‘Star’ has trailer hitch

Studios sharpen scissors for access to auds

Think of them as Trailers Lite.

In hopes of increasing the chances that their coming attractions will play as intros to the upcoming “Star Wars” prequel, several studios are considering creating slimmed down versions of their onscreen pic promos.

Fox recently told theater owners that they will be allowed to play only eight minutes of trailers before “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” which opens May 19 (Daily Variety, April 6).

And since Fox will attach 2-1/2 minutes of promos for its own pics, that leaves just 5-1/2 minutes for rival studios’ coming attractions.

Naturally, distributors of early summer releases all want their films’ trailers to be seen by the millions of moviegoers expected to pack into theaters during “Menace’s” opening weeks.

In order to try to accommodate trailers for such hopefuls as New Line’s “The Spy Who Shagged Me,” Buena Vista’s “Tarzan,” Sony’s “Big Daddy,” and Warner Bros. “Wild, Wild West,” exhibitors have asked studios to shorten their onscreen spots from the usual two and a half minutes to a minute or less.

A number of studios, including Sony, New Line and Warner Bros. said they are pondering the cuts.

“Any situation which would increase the chances of 100% placement on ‘Star Wars’ is something we have to consider,” said Jeff Blake, president of Sony Pictures Releasing.

But that doesn’t mean distribs are happy about snipping their trailers.

“I didn’t ask anyone to cut their trailer in half to play with ‘The Matrix,” said Warner Bros. distribution prexy Dan Fellman of the studio’s hit sci-fi actioner.

Added New Line distribution president Al Shapiro, “We’d rather not be forced into a position of using a trailer that will not sell the film to the audience in the most effective way possible.”

Fox strategy

Fox is expected to promote two or three of its films in the trailers it attaches to “Menace.” According to a Fox insider, the studio has not decided which films it will feature, but the trailers will likely be short teasers for films opening far in the future.

In recent years, studios have put increasing pressure on theater chains to play their trailers, especially before high-profile pics. Negotiations are sometimes fierce, approaching the often heated battles over holdovers and rental terms.

“This has just taken the issue of trailers to the same level as everything else about the ‘Star Wars’ deal,” said a film buyer, who like every theater exec interviewed for this story, asked to remain anonymous.

For most theater execs, though, the trailer limitations pale by comparison to other requirements being made by Fox and Lucasfilm.

Particularly irksome to exhibs is the ban on advance ticket sales in the first two weeks. The advance ticket prohibition is an effort to prevent scalpers from buying up blocks of tickets and selling them at a premium.

“A lot of what they’re doing on Star Wars is wrong,” said one exhibitor. “It’s too bad a movie that should have been so much fun has turned into such a headache.”

More is more

While audiences sometimes gripe about the length and number of trailers they sit through before the main feature, studies have shown that longer trailers have a more lasting impact.

In-theater coming attractions are particularly important in building early awareness of a film, before TV advertising buys kick in close to a film’s opening.

For instance, according to exit polls, 34% of auds for “The Matrix” said they learned about the movie through trailers.

And a study by market research and box office tracking firm ACNielsen EDI, indicated that 64% of heavy moviegoers said they would prefer to see seven minutes or less of trailers before a film, while 33% wanted to see eight minutes or more.

But, the study also confirmed the importance of trailers as a marketing tool. When asked which type of marketing most often influenced their choice of movie, 34% said trailers. In-theater film previews were second only to TV advertising, which was selected by 45% of respondents.

“That’s the yin and the yang of it,” said ACNielsen EDI president Tom Borys.

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