'Hot Fuzz,' 'Hairspray' to unspool at confab

ShoWest has become a party to celebrate hot summer pics, but this year, most of the guests of honor won’t be there.

Exhibitors at the Vegas confab, which runs through Thursday, are particularly bullish on this summer’s tentpoles, with hopes of breaking all-time records.

But there will be no screenings or events to honor the latest entries in the “Spider-Man,” “Shrek,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Harry Potter,” “Bourne” or “Ocean’s” franchises, or new biggies such as “Transformers.”

Pics expected to unspool in their entirety here include New Line’s “Hairspray,” MGM’s “Mr. Brooks,” Paramount’s “Disturbia,” Picturehouse’s “El Cantante” and Rogue’s “Hot Fuzz.”

The distribs are excited by these titles, which need equal amounts of exhibitor enthusiasm to protect them against the summer sequels.

“There’s a growing importance to tentpole films and the value of sequels,” said Paramount Pictures Intl.’s Roger Pollock as he showed off a reel of upcoming pics. “Any film without a number after its title certainly has its work cut out for it this summer.”

He added that Paramount sees “Transformers” as a pic with “blockbuster credentials” that will invariably “end up with a series of numbers after its title in the years to come.”

Indie offerings from Focus, Lionsgate, Picturehouse, Sony Classics and ThinkFilm unspooled at screenings Monday night before the annual confab kicked off in earnest today.

Studios increasingly tend to keep a lid on their biggies, preferring to screen them in more controllable environments. Increasing consolidation of movie theater chains has also taken the pressure off studios as they maintain key relationships with fewer players.

“ShoWest is evolving into being a place for exhibitors to get together for meetings with distributors, and not as a place for programming,” said one exhibition veteran. “That becomes less and less relevant because of the consolidation that has gone on (among exhibs).”

On opening day Monday, the studios were cocky about all the films in their lineups as they showed off product reels to overseas exhibs as part of ShoWest’s Intl. Day.

But they are largely keeping top-shelf pics under wraps rather than tipping their hands and blowing momentum.

During their Intl. Day presentations, the majors hammered home their commitment to franchises.

Mark Zoradi, prexy of the Disney motion picture group, outlined that studio’s narrowing focus on family films for the international exhibs, pointing out that the studio has guidelines specifying that pics not contain excessive sex, violence or adult language.

“We are concentrating on building franchises,” he said. “And we firmly believe that this Disney-driven strategy will put us on top in a more competitive world.”

Other studios were going in the opposite direction.

Sony, which has had luck in the past with horror franchises and is home to successful genre label Screen Gems, showed off some spine-tingling footage from slasher pics “Hostel II” and “Vacancy” before screening six minutes of the third installment in its “Spider-Man” franchise.

Other surprises in the product reels came when Universal provided a sneak peek at some action sequences from its latest sequel to “The Bourne Identity.”

When the studios hawked their wares with international exhibs Monday afternoon, Warner Bros. was absent. A ShoWest exec said that the studio had chosen to unveil its reel at Cinema Expo in Amsterdam later this year; a Warners spokesman explained that the cancellation came because certain materials weren’t ready for presentation.

Last year Al Gore was on hand to promote a Paramount Vantage screening of “An Inconvenient Truth,” and Disney unveiled its CG pic “Cars,” which became the second biggest film of 2006 behind the studio’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.”

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