Tom's our man

Columns

The new president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is Tom Sherak. Isn’t that the Tom Sherak who spent 18 years at 20th Century Fox, seven years as a partner at Revolution Studios, and a number of stints in exhibition at R/C Theatres and as head film buyer at General Cinema? Of course, it is! He is only the second member of the Academy’s Executive Branch to have been elected to the esteemed position of president of the Academy.

Some people are speculating that because of Tom’s background, exhibition might become more involved in the Academy. But Tom notes that “the academy is comprised of guilds, and its branches are made up of creative people that actually make movies. As the name implies, they are all involved with the art and science of moviemaking. Whereas theatre owners only show them.” (See our interview with Tom in the upcoming November issue.)

This idea of getting more exhibitors involved in the Academy will probably not even enter Tom’s mind over the next 12 months as he digs into his new role. There are many other important objectives to tackle.

However, everyone who knows Tom understands how passionate he is about worthy causes—particularly the fight against multiple sclerosis—so we expect he will do a great job promoting what the Academy does. “We do a lot of important work here, but one of the most important things that people do not realize about the Academy is that we are a philanthropic organization,” Sherak states. “We give away millions of dollars to promote the art of filmmaking, giving grants to film festivals, schools, preservation and more. It’s all part of keeping our business fresh and young and growing.”

With his great enthusiasm, great ideas, terrific contacts in all areas of the business and his charitable heart, we know that Tom Sherak will be successful, and in the not-too-distant future, exhibition will be knocking on the Academy’s door to see what they can do to support this historic and important institution.

Filling the Void
Although this has been another great year at the box office, the recession has still been taking a toll in the Hollywood boardrooms. The major studios have become increasingly conservative about spending, and top independents like Miramax and The Weinstein Company have experienced dramatic cutbacks in recent weeks.

At the same time, the month of October has seen some encouraging reports about new sources of movie financing for top-level producers. First, veteran producers Walter Parkes and Laurie McDonald (Men in Black, Gladiator, Sweeney Todd) secured a $10 million revolving fund from Imagenation Abu Dhabi to develop new feature projects. (Imagenation is also co-financing Participant Media’s The Beaver, directed by Jodie Foster.) One day later, blockbuster producer Jerry Bruckheimer was reported to be finalizing a three-year, $20 million development fund via Barclays Bank, on top of the money he already receives from Disney.

Another big new name in movie funding is India’s Reliance Big Entertainment, which is the principal backer of DreamWorks and is investing some $20 million in development deals with A-list names like Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Jim Carrey, George Clooney and Brett Ratner.

These deals offer some comfort in light of the seismic changes at two major studios, with the exit of Universal co-chairmen Marc Shmuger and David Linde, the reports that Comcast may buy NBC Universal, and the departure of Disney Studios’ veteran chairman Dick Cook and installation of former Disney Channels president Rich Ross. It will be months before the impact of those corporate shifts on their respective studio movie pipelines can be measured.
On the other side of the exhibition chain, it was reassuring to see JPMorgan step up with new financing of $525 million for the conversion of thousands of Regal, AMC and Cinemark theatres to digital and 3D. If only that cash had come sooner, some of 2009’s 3D breakout hits would surely have been even bigger.

Even as certain studio giants struggle with disappointing returns, it’s worth remembering that the singular magic of the movie business will always lure new players into the game. You never know where the next Hangover, District 9 or Slumdog Millionaire may be coming from, and for many investors that’s an irresistible gamble.

Why Conventions Matter
Big is not necessarily better, but it does command respect and attention. Maybe that is why the larger theatrical exhibitors no longer feel compelled to attend every movie convention that is staged in the U.S. Because of their sheer size, some exhibitors compel film companies, equipment and candy manufacturers to visit them in their home offices during the year. Their guests bring new films to see, new products and snacks to touch and taste, and yes, the power of size and money gives these circuits an advantage over smaller ones.

Many of these larger companies even have offices in L.A. to be closer to the film community, or at least travel several times a year to visit the film studios. The smaller guys cannot afford to do so. That is why film conventions are important. They give these companies the ability to meet with their customers in one location over a three or four-day period—and during that time they get to see trailers, product reels, feature films and new technologies, and learn about industry trends.

This ability to network and meet in a neutral setting is great for doing business, being educated, and building friendships. It is, therefore, up to the management of these conventions to provide all these opportunities in an exciting and educational way. There is no set formula and not every effort is always successful.

We don’t believe anyone can truly judge if one or two or three conventions a year are necessary—but everyone will tell you that meeting with a client in an out-of-office setting, whether it be a seminar, tradeshow or bar, helps generate new experiences and relationships—and that goes a long way in building business trust.

This year at ShowEast, the organizers have tried to accomplish all of this with a well-attended tradeshow, an assemblage of large and small films, and educational sessions on the credit markets, digital cinema, the importance of audio in the theatre, and moviegoing habits and trends.

Meeting with your partners in exhibition or distribution several times a year goes a long way in cementing relationships. Likewise, it gives industry associations the ability to meet with their members and to conduct business in a pleasant setting. Groups like the National Association of Theatre Owners, the International Cinema Technology Association, the National Association of Concessionaires, the InterSociety Committee and local exhibitor groups find these venues an ideal place to meet.

So as everyone converges on Orlando for ShowEast, they should come with an open mind—to meet old friends and to learn new tricks. With box-office booming, it’s a great time to get together.