ShoWest spotlights international distribs

This article was updated at 9:05 p.m.

LAS VEGAS — Despite Vegas distractions this week including a NASCAR race and the start of the NCAA basketball tournament, as well as its own Hollywood glitz quotient, ShoWest remains an event at which serious entertainment biz is done.

The confab opens today, and as in years past, a host of films will be screened, studios will usher a line of exhibition execs into private suites to build buzz for their summer wares, and tech companies will elicit oohs and aahs for their projection and sound equipment.

With the relative importance of domestic box office in the financial life of a film shrinking compared to bigger revenue streams like homevid and overseas markets, ShoWest is expanding this year by emphasizing international exhibs; it’s also introducing the confab-within-a-confab ShoWest Marketing Summit, where studio marketing execs and their distribution counterparts will gather.

Today, 20th Century Fox international prexy Stephen Moore will deliver an address on keeping foreign biz healthy while Junichi Sakomoto of Japan’s Shochiku is skedded to receive the international exhibitor of the year award.

The marketing panels start Tuesday with execs from Sony, New Line, DreamWorks and other studios discussing the challenges of pitching pics in an increasingly crowded market.

Last year, among the biggest news to come out of ShoWest was the revelation that marketing costs were increasing faster than most expected, up 28% in 2003 to nearly $40 million a picture, according to the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s annual report.

Dan Glickman, appearing at his first ShoWest as MPAA topper, will unveil the stats for 2004 on Tuesday along with John Fithian, National Assn. of Theater Owners prexy.

As for strategies to jumpstart the domestic B.O. — the market was down slightly last year for the second year in a row — 3-D formats will get plenty of attention over the week. Two of the industry’s strongest champions of digital technology, George Lucas and James Cameron, will make the case for the format as a way to pull more people into theaters.

Despite several successes with the format, including Cameron’s current Imax 3-D release “Aliens of the Deep” and big biz in the format for Warner Bros.’ “The Polar Express,” the costs of processing and manufacturing 3-D prints make studios hesitant to fully embrace the format.

Indeed, this past weekend, Fox decided to release CGI toon “Robots” in 2-D in its Imax runs.

Less likely to be discussed are the issues over which exhibs and distribs can’t yet find a way to see eye to eye — like how to finance digital cinema, which will require exhibs to make big capital investments, ultimately allowing distribs to save a tidy sum on striking and shipping prints.

Also absent from any ShoWest agenda: quietly rumbling differences over the longstanding practice of cooperative advertising and the conflicts emerging as exhibs and studios each look to supplement their bottom lines with onscreen blurbs and product placements.

While no studio is set to repeat the celebrity fusillade Paramount mounted last year — some two dozen stars including Jim Carrey, Denzel Washington, Gwyneth Paltrow and Lindsay Lohan sitting at a massive dais — there will be plenty of familiar faces in Vegas. Among those accepting awards are Jennifer Aniston, Matt Damon, Lucas, Drew Barrymore, Hayden Christiansen, helmer Rob Cohen, Jessica Biel, Bernie Mac and Brad Bird. Stephen Marcus, prexy-CEO of the Marcus Corp., will collect the ShoWester of the Year Award, the top exec nod.

The only major studio product slated to be shown are MGM’s “Beauty Shop” and Warners’ “Miss Congeniality 2,” ahead of its March 24 bow; Sony will present an “extended sneak peak” of its summer title “Stealth,” helmed by Cohen.

Most of the pics unspooling are from the smaller distribs, who must work harder to build exhib enthusiasm for their pics. Sony Pictures Classics is promoting “Kung Fu Hustle,” while Lions Gate will be pushing “Crash.” Also screening are Focus’ “My Summer of Love,” IFC’s “Dust to Glory,” Lions Gate’s “House of D,” “The Chumscrubber” from Newmarket (also pushing doc “Rock School”) and Paramount Classics’ “Mad Hot Ballroom.”

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