Film honchos play to international markets

AMSTERDAM — On the second day of Cinema Expo, Matt Groening, Baz Luhrmann and Eddie Murphy hyped their upcoming pics, James Cameron touted 3-D and Christian Grass, the new honcho at Universal Pictures Intl., urged exhibs to think digital — and, even more crucially, to think local.

On Tuesday, Groening unveiled 10 minutes of footage from “The Simpsons Movie” to European exhibitors at the gathering, which runs through Thursday. Groening added he had Dutch ancestry and had discovered only that afternoon that “I have mispronounced my own last name my whole life.”

The well-received “Simpsons” sneaks wrapped up Fox’s product presentation that was marshaled on stage by co-presidents Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus. Fox was saluted as the studio that was the top earning distrib overseas, with more than $2 billion at international wickets in 2006.

A hefty hunk of the take — $1.3 billion — was from the 35 markets in Europe, Middle East and Africa that fall under the stewardship of Grass, Fox executive vice president for those regions. Grass told Daily Variety that the boffo year was due to Fox’s dedication to “listening to local markets.”

Grass opined that the expert for the local market needs to be in the local market. “That’s not always easy,” he said. “There’s sometimes a balancing act between what the overall strategy is, and how that strategy needs to be adapted for a local market.”

Grass stressed the need, for example, to adapt release schedules to suit regional variables such as school vacations and the weather.

Grass told exhibs “now is the time to jump on board the digital bandwagon.” Referring to the virtual print fee deal Fox and Universal signed Sunday with Arts Alliance Media, he said, “there is now a business model and we need to get going.”

European box office grosses can be beefed up according to Grass: “The per capita attendance in key territories Germany and Italy remains very low.” Grass identified Russia as the European territory experiencing the most marked growth — “there has always been a cinema-going habit in Russia and now the infrastructure is arriving.”

In October Grass is switching over to Universal Pictures Intl. where he will become president of international production and acquisitions.

At Universal, as at Fox, part of his vision for that role will be to help transfer international talent and stories to Hollywood.

“I think that’s the beauty of international right now,” Grass said. “International is not just exploiting films in international markets. If you run a truly international business it means you hunt for stories, for talent, behind and in front of the camera.”

Grass cited the export to Hollywood of such European talent as Danish helmer Susanne Bier, who has just made “Things We Lost in the Fire” for Paramount, and Russian helmer Timur Bekmambetov, who is making “Wanted” for Universal, and the adaptation of international product, such as Warner Bros. has done with “No Reservations,” a remake of German pic “Mostly Martha.”

Not a day goes by at Cinema Expo without a Hollywood honcho beating the drum for 3-D. Monday it was an effervescent Jeffrey Katzenberg. Tuesday it was James Cameron. In a taped message building excitement for 2009 Fox release “Avatar,” Cameron urged Euro bookers to “be ready with digital projection that is 3-D enabled,” so auds can enjoy “the massive spectacle combined with intimate character” that is “Avatar.”

The Fox show reel was heavy on broad family fare, with fantasy part of the mix. Presenting clips from “The Dark Is Rising,” Hanneman said “the appetite for fantasy movies is insatiable in international markets” and the Walden Media’s pic would help feed this hunger.

Tougher fare was also on display. In a taped message, an intense M. Night Shymalan promised that R-rated horror pic “The Happening” “will scare the crap out of audiences. You are going to get traumatized.”

Jegeus prefaced a scene from “Alien vs. Predator: AVP2,” which goes out on Dec. 25, by saying, “In space no one can hear you scream, but in Amsterdam everyone can.” The horror clip elicited the desired shocked response from the packed auditorium.

Luhrmann appeared onscreen to promote 1930s set Oz epic “Australia.” The “Moulin Rouge” helmer promised the Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman starrer, which has just begun filming Down Under, will propel the duo on a “very ‘African Queen’-like journey across Australia.”

Taped promotional messages also flooded in from Hayden Christensen (for “Jumper”), and Eddie Murphy (for May comedy “Starship Dave”).

Rebecca Kearey, senior veepee, Fox Searchlight, introduced a “quality, upscale” slate including Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney dementia-themed family comedy “The Savages,” and teaser clip footage from “The Darjeeling Limited,” Wes Anderson’s pic that stars Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody as brothers traveling in India.

Day two closed with a “Simpsons” Springfield Schmooze-a-rama themed Fox drinks and dinner bash, polished off with a screening of testosterone-fueled actioner “Die Hard 4.0″ (Live Free or Die Hard). The Bruce Willis vehicle hits many Euro territories this weekend.

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