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This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows a scene from ‘The Raid 2’ which will hit the theatres in the US on March 28. (AP)
CinemaCon to offer more of everything Summer blockbusters draw theater owners to confab

NEW YORK, March 25, (Agencies): What a difference a year makes. CinemaCon, the annual exhibition industry trade show unfolding this week in Las Vegas, dawns as theater owners are basking in the glow of unexpected box office hits such as “The Lego Movie” and “Ride Along.” These films and others have helped push domestic ticket sales to over $2 billion, an 8 percent jump from the previous year, and there is a great feeling of optimism that upcoming releases such as “Divergent” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” will continue to keep seats filled.

In contrast, last year’s CinemaCon landed with a box office mired in one of its worst slumps in recent memory. The setting in Caesars Palace brought to mind the flickering end of a certain ancient empire instead of the Pax Romana. “The state of the business is strong right now and our members have confidence in what’s going on,” said John Fithian, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners, an exhibition trade group. “Last year we had a dearth of diverse movies at this time, but this spring there’s been more for different demographics and ethnicities and that’s driving the market.” But exhibitors’ memories are short and their eyes are usually fixed on the horizon. The more than 5,000 theater owners, studio executives and vendors are flocking to Sin City to get a preview of the films they hope can help the 2014 box office eclipse last year’s record-setting numbers.


“This year’s convention is going to offer more of everything for everyone than ever before,” Mitch Neuhauser, the convention’s managing director, told TheWrap. To that end, seven studios - a list that includes Disney, Lionsgate, Warner Bros., Fox, Paramount, Sony and Universal - will present the best of their summer and holiday slates. If history is any guide, it will be a barrage of film clips and appearances by stars of blockbuster hopefuls such as “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Interstellar.” A few studios will screen upcoming releases in their entirety, as Universal and Lionsgate plan to do with their upcoming comedies “Neighbors” and “Draft Days.”

Sometimes these teases can result in a groundswell of support for under-the-radar titles, as was the case last year with Fox’s “The Heat,” starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, and the previous show with Universal’s “Ted,” Seth MacFarlane’s R-rated comedy starring Mark Wahlberg. Other times, they add to a drumbeat of bad buzz for a picture (even in preview form, most exhibitors had a sinking feeling about “After Earth” and “RIPD”).

Prior to the internet, these presentations were essential for theater owners who were trying to determine what movies they would book over the coming months. Nowadays most exhibitors have already decided which films they plan to show over the remaining nine months of the year. They may change the number of screens they allot to a particular picture based on the reaction among their fellow theater owners, but aside from a few alterations at the edges, these figures won’t be dramatically overhauled. Instead, Fithian argues the value is in getting exhibitors fired up about a particular film.

Aware
“It helps make cinema owners aware of the themes of certain films which translates into grass roots marketing,” he said. “It’s everything from how they get their attendants to talk about a certain picture to where they place their in-theater displays and standees.” There’s also an increased emphasis on new technology. Major theater chains are at the end of an exhibition overhaul that has seen them convert from film to digital projectors. That shift has led to a greater adoption of big screen offerings such as 3D and faster rates of projecting. It’s a speed of change that Fithian predicts will only accelerate.

This year’s CinemaCon will offer up demonstrations and discussions about exhibition enhancements in various stages of development such as laser projection, higher-frame rates and immersive audio systems. “The industry essentially relied on the same technology for 100 years, but in the last few years all that changed,” Fithian said. The other great benefit for those navigating the baccarat tables and roulette wheels at Caesar’s is the opportunity to network at the world’s largest gathering of theater owners.

Positive
“Many years deals will take place there or ones will happen soon after,” Joel Cohen, CEO of the online ticketing hub, MovieTickets.com, said. “Sometimes you just have positive conversations that lead to deals happening in the future. It’s worth going to touch base with folks.” Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg, star of the upcoming “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” is promising the fourth installment of the Michael Bay-directed franchise will be a huge hit. “For moviegoers all over the world, I guarantee this will take it up a notch,” Wahlberg said Monday at the annual movie-theater convention CinemaCon. Paramount Vice Chairman Rob Moore said Bay was hesitant to return to the franchise until they were able to zero in on the right story and cast that would capture his imagination. “Michael promised me it would be a very different, stand-alone movie, which it absolutely is,” said Wahlberg. “It is bigger and better than the other three (films) combined. This will be the biggest movie of 2014.”

In the action film, Wahlberg, who reteams with Bay after last year’s “Pain and Gain,” plays Cade Yeager, an automobile mechanic who discovers a rundown truck, which is really a transformer. Soon, he’s the target of Autobots, Decepticons and the government. With a series of “Transformers” films, which featured a consistent cast including Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, Wahlberg admitted he’s feeling the pressure of stepping into the shoes of the other actors. But he says he “had to jump at the opportunity because I really feel like it is probably the most iconic franchise in movie history.”
Wahlberg was joined on stage by his co-stars and CinemaCon Rising Stars award recipients Nicola Peltz, who plays his daughter, Tessa Yeager, and Jack Reynor, who portrays Tessa’s boyfriend, Shane. But the surprise guest was Wahlberg’s 10-year-old daughter, Ella, who is not in the film but accompanied her dad to Vegas.

“This is (Ella’s) first time in Vegas and hopefully her last,” Wahlberg joked. The actor flexes his protective daddy disposition in the upcoming action film as well. His Cade comically nags daughter Tessa about her tiny shorts and the boyfriend he didn’t know she had, offering a glimpse into the humor of the new film. Though Bay was expected to attend CinemaCon to also plug “Age of Extinction,” Wahlberg says the filmmaker was confined to the edit bay to finalize the film’s special effects. Or could he have been afraid of another teleprompter mishap?

“He wanted me to make sure that you all understand that the effects are temp,” added Wahlberg of the extended preview shown to the industry crowd. Unfinished or not, the impressive footage, including bigger, more powerful robots, sharper battle scenes and a fresh crop of good-looking movie stars, could be just the thing to drive home Wahlberg’s No. 1 film prediction and cap Bay’s massively successful series, which together have grossed over $2.6 billion. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is due in the US June 27.

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