‘Everest’ reaches peak

Success raises bar for future giant-screen pics

MacGillivray Freeman Films has climbed to the summit of large-format distribution with “Everest”: Beginning next month, the pic will be showing on an unprecedented number of screens, and the rollout may set the pace for future releases in the giant-screen industry.

Previous large-format successes include “The Imax Nutcracker,” which played on 20 screens in six weeks last November and January and grossed $3 million, and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Thrill Ride: The Science of Fun,” which opened on 10 screens in July 1997 and is currently playing on 35 screens.

“Everest” will be in 92 theaters simultaneously, which is nearly 60% of the total number of Imax theaters that are open worldwide (roughly 160).

“Everest’s” rollout began in March on 36 screens, and has risen to over 80 theaters; it is skedded for 120 theaters over the next year, making it the fastest wide rollout ever for a large-format film. It is also the fastest grossing large-format film ever, bringing in over $25 million worldwide after 15 weeks in release.

MacGillivray Freeman Films “accomplished (with ‘Everest’) in three or four months what most films have taken from one to two years to do,” said Mark Katz, VP of sales, large-format, for Sony Pictures Classics. “It’s changed the landscape.”

“Everest,” according to Mary Jane Dodge, director of Imax programs for Sony/Loews Theaters in N.Y., “has really raised the bar in terms of what we’re going to expect from films and what they can do. It gives us the ability to market on a national level — something we’ve dreamed of. And that just benefits everybody.”

However, it may be some time before a similar rollout of a 15/70 film is repeated.

” ‘Everest,’ because it’s such a great film, has raised the bar for film production as well,” Dodge said. Aside from the production quality, the film has benefitted from its timing and topicality, including the recent climbing tragedy and extensive media coverage, Jon Krakauer’s bestselling account of the tragedy “Into Thin Air,” according to Bill Bennett, prexy of MFF Distribution Co.

By showing a rough cut to the international network of exhibitors far in advance and presenting a marketing and promotional plan, he was able to secure 102 theater commitments by the end of 1997.

“Knowing early of ‘Everest’s’ enormous marketing potential, we felt we had to day-and-date as many theaters as possible in order to fully maximize it,” Bennett said.

Bennett is planning a similar release strategy for MacGillivray Freeman’s “Dolphins,” scheduled to premiere in February 2000. Because of the large number of giant-screen theaters in existence now, it doesn’t make sense to do it any other way, according to Bennett.