LAS VEGAS — For the last decade, Jack Valenti was a buoyant presence at ShoWest. He often arrived at the confab toting a three-ring binder full of lugubrious statistics — admissions were flat, production and marketing expenses were rising. But he delivered the bad news with a flourish. Marketing costs, in Valenti-speak, were “that lumbering grizzly prowling the outer edges of the movie forest.”
In his first ShoWest appearance since assuming Valenti’s post, Dan Glickman was the bearer of good news: Marketing costs dropped 12% and production costs held steady in 2004, while admissions climbed 2%, with 1.54 billion tickets sold.
“The movie industry is thriving,” Glickman announced. In other words, the studios are doing a better job of managing costs. They’re also doing a better job of offloading costs — and creative risks — onto independent financiers like Steve Bing and Phil Anschutz. Is it any coincidence that so much of this year’s Oscar crop was financed off the studios’ balance sheets?
Glickman, to his credit, hasn’t attempted to mimic Valenti’s magniloquence. Asked if there’s any connection between serving as agriculture secretary and as president of the MPAA, he said, “For six years, I regulated the price of corn. Now I’m in the business of helping you sell more of it.”
Valenti will be missed at ShoWest, where he served as a link to an earlier chapter in Hollywood history, when studio slates weren’t so chockablock with movies based on advertising taglines, high-concept comedy pitches, comicbooks and previous movies. Some of these — “Miss Congeniality 2,” “Monster-in-Law” and “Beauty Shop” — are screening this week in Vegas.
Glickman’s low-key performance at ShoWest was perfectly in keeping with today’s buttoned-down corporate climate.
The new MPAA topper acknowledged some of the challenges that face the trade org in coming years, with piracy posing the greatest immediate threat. But there’s one he forgot to mention: What happens when studios lose their creative nerve?