Luring celebs to Vegas is a logistical challenge

Now that ShoWest is post-Oscar, when all is said and done, this year’s show may end up getting a lot more press bang for its buck.

Sure, there have been fewer celebs at the four-day event than when the studios pulled out all the stops in the cash-flush 1990s. But the entertainment press, like nature, abhors a vacuum. So any and all news coming out of Vegas in late March may have Mary Hart, the glossy showbiz mags and even a few sober dailies gobbling up the ShoWest doings like a Marine on leave at a steak dinner.

For the TV entertainment tabloids in particular, footage and stories from the week’s events probably will be rehashed for a number of news cycles.

“It’ll be hard to quantify, but I think we’re going to get more attention than in past years,” says Wayne Lewellen, theatrical distrib topper at Paramount Pictures.

Where Universal Studios shone at ShoWest 2003 with its big Wednesday night banquet, this year it has been Paramount’s turn. The studio has high hopes for a big slate this coming spring, summer and beyond, including “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” “The Manchurian Candidate” and “The Stepford Wives.”

Marshaling the resources to get Meryl Streep, Jim Carrey, Denzel Washington, Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Bette Midler and three dozen other stars onto the two-tiered dais Wednesday night was a pretty impressive PR feat. In addition to the fact that ShoWest banquets are a one-off phenomenon that aren’t broadcast live or tape-delayed (simply a photo-op event), getting the agendas of a dozen or so top actors, directors and writers in sync for one night is a major challenge. Not to mention the entourages of agents, managers, publicists and masseuses.

“An absolute logistical nightmare,” says Lewellen, with a laugh. Very expensive. And very complicated.

Finding enough corporate jets to fly everyone from all over the country (and create gridlock on the tarmac at McCarran Airport) is one thing. Negotiating the often-choppy waters between the studio marketing and PR departments on the one hand, and the ubiquitous and powerful publicists of A-listers on the other, is something else entirely. It’s the green-room, red-carpet world of a movie premiere times 20.

“In the show business world of the 12 big ‘asks,’ getting a star to any ShoWest event is a big one,” says a major studio flack. “In other words, it’s not automatic that they’re going to say yes like they would to presenting an Oscar or Emmy.”

But, as difficult as the events are to put together, they remain, most execs agree, simply a cost of doing business.

“Just like the old days, we need to remind exhibitors that (the studios) are still in the star business and still in the big, big movie business,” says a studio topper.

As retro as the banquets may seem, they can change the economic prospects of a film dramatically. When Paramount was in early production on “Forrest Gump” in 1994, for example, no one at the studio was quite sure how the film was going to play and had penciled in a conservative rollout for the Tom Hanks vehicle.

But when a six-minute trailer of the pic had exhibs at ShoWest on their feet, the studio had the greenlight to switch to an aggressive marketing mode. The film opened wide with huge promotional support and went on to gross $674 million worldwide.

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