiet American” and many others offer two tix for any unspooling to just about every guild and critics org who dish out awards from ADG, ASC, VES and CAS to MPEG, OFCS, CDG and SDMM. Befuddled box office cashiers practically need a code book just to decipher the abbreviations listed .

One ad for the animated “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” had 25 orgs on the pass list, including MAHSG, the Makeup Artists & Hair Stylists Guild, which seems unlikely to bestow its trophies on a toon about a horse.

Some circuits are starting to question the practice and ads now carry the warning that AMC, Century, Loews Cineplex, Mann and Regal Entertainment Group will admit only AMPAS, DGA, WGA and SAG nominating committee members.

In most cases, the chains do not bill these freebies back to the studios, so some exhibs feel the addition of all these groups could affect their bottom line.

“We deal with it on a case-by-case basis and try to come up with what is reasonable and fair,” said Dick Westerling, senior VP of marketing and advertising for REG, which owns the Regal, UA and Edwards theaters. “We want to do what helps the film, but we hold the line when it just becomes a perk.”

Still, studio sources agree that because so many different orgs now give kudos that could influence the Oscars, they must reach them in any way possible, which means providing complimentary entree into the multiplex .

Lions Gate Film Releasing prexy Tom Ortenberg says the practice is reaching new heights this season. “It’s gotten out of hand, like everything else in campaigns,” he said. “But heaven forbid you miss out on something!”

Ortenberg does point out, though, that although exhibs aren’t making money from industry patrons, they’re still selling them popcorn.

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