Cinema Expo attracts industry biggies

3-D cinema a focus of Amsterdam event

AMSTERDAM — Cinema Expo kicked off with a bang as Jeffrey Katzenberg and Jerry Seinfeld touched down in the Netherlands to help beat the drum for a buzzing Paramount slate.

The hot topic on day one of the Amsterdam confab was 3-D cinema.

Katzenberg, who reiterated his pledge that all DreamWorks Animation projects released in 2009 will be in 3-D, led the charge with an impassioned call to arms.

“It (3-D) is an experience unlike anything we have seen before. It is not a gimmick, not a trick. It is not your dad’s 3-D … It is the most exciting development in cinema in 60 years.”

Katzenberg predicted “a large portion of tentpoles will migrate to 3-D,” thanks to the leadership of the “alphas of the moviemaking group” — James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg. Katzenberg also said his discussions with Michael Bay and Ron Howard suggest more heavyweights are catching the 3-D bug.

Katzenberg said of the 65-70 pics that generate 80% of the U.S. box office, two-thirds “would provide a premium experience if offered as 3-D.”

But while many Hollywood brass are evangelical about the benefits of 3-D cinema, European exhibs continue to struggle to make the transition to digital cinema — a prerequisite for 3-D.

Panels and seminars plotting a road map for European digital rollout dominated the morning sessions at the RAI center, with the complexities of virtual print fee deals and the cost of DCI-compliant equipment repeatedly held up as stumbling blocks.

But it was not all grumbling. News that Fox and Universal have struck non-exclusive VPF deals with facilitator Arts Alliance Media — a big step toward European digitization — was greeted warmly by delegates.

Execs for Paramount Pictures Intl., in its first year of standalone operations since the split with UIP in most international territories, forecast a bright outlook for 2007 and 2008.

PPI prexy Andrew Cripps was in a particularly bullish mood, reporting a B.O. take of half a billion dollars since PPI’s debut Jan. 1.

At that launch, PPI embarked on a program of local acquisitions and co-productions, which when added to the movies from DreamWorks Pictures, Dream-Works Animation, MTV Films, Paramount Vantage, Nickelodeon Movies and its deal with Marvel, would pump its release slate to between 22 and 26 pics a year.

Cripps’ message to European exhibs was “we have a label strategy; we are a standalone company; and we are a major player in the marketplace.”

Extended sneaks of Matthew Vaughn’s epic fantasy “Stardust,” the Seinfeld-penned animation “Bee Movie” and toon “Kung Fu Panda” drew the most admir-ing looks from European exhibs.

Other highlights from the Par slate included a rough cut of Marc Forster’s Kabul-set drama “The Kite Runner,” footage from the set of Susanne Bier’s “Things We Lost in the Fire” and sneak peeks of “Iron Man,” “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and “Case 39.”

There were also taped messages from George Lucas and Spielberg, promoting the May 2008 release of “Indiana Jones 4,” Judd Apatow (“Drillbit Taylor”), Michelle Pfeiffer (“Stardust”) and Ben Stiller (“The Heartbreak Kid”).

Cripps described “Bee Movie” as “the standout family film for year end” to upbeat Expo audience reaction.

A packed day-one program was rounded off by a screening of Michael Bay’s effects-laden actioner “Transformers.”

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