ShoWest: Imax livin' large on studio releases

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The Imax Corp. brought its messasge that size matters to ShoWest on Monday, hosting the International Day Luncheon. Company co-chairs Richard Gelfond and Brad Wechsler were joined by Imax Filmed Entertainment chairman and president Greg Foster before a crowd of thousands.

The large-screen exhibition format -- which displays films at 10 times the image size of a normal theater -- was once the domain of museums showing scientific and specialty films but is increasingly being embraced by movie studios, who seem to have figured out how to make an Imax release part of their opening run.

"We're not a one-off any longer," Foster said. "Moviegoers, exhibitors and studios know that when there's a movie of scope, there's a good chance that it will be converted to Imax. The thing I'm most proud of is that we've created a really user-friendly environment for people, and as a result they've come back. The audiences come back, the studios come back."

Imax's recent successes include megahits "Happy Feet" from Warner Bros. and Fox's "Night at the Museum"; the company currently is rolling out Warners' "300."

Foster said the company has received a big boost by increasing the speed at which features can be converted to Imax, using a proprietary process called DMR. "In 1995, it took three months to DMR our first film, Universal's 'Apollo 13,' and for '300,' it took 10 days. That gives us a lot more flexibility because we can now be integrated into the overall campaign."

Past data suggests that an Imax release on averaage accounts for an incremental increase of 6%-plus in terms of boxoffice revenue, but for some films, like Warners' "The Polar Express," it was more like 20%.

Upcoming Imax releases in-clude Sony's "Spider-Man 3" and Warners' "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."

"We love working with all of these studios," Foster said. "We happen to have a very strong history with Warner Bros. They've been integrating us. They get it from a distributing point of view, from a marketing point of view, internationally. We're integrated into their program, and we piggyback off the 35mm campaign."

Although Imax stock hasn't been getting much love on Wall Street, Foster said the company has a lot going for it, including the fact that its brand of extreme cinema is a veritible boxoffice magnet for hard-to-reach 18- to 30-year-old males. "This is the crowd that has been spending a lot more time playing video games and watching DVDs, and they seem to be making an active decision to go to Imax theaters," Foster said. "They've been responding to the 14,000 watts of digital surround sound and screens up to 8 stories tall and 120 feet in width, crystal-clear images. The bottom line is you can't replicate the Imax experience anywhere but in an Imax auditorium."

Imax has about 280 affiliated theatres in 40 countries, and chains including Regal (with 13 screens), Cineplex Galaxy (nine) and AMC (seven) have site licenses.               
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