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Studios face space odyssey

Screening rooms are jammed

SCREEN SCRAMBLE
The nation’s top screening sites have been booked earlier than ever this year.
Site Bookings
thru Jan.
LA Universal 105
Bev Hills Clarity 81
LA DGA 69
LA Sony 69
NY Broadway 53
LA Charles Aidikoff 52
NY Disney 48
LA Harmony Gold 40
SF Variety Club 38
SF Delancey Street 33

This article was updated at 7:20 p.m.

A lot of folks are still angry about the clampdown on screener tapes, but at least one small group is clearly upbeat: The owners of screening rooms.

“It’s an all-out, illogical panic this year,” one awards consultant said. “The scramble for screening rooms was already intense in recent years because of the expanding horizon of awards shows. The only ones with a real advantage are the studios that have their own screening rooms and a contending film.”

Execs at many screening rooms say their space is only available at offbeat times, like 2 p.m. Tuesday or 11 a.m. Saturday. Premium time is gone.

As a result, film execs are seeking out less traditional venues, such as the renovated James Bridges Theater on the UCLA campus in Westwood, which is booked every evening through Thanksgiving.

Awards-hungry execs are coming up with alternate plans as well, such as making plans to four-wall local theaters, following DreamWorks’ lead with “The House of Sand and Fog” next month.

In addition, honchos said they are trying to negotiate with exhibitors about admitting awards voters. Last year, the exhibs admitted for free voters from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences but they balked at giving the same treatment to members of the guilds and other kudos-voting orgs. This year, some studio planners are trying to work out deals that would allow the exhibs to admit other voting groups.

Directors Guild of America spokesman Morgan Rumpf estimated that demand for the guild’s two theaters at its Hollywood headquarters is up as much as 25% from last year. And demand was so heavy for the DGA’s renovated screening facility in Gotham that the guild decided to forgo any ceremonies when the theater reopened on Oct. 14.

“We’re already adding times in the early afternoons and weekdays that had not been utilized in previous years,” Rumpf said. “We are trying to accommodate as much as possible. I can’t really say if it’s because of the tighter schedule for awards or the screener ban.”

The decision by the Academy to move the Oscar ceremonies to Feb. 29 had prompted studios to book screening rooms earlier than usual. The MPAA’s announcement four weeks ago that it had banned screeners accelerated that trend.

Of course, there’s always some wiggle room. Film companies often book spaces and then cancel or reschedule the screening, for a variety of reasons. One awards consultant said he expects some trading but no surrendering of timeslots booked at studios or such well-known venues as the Aidikoff, Clarity, the DGA, Harmony Gold, Raleigh, Sunset Screening, the WGA and the Wilshire.

UCLA’s 276-seat Bridges Theater is also used as a classroom screening facility for first-run films through the student-run Melnitz Movies programs, the UCLA Documentary Salon series and films by alumni, as well as a venue for industry screenings.

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