ShowEast honors Hollywood's best

Honorees behind 'Avatar,' Despicable Me' react to awards

ShowEast, Oct. 11-14
Industry hopeful on meeting 3D demand

Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award

Todd Vradenburg, executive director, the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation

Known as the "do-gooder" among friends, Vradenburg's calling to nonprofits might have stemmed from his childhood, growing up on the "low-income side" of Pasadena. Places like the YMCA and Boys Club were "probably my first introduction to the not-for-profit industry," he says. He's taken that calling a long way, following jobs at the American Heart Assn. and the Multiple Sclerosis Society in Los Angeles. A successful recruiting effort from former Will Rogers Foundation chair Tom Sherak brought him into the fold, and these days Vradenburg has finely honed diplomacy skills to go with his fundraising prowess. "All charities have a personality," he says, "and every now and then my role is to help the board see the potential of what the charity can accomplish." Having done that, he then has to go out and start raising the money. But as a guy who once brought in $1 million for a nonprofit with a charity screening of "The Ten Commandments" hosted by God himself (OK, Charlton Heston), that's a matter of instinct for Vradenburg these days. Or, perhaps, he just takes advice from a useful Will Rogers quip: "Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment." "I try to remember that quote every time I have one of those learning moments," he says. "I'm a student for life."

"Independence Day"
Al Shapiro Distinguished Service Award
Branden d. Miller, vp in-theater marketing, 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures

No, it's not a typo -- one of Fox's key in-theater marketing minds has a little gimmick of his own: His lower-cased middle name. "It's actually 'de,' " he reveals. "I abbreviate it or people think it's 'deMiller.' Every time I ask my parents why, I get a different answer." That aside, Miller has made a name for himself with innovative, effective marketing concepts for films like "Independence Day," the first three episodes of the "Star Wars" saga, and, most recently, "Avatar," where he coordinated the handout of hundreds of thousands of tickets so people could preview eight minutes of the film. "That was one of those once-in-a-lifetime projects, and it wasn't as easy as people think," he says. Born in Arizona, Miller grew up in Utah, showing films on an 8mm projector to neighborhood kids and started running a theater through a nonprofit, later catching then-Buena Vista exec Dick Cook's attention. After two years working marketing for Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Miller got the call from Fox -- and after 18 years, he's clearly pleased with his decision. When not explaining his name or promoting the next big blockbuster, Miller keeps busy with volunteer work and his four adopted children. "A lot of what we do is old movie showmanship," he says. "That's the best way to market movies."

Show 'E' Award
Thomas W. Stephenson Jr., president and CEO of Rave Motion Pictures

Stephenson didn't take a direct route into movies -- the Tennessee native toiled in political, financial and real estate realms before deciding the theater business would be a "stable, long-term and understandable" business he could blend with that real estate expertise. "I'm a movie fan and a fan of the way people relate to movies," he says. "Whether you're 5 or 50, it's a big part of people's lives, and that will continue to be true for a long time. He should know. At 56, Stephenson is living that range of enjoyment by taking his 3-year-old daughter to the movies these days. Rave Motion Pictures came about in late 1999 with the intent of making it the first all-stadium, all-digital circuit; Stephenson had hopes of improving the moviegoing experience for midsize theaters and small towns. Ten years later, Rave owns or manages 61 theaters and 918 screens in 20 states, and is ranked as the fifth-largest domestic circuit in terms of box office and number of screens. But his work is far from complete. Right now, Stephenson is looking for the "magic intersections" of 2D, 3D, Imax and private label screenings, plus seeking the holy grail of concessions. "We don't have a special sauce," he says, "but we're looking for one."

International Achievement Award in Exhibition
Jose Fernando Soriano Barrantes, GM, CinePlanet

It would seem that Soriano Barrantes' life would be completely enmeshed in the film industry, but if you ask him about his motivations as GM for CinePlanet, it really all comes down to family. "I like to go to the movies with my daughters and see family films. It makes me happy to see their faces filled with joy," he says. It's a good enough reason, especially considering that the native Peruvian's background is outside the movie world: He's worked for companies like Unilever, Pepsi-Cola and Interbev, joining CinePlanet in 2005 as a sales manager. A year later he became operations manager for Peru and Chile territories, and in 2009 he assumed his current slot. And with 20 cinema complexes and 158 screens in Peru and Chile, he's got his work cut out for him. But there is a plan, he says: "What I really like to do is develop new ways of improving the moviegoing experience of our clients -- to surprise them in a positive manner, to fascinate the fans. We're not just selling movies or popcorn -- we're selling a familiar experience." When not running theaters, Soriano Barrantes can often be found in the mornings jogging -- but again, heads right back home to his family when he's done. "That is where I find tranquility, peace and security in moments of stress," he says.

"Despicable Me"
International Achievement Award in Distribution
Mauricio Duran, vp, Latin American Marketing and Distribution for Universal Pictures International

That Duran, he's quite a character. Literally, at one point: While working with Sony and Disney on their joint distribution venture in the late 1990s, he spent a week at Disney University -- graduating only after a required day in a character costume. He got to be Robin Hood, the fox. "That's not a very well-known character," he admits. "But everyone in the park was familiar with him!" In a way, that's true about Duran, who has spent 24 years in the business, distributing 1,200 films. He started when he was only 19 and still at university as a marketing assistant for Columbia TriStar (later Sony) -- and spent his next 20 years there, climbing the ladder. He jumped to UPI four years ago and has overseen some impressive feats, like the ascent of "Despicable Me" this past summer as the top-grossing Universal film of all time in Latin America. But he hasn't tired of the big screen yet -- Duran spends weekdays screening the movies yet to be released, then returns to the theater on weekends. "My daughter and wife and I can see three to four films each weekend -- and this is just for pleasure!" he laughs.

When: Oct. 11-14
Where: Orlando World Center Marriott, Orlando, Fla.

ShowEast is known for its annual screening of fourth-quarter films.

"We will continue to do what we do best, which is show films for the upcoming holidays," ShowEast managing director Robert Sunshine says. "The studios have shown tremendous support."

"The Fighter"

Among films set to screen this year are Paramount's Harrison Ford starrer "The Morning Glory"; "The Fighter," with Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams; Warners' latest Todd Phillips comedy, "Due Date"; and Lionsgate's Russell Crowe-toplined "The Next Three Days."

ShowEast attendance is expected to match last year's at almost 800 paid registrants. Its trade show and exhibit suites also will be comparable with a year ago at about 20,500 square feet.

-- Carl DiOrio