Helmer rails against changes

Candidly calling the collapse of traditional distribution windows “the worst idea I have ever heard,” writer-helmer M. Night Shyamalan is taking a public stand urging exhibs and studios to keep the theatrical window intact.

“The Village” helmer — who wrapped his latest pic, “Lady in the Water,” this week for Warner Bros. — appeared at ShowEast Thursday night in Orlando, Fla., to ask exhibs to “go to the mat, and to fall on their swords” in opposing any plans that would see pics simultaneously rolled out in theaters and via DVD and cable.

Collapsing windows has become one of Hollywood’s hottest topics, with exhibs on one side and some distribs on the other. Shyamalan is one of the first industry creatives to weigh in on the topic as the skirmish is sparking debate among the Directors Guild of America set.

In April helmer Steven Soderbergh announced a partnership with Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner's 2929 Entertainment to roll out six indie pics in theaters, on DVD and cable at the same time.

The first of those films is “Bubble,” and 2929 is promoting the plan as “a distribution strategy that may change the face of Hollywood.”

Shyamalan is vehement that any such change would be for the worse.

“It’s greed,” he said of plans to shatter tradition. “It’s heartless and soulless and disrespectful. And of course, cable companies are behind it, and Internet companies. They need their product. But they have to wait their turn. Wait for the thing to finish its life.”

In addition to high-definition networks HDNet and HDNet Movies, 2929 owns Rysher Entertainment, Landmark Theaters and Magnolia Pictures Distribution.

Major studios have been eyeing the 2929 plan with interest. Walt Disney topper Bob Iger told Wall Streeters in August that there’s a need to compress the theatrical window. National Assn. of Theater Owners prexy John Fithian responded by calling such plans a “death threat” to the theatrical movie biz.

Shyamalan’s agreement to appear at ShowEast is a boon to NATO.

“If you inspire audiences, theaters will be packed,” the helmer told Daily Variety. “That’s when the collective soul is talking. Great movies connect everybody. That’s when humanity grows. What is art? Conveying that we are not alone.”

Shyamalan said that he sees the dip in moviegoing this year as a result of too little primo product, not competish from DVDs. So far this year, grosses of $6.84 billion are 7% lower than at the same point in 2004.

“Movies are the definitive art form of our lives,” said the helmer. “We have been seduced by the DVD and what will sell the DVD. It has been the worst year in cinema for quality.”

Shyamalan was originally skedded to appear at ShowEast on Tuesday by making a surprise appearance at an address by Fithian and Motion Picture Assn. of America prexy-CEO Dan Glickman. Shyamalan reskedded when Hurricane Wilma hit the state, opting to attend the Coca-Cola Final Night Banquet and Awards Ceremony at the Orlando World Center Marriott.

Shyamalan said his sentiments were not part of any larger movement within the DGA — “directing is a lonely profession,” he quipped — or any ongoing campaign. It’s unclear how many other helmers are taking such a stand on the issue.

Also skedded for the final night of ShowEast were handouts of the Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award (Warner Bros.’ Jeff Goldstein), Kodak Award (John Singleton), Show “E” Award (Georgia Theater Co.’s Bill Stembler), Al Shapiro Distinguished Service Award (Steve Bunnell) and lifetime achievement award (James Ivory and, posthumously, Ismail Merchant).

Confab kicked off Monday and wrapped Thursday.

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