CineEurope 2015: Can Barcelona Make or Break Your Movie?

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Hollywood is ramping up star power (Spielberg from the set of 'The BFG') and hyped titles (Jesse Owens biopic 'Race,' Fassbender-Vikander vehicle 'The Light Between Oceans') at the annual confab. "Getting the exhibitors excited is the first step," say one industry insider.

This story first appeared in the June 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

There was a time when the annual Barcelona-set convention CineEurope largely was a chance for international exhibitors to gather and discuss the latest innovations in popcorn and comfortable theater seats. These days, lavish — and often star-studded — presentations and sneak peeks of upcoming releases have become essential tools for distributors looking to generate that all-important early (in some cases, very early) buzz with international exhibitors.

"Studios are truly stepping up their game to do more in-depth and spectacular presentations," says Robert Sunshine, co-managing director of the event. Amid never-before-seen footage, trailers and special video messages, last year alone saw Hollywood names including Ben Stiller, Colin Firth and Jeffrey Katzenberg jet over to pump up the crowds and tout their latest wares.

For London-based Mister Smith Entertainment, one of the smaller companies presenting among the Disneys and Paramounts, the presentations are "vital," according to executive vp marketing and publicity Jill Jones, who says they give her company's lesser-known titles the chance to "get onto the radar of all the exhibitors in Europe."

Jones points to last year's Helen Mirren-starring culinary rom-com, The Hundred-Foot Journey, as a film that benefited from the immediate buzz a successful intro at CineEurope can bring. Having screened in full at the expo, the film went on to earn more than $88 million — of which nearly $34 million came internationally, with sizable hauls from Australia, Germany and the U.K. "It was just the right timing; it was a fall film and very nearly finished," she says. "So I think it made a really big difference."

For this year's presentation, its third overall, Mister Smith is hoping to show clips from the Jesse Owens biopic Race and the first footage from the Michael Fassbender-Alicia Vikander starrer The Light Between Oceans, along with a shout-out from Steven Spielberg from the set of The BFG.

While the big-budget Roald Dahl adaptation — due out in summer 2016 — already might have some significant momentum behind it, Jones says she hopes its appearance at CineEurope helps get the major exhibitors thinking about earmarking it for their immersive Dolby Atmos screens.

"If [exhibitors] love a film, they'll also make sure that it's kept in their theaters a bit longer," notes Rudiger Boss, a CineEurope veteran and executive vp program acquisitions at pan-European broadcast giant ProSiebenSat.1. "This way, you can make an underachiever an overachiever."

Boss describes the screenings as "thermometers" for films' success, with the audiences nearly entirely made up of theater owners who "know how their markets work."

This year, French sales and production house StudioCanal will be heading to CineEurope for a second time, fresh from a phenomenally successful 12 months, which has seen it launch two hugely successful family-franchise potentials in Paddington and Shaun the Sheep Movie.

The company's inaugural presentation in 2014 was an "important step" in its ongoing transition into a major international player, says its president of international distribution and marketing, Rodolphe Buet.

Among StudioCanal's 2015 CineEurope lineup — which includes the already-Cannes-approved Macbeth; Stephen Frears' long-awaited Lance Armstrong biopic, The Program; and the Idris Elba-starring terrorist thriller Bastille Day — is Legend, the story of notorious British gangster twins the Krays — both being played by Tom Hardy. Buet emphasizes that this is just the sort of film that can use CineEurope to its advantage. "At the moment, the awareness of the film is great at some levels, but maybe not throughout all exhibitors through the multiplex channels," he says. "So they will have the chance to see unique footage and understand how far we'll go in terms of marketing. It's a real advantage, some months in advance, to be able to communicate this about the film to an audience that is the key factor of success for such a movie."

But is it really possible to foresee which titles will soar and which will tank at the convention?

"I could see dollar signs in exhibitors' eyes — this movie is going to be huge," one unnamed executive told THR following a Disney presentation at CineEurope in 2013. The movie in question: The Lone Ranger.

But this amateur Nostradamus wasn't alone in his false prophecy. Elsewhere, there reportedly was high praise for The Monuments Men after exclusive footage was revealed and a "strong response" to WikiLeaks misfire The Fifth Estate.

While few could have predicted just how badly Johnny Depp's action-Western tentpole would bomb (or the $190 million write-down it would prompt), such an enthusiastic reaction probably hints less at CineEurope's questionable crystal-ball qualities and more at the increased efforts of the majors to put on an impressive show for the attending theater owners.

Phil Clapp, president of the International Union of Cinemas, admits that making such predictions from the exclusive teasers and clips on offer is close to impossible. "My sense is that the true potential for a film can only be ascertained by sitting down and watching the whole movie," he says. The films already confirmed as getting full screenings this year include Universal's all-star disaster epic Everest, Warner Bros.' Griswold family reunion Vacation and the Mexican-drug thriller Sicario from Lionsgate.

One attendee who says he instantly knew that The Lone Ranger "would not work" is ProSiebenSat.1's Boss. "But of course, it's difficult [to predict]," he confesses. Most of the U.S. majors still are keeping their CineEurope lineups under wraps. But with Boss predicting that major summer releases Ant-Man, Minions, Pixels and Terminator Genisys likely will factor heavily in the mix, unsure exhibitors might want to keep an eye on his response before making any decisions.

Says Jones of Mister Smith: "I don't think you can necessarily judge from the audience which will be hits, but you don't have a shot at a hit if the exhibitors don't book the film. For us, getting the exhibitors excited is the first step, and it gives the chance for the film to stand on its own feet."

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