ShoWest closes on 3D, windows themes

Jennifer Lopez, Sam Worthington attend Thursday closer

LAS VEGAS -- Exhibitor complaints about recent studio moves to hasten select movies into DVD release seemed to abate just before ShoWest 2010 opened this week.

But low-key discussions of the theatrical release window continued throughout the four-day confab. Studio execs huddled with theater owners to discuss how many movies might hasten their theatrical runs to allow a speedier release in home entertainment, no doubt sweetening their pitch with an expressed flexibility on film-rental terms for the pics.

Publicly, exhibs expressed optimism that studios would tread cautiously in tightening the window. But concerns still lurk.

AMC Entertainment chief Gerry Lopez said he has been telling studio execs he "totally understands" the challenge of maximizing revenue through all distribution windows.

"But the relationship between exhibitors and distributors is much more interlinked and complex besides the simple issue of windows," Lopez told THR. "The business models need to be addressed, and the issue of windows is just one of the touch marks. We'll see where the dialog leads."

The success of "Avatar" and "Alice i Wonderland" ensured 3D would be another hot topic at ShoWest.

Jerry Bruckheimer, producer of Disney's summer tentpole "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," told THR relevant considerations in taking a project 3D include both creative matters and cost issues. Bruckheimer said he was willing to convert "Prince" to 3D to tap into burgeoning interest in the format, but the studio deemed the process too expensive.

Disney may release his "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" in 3D, but no final decision has been made. A related decision is whether to shoot the Hawaii-based production in 3D or convert the pic into 3D once it's in the can.

"We have to see if the cameras can take the stress of the jungle," he said.

Bruckheimer was feted as producer of the decade in ShoWest's closing event Thursday, a few hours after "Prince" was screened here for exhibs.

Meantime, ShoWest marked a 4% uptick in attendance -- to roughly 2,450 paid registrants -- in the exhibition confab's last year under managing director Robert Sunshine. Trade-show floor participation also increased modestly, to 456 booths.

Next year, the National Association of Theatre Owners plans to launch its own March trade show, moving the confab to Caesar's Palace. NATO will rebrand the confab as CinemaCon.

Sunshine operated ShoWest for 10 years, first independently, then with the Nielsen Co., and then this year as part of E5 Media, which also owns THR.

"It's been good running the show, and I think we're going out with a real bang," Sunshine said.

The burgeoning appeal of 3D cinema was touted repeatedly during the convention, along with a related challenge of getting screens equipped for a swelling number of 3D releases.

"There is no doubt now that 3D is a game changer," NATO chief John Fithian said. "But 3D isn't going to work in every movie, despite what Jeffrey Katzenberg says."

The affectionate jibe at the DreamWorks Animation topper and 3D cheerleader partly reflects differing creative sensibilities about 3D. But as a practical matter, it also underscored exhibition's struggle to program even the current level of 3D releasing.

Bank financing for digital and 3D system purchases was unavailable until recently, limiting the number of theaters that could be equipped for the fledgling format. But the NATO boss stressed exhibs' commitment to 3D cinema and predicted big things for industry boxoffice now that a rollout of hardware has begun in earnest.

"The screen supply is going to grow rapidly," Fithian said. "So the sky is the limit."

In an interesting subplot to the 3D cinema drama, two companies are marketing competing film 3D systems as lower-cost alternatives to digital 3D from RealD, Dolby Xpand and Masterimage. But contrary to the digital 3D companies, who have all the major distributors on board, Technicolor and Oculus must convince studios to release pics in their formats.

That's caused some rigorous competition between the film 3D companies. Technicolor has a handful of studios set to release films in its format; Oculus remains in demo-mode.

Film piracy is always a magnet for tough talk at ShoWest, and MPAA chief Dan Glickman said the problem remains a growing one.

"I say growing, because the proliferation of broadband around the world has made it easier for movies to be streamed for free over the Internet, so much so that home entertainment businesses in places like South Korea and Spain have been devastated," he said.

So-called "green screen" efforts by various movie circuits were much in evidence this week.

NATO execs offered a survey of some recent industry initiatives in recycling, energy saving and material conservation, and Carmike Cinemas separately detailed its own eco-friendly efforts.

On the final day of the confab, Warner Bros. and fledgling distributor CBS Films tubthumped their respective movie slates.

The cast of Warners' summer tentpole "Sex and the City 2" strutted their stuff in an afternoon session that also featured a nine-minute clip that marked the first 3D images from the studio's upcoming "Clash of the Titans." "Titans" topliner Sam Worthington, director Louis Leterrier and Warner Bros. president Alan Horn introduced the clip, while other cast-supported clips included Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis touting summer comedy "Due Date."

Also Thursday, Jennifer Lopez stumped for CBS Films' "The Back-up Plan," which was screened at the show. Neil Patrick Harris, Dwayne Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton were among other cast from upcoming releases helping CBS Films make its ShoWest debut.