HOLLYWOOD – Just like festgoers jockeying for tickets to gala screenings, the hundreds of films in the Cannes Market are vying to catch the attention of buyers. But just as the MITIC pavilion is showing attendees the latest in high-tech moviemaking, promo reels have become interactive and higher tech than ever. No longer do sales companies need to ship boxes of heavy videocassettes to each market.

Video, in fact, is being phased out. Buyers easily can skip the promos they’re not interested in and home in directly on the part they want to watch, using the latest digital technology such as DVDs, portable CDI players and computer hard drives that allow sellers to showcase prodcut and program reels for a specific client and territory.

Saban Entertainment has developed an inhouse proprietary system that stores the international division’s entire library of promo pieces.

Saban international president Stan Golden can use this unique sales tool to shift from promo to promo instantly, but he says the reels only facilitate purchase decisions, not close deals.

“If a buyer gets burned, if a promo is not a fair representation, it comes back and burns the distributor. It’s no secret that some distributors create promo reels that aren’t fair representations of what they deliver,” Golden adds.

“It triggers the visual memory,” says Julie Savay-Ross, VP of international distribution for Initial Entertainment. Promos for her titles are digitized and loaded on compact discs. Savay-Ross then screens them on a portable CDI player. At TV markets, she can be found not in a sales suite, but freewheeling with her CDI player and cell phone.

Margrit Staerk, director of acquisitions and sales for feature films for Germany’s ZDF Enterprises, knows that distributors can “lie perfectly” with a trailer. Her first question: Is the trailer music from the film?

“I’m very cautious when looking at a trailer. I’d rather look at rushes. For pre-sales, the script is No. 1. For visual style, I need the trailer for an idea what it looks like. It must be good quality — it does more harm than good, if not; especially if the color’s not correct.”

Sales companies want to make sure acquisition gambles pay off, hiring boutique marketing agencies and spending from $10,000 to $25,000 and upwards for delivery of a three- to five-minute video promo piece.

While expensive, the quality of promos is higher today due to the predominance of digital technology. Digital editing allows for quick cutting, footage with more effects (slashes to white, slow motion), broadcast-quality graphics and sound effects, all resulting in a stylistically polished finished work and tighter delivery schedules.

Mark Pierce, owner-producer of Hollywood marketing house Hammer Films, edits promos for clients including Alliance/Atlantis and Franchise up to the very last minute. “Turnaround times have gotten squeezed. Somebody who starts shooting a movie a month before the market will have a finished promo reel by market start,” Pierce says.

October Films’ prexy of worldwide marketing, Dennis Rice, works in tandem with Good Machine prexy David Linde to create promos that are as “extensive and explanatory as possible, spending as much time on them as possible,” says Linde, who shows trailer reels on film at the London Screenings as well as conducting marketing seminars to help educate distribs.

Rice believes that promo reels are the most efficient way for foreign buyers to see the movies’ production values as well as a way to position a film in their territory.

Rice directs promo producers to get “breakthrough ideas. When you get complacent you start to fail in this very crowded marketplace.”

While smaller companies are lessening their reliance on conducting pre-sales only off of promo reels, well-crafted reels remain important even for majors and mini-majors.

Miramax creates extensive theatrical reels for every market, making an event out of the screenings. The mini-major traditionally books a theater, invites distributors and has a party or lunch afterwards. Miramax Intl. chairman Rick Sands says the presentation reel “proves movies are real, generates excitement for the whole slate and allows us to position company and movies and show our vision and the filmmaker’s vision of the movie. We have to maintain a certain level of delivery to the marketplace.”

No matter how difficult the times may be for international sales, one thing remains the same: Buyers need to keep a healthy skepticism when viewing the material.