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CinemaCon: Biz Debates Film Variety While Remaining Wary of Shorter Windows

Fox proposes to shorten long overseas homevid window

LAS VEGAS – -An evolving global market has expanded the scope — and attendance — of the movie industry’s annual chest-pounding extravaganza, CinemaCon, with plenty of new domestic concerns, such as ratings and product diversity, finding their way into the conversation at this week’s tradeshow.

Still, there was talk devoted to ongoing hot-button issues facing the industry, namely, shortened theatrical windows.

The divisive topic came up during a panel discussion midway through the week-long confab, with Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson defending windows experimentation: “I believe there is a price point and delivery method where we can add to the pie without in any way incentivizing anyone not going to the movie theater.”

Gerry Lopez, chief executive of AMC, told Variety that discussions between studios and exhibitors about shortened theatrical windows have become more amicable over the past few months, but added “the dialogue never goes away.”

Attempting to keep the conversation fresh, Chris Dodd, chief executive of the Motion Picture of Assn. of America, and John Fithian, prexy and CEO for the National Assn. of Theater Owners, diverged from the windows issue, shaking their fists at Hollywood’s studios and advocating for a more diverse product slate.

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“Just as broad movie choices can drive box office, limited choices can turn the market negative,” Fithian said, blaming the current 12% decline in box office revenue on too many R-rated films. “Indeed, we were down in the first quarter. But why? Simply put – not enough choices.”

But for all the focus on needing more diverse fare, the studios’ dog-and-pony shows, on the whole, spotlighted the usual clutch of sequels and franchise entries for summer.

Paramount featured well-received clips from “Star Trek Into Darkness” and “World War Z,” and screened April 26th release “Pain & Gain” in its entirety. The Michael Bay-directed film garnered mixed reactions, at best, with some reported walkouts.

Universal drew enthusiastic responses for “Fast and Furious 6.” Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” also went over well, before “Monsters University” screened in full to positive reactions. Sony, meanwhile, played nearly 45 minutes of footage from its entire 2013 slate, including summer releases “Grown Ups 2” and “White House Down” and highly anticipated fall pics “Captain Phillips” and “The Monuments Men.”

Buzz for Warner Bros. was strongest with “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim,” whose helmer Guillermo del Toro showed up to introduce his film on Tuesday, and the following day took part in a three-director discussion with Sam Raimi and Oliver Stone about the social value of moviegoing.

As the newest member of the Colosseum club, Lionsgate rounded out the studio presentations with a diverse show hosted by comedian Kevin Hart. The studio saved for last its most anticipated offering, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.”

The more family-friendly-films discussion segued to a curious spotlight on the movie ratings system, with the MPAA unveiling a revised design and platform for movie ratings called “Check the Box.” The initiative highlights the reasons for giving specific ratings and includes PSA and poster material to be showcased at theaters.

The importance of the moviegoing experience for all ages was a consistent through line for attendees and panelists.

“The ultimate goal for a filmmaker is to get excited yourself,” del Toro said, praising the communal experience of the cinema. “Most of us are social freaks. I go to see my movies with 500 of my closest friends. It’s a beautiful thing.”

At one point, Stone was critical of alternative distribution platforms, saying they diminish the moviegoing experience.

“You’ve got to get them in, and you’ve got to keep them in their seats,” Stone said, referring to audiences. “With technology, they lose that experience – the spectacle.”

Stone and his counterparts agreed, however, that a global audience creates a space for differing tastes in movies.

“I don’t ever expect to make a movie that is universally liked,” Raimi said.

Del Toro said he is uncompromising in his vision, regardless of audience reception: “Fuck the audience,” he declared. “You’re not expecting every movie to become a collective box office hit.”

From a business perspective, Fogelson insisted that if a movie works on one platform (i.e. in the theater), then it should work via alternative distribution methods, as well – but only with the right model.

“Consumption begets consumption,” Fogelson said. “I know that if we don’t begin experimenting then we’ll have a real problem as an industry.”

Fox, which screened its product reel Thursday morning devoting the most attention to Christmas release “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” already has been playing with a shortened homevid window domestically for digital high-def titles. The studio said it hopes to follow suit overseas, though most international markets have a strict four-month theatrical window. The  change proposed by Fox Intl. co-prexies Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus would shrink the theatrical-to-homevid window by two weeks overseas.

But as with all industry changes, it won’t happen overnight.

The discussion from CinemaCon seemed to leave room for experimentation, at least. Exhibitors from the U.S. and abroad acknowledged being defensive on the issue, but also recognized the need to grow the revenue pie.

“We get that if a movie bombs, studios need to flush that movie through ‘profit and loss’ channels,” AMC’s Lopez said. “We understand accounting. We get it. But to arbitrarily shrink the window continues to be, I think, a limiting conversation.”

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