Paramount exec sees scope for expansion

Russia promises to remain a money-spinner for Hollywood despite the threat of recession, a Paramount topper told industryites late Monday.

Speaking at Moscow’s 76th Intl. Cinema Market, Mark Viane, Paramount Pictures Intl. senior VP, Europe, said this year had been Par’s best ever in Russia. The studio has taken just under $112 million at the box office, including more than $41 million for “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.”

Paramount is not the only studio celebrating. The Russian exhibition year ended on Sunday, and current estimates put box office gross for Russia and the former Soviet states at around $800 million compared with $565 million the previous year.

“The key to the success of ‘Madagascar 2’ was its release a week before the U.S. and all the extra support we got from exhibitors,” Viane said, speaking at a preview hosted by Central Partnership, the production and distribution shingle with which Par has established a strategic alliance, due to launch Jan. 1.

Viane said some of Par’s upcoming releases, which include “Star Trek,” “Watchmen,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and 3-D toon “Monsters vs. Aliens,” would also have early releases to take advantage of local holidays.

“We released ‘Madagascar 2’ in late October just before Russia’s early November holidays and it did phenomenally well; we shall do the same with ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ to take advantage of Russian school holidays,” Viane said.

The success for Par titles was, he added, a “testament to the vibrancy of the market,” where audiences still clamor for blockbusters.

Although Russia was not immune to the international financial crisis and the coming months could present challenges, cinema-going was a popular and relatively inexpensive entertainment that promised to prove more resilient than other businesses in Russia, he said.

“I see Russian box office continuing to grow over the next three to four years, and believe that if enough new screens were added, this could become a top five world market rather than its current position of top 10.”

Viane also urged Russian exhibitors to recognize the value of the new generation of 3-D movies, which he called “the biggest commercial opportunity exhibition has had for a long time.”

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