Piracy concern grows

Cinema Expo panels dissect copying, large format

Disney’s bringing swashbuckling pirates to the big screen this summer, but the recent Cinema Expo trade show dwelled more on digital piracy than the seafaring variety.

“I refer to it as thievery, because that’s what it is,” Motion Picture Assn. prexy Jack Valenti told the assembled exhibs in taped remarks. “Piracy broods over our industry like a very dark and clinging shadow.”

And with this perceived menace thus darkening Hollywood’s collective doorstep, studio execs have become increasingly vocal.

A similar panel was staged at Las Vegas’ ShoWest exhib tradeshow in March. One studio has even taken to producing public-service spots to decry the viewing of illegally manufactured DVDs.

At Cinema Expo, Warner Bros. int’l distrib prexy Veronika Kwan-Rubinek detailed piracy woes encountered during the release of recent tentpolers “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.”

And U.K.-based piracy fighter Spencer Mott told of a Scottish DVD copy of Universal’s “The Hulk” that circulated a full two weeks prior to last weekend’s U.S. bow of the comix actioner.

By contrast, 20th Century Fox Int’l sales exec VP Paul Hanneman said “X2: The X-Men United” repped the first recent event pic to get through its opening weekend without a pirated copy of the movie hitting the Internet.

The success was largely due to its simultaneous bow in an unprecedented 93 countries around the world, which got “X2” into theaters before pirates could copy the pic.

Execs also stressed new anti-piracy safeguards at movie studios and cinemas.

Like other exhib trade shows, Cinema Expo 2003 featured several movie screenings of its own over its four-day run, ended June 26. Security precautions included bag checks and night-vision goggles to check for camcorders.

Organizers sought to safeguard screened pics including Warners’ “Matchstick Men,” a Nicolas Cage starrer set for September release in the U.S. and some territories, and Disney’s “Calendar Girls,” a Brit-themed laffer set for fall release in the U.K. and holiday unspooling Stateside.

The trade show also served as a European pep rally.

Here, a distribution topper like Stuart Till can liken his appointment at film distrib UIP after a previous stint at PolyGram to a transfer between soccer clubs Millwall and Madrid. Just a bit more provincially — certainly more Anglo-centric — was Till’s podium reference to a security breach at Prince William’s recent 21st birthday bash.

The night-capping entertainment after a UIP dinner one evening was an extreme-driving demo by a bevy of Mini Coopers (as seen in the Universal movie “The Italian Job.”)

One of the few talent appearances at the show saw Richard Curtis — the British writer-director of U/Working Title’s “Love Actually” — promise exhibs he and cast members would “promote the fuck out of the film.”

Most other stars and directors of pics being pitched by various distribs provided only taped apologies for their Cinema Expo no-shows.

“I’m slightly embarrassed I couldn’t find a good reason not to be here,” Curtis confided.

Jim Sheridan (“My Left Foot,” “In the Name of the Father”) also turned up to introduce a screening of “In America.”

A semi-autobiographical drama he directed for Fox Searchlight, the sustained audience applause must have sounded particularly sweet coming for a tale he called “the story of my family.”

Among the confab’s seminar offerings, a digital cinema sesh provided Euro-side exhibs an update of U.S.-based efforts to sort out d-cinema engineering.

Chuck Goldwater, chief of studio consortium Digital Cinema Initiatives, said the group aims to publish final tech standards for d-cinema by January.

Other panels included an international marketing and distribution sesh moderated by Variety publisher Charles Koones.

Top international studio execs discussed the special challenges arising from increased emphasis on simultaneous domestic and international bows of big movies. Participants included Disney’s Mark Zoradi, Fox’s Scott Neeson, Sony’s Mark Zucker and UIP’s Andrew Cripps.

Another sesh linked the spotty record of success in European exhibition last year to the relative performance of indigenously produced movies in individual markets.

European cinema booster Media Salles said indigenously produced pics garnered less market share in their home territories than a year earlier in France, Norway and Spain.

Attendance at Cinema Expo 2003 roughly matched its year-earlier perf of 1,100 fully paid registrations.