Columbia Tristar encourages film exhibitors to reach for the stars

MUMBAI: It does not get any bigger than this. Join us as we light up screens and earn rewards. That in a nutshell was the message that Columbia Tristar had for the strong gathering of motion picture exhibitors last evening. 

The company had organised an exhibitors' convention for the western region at Powai, in North Mumbai, to promote its wares and launch a programme "Reach for the stars".

The programme, which will be done online, gives exhibitors the chance to win points through five criteria. They are - sales increase, box office reporting, outstandings, display and promotions. The contest is open to all exhibitors and the criterion to win prizes is that the theatre should have done a minimum business of Rs 150,000 from 1 May 2004 till 30 April 2005.

There are five prizes to be won starting from Rs 300,000. Of course, the theatre owner needs to have a computer in the vicinity so that he can keep filling data. Special points will also be awarded for daily and weekly entries. The company has developed software, which will automatically generate score sheets especially in the box office collection criteria. There are a total of 1000 points to be won.

Speaking on the occasion, Columbia Tristar managing director Uday Singh said that the aim was to show that the studio was making a serious attempt to build relationships with the exhibition community, instead of just being a one trick pony. "With your support we have been the number one Hollywood studio in the country for the past four years. Nowhere else in the world can Columbia say that. We have thus managed to outperform our parent in the US.

"We have over 50 per cent share of the foreign film market. In 2002, we had a 62 per cent share. This year we will be releasing around 35 titles. This allows us to handle 20 different genres, from suspense thrillers like Secret Window and M Night Shyamalan's The Village to comedies like Raising Helen and 13 Going on 30." The last three titles come from the Buena Vista stable.

"We have invested substantially in IT and can thus constantly mine data to find out what works where. We have developed business intelligence models and can thus help our exhibitor partners improve their business," Singh added.

The exhaustive presentation, which clocked in at a little over three hours, saw representatives of Columbia Tristar and Buena Vista elaborating in-depth on each of the key products. Trailers and different kinds of posters were on display and the exhibitors gathered gave their views on what they felt would work. The saleability of each product was also pointed out.

For instance, the Buena Vista representative pointed out that Shyamalan would put people in seats partly because he is an Indian and also because his other three films did well. "People will go for the film expecting that huge twist in the tale that he is associated with."

Also present at the convention were Columbia Tristar Films international distribution vice president Steve Bruno and Buena Vista international sales vice president Asia Pacific Jo Yan.

Speaking to, Bruno expressed confidence that if things went according to plan, Columbia Tristar would be able to match, if not do even better than 2002, both in India and abroad.

"India has the potential to become one of the most important markets for Hollywood. For that to happen, multiplexes have to keep growing. The ratio of the contribution that multiplexes make to overall cinema revenue in India is not as high as in other Asian countries. However, I am delighted that the infrastructure is being put in place and that theatre owners in India are putting time and money into upgrading their facilities," he offered.

Talking about the business in general, Bruno added, "Last year was disappointing for us. We had the Gigli phenomenon, which was a disaster. Then you had films like The Missing, which failed to find an audience. I don't think that it was a failure of marketing and promoting the product though. There are different factors that can turn off an audience. In this case it could have been the time period coupled with the fact people are not used to the Western. Of course one major hit can offset the impact of failures but that did not happen. This year we are optimistic not just about the fact that Spiderman is returning but also the fact that our other products are very healthy."

Yan was confident that the upcoming animated feature The Incredibles from the Disney Pixar team would be able to do big business. "Finding Nemo continues to run in select theatres. Pirates Of The Caribbean and Bruce Almighty also stood up very well to the local competition last year.

"While it is sad that we will not be continuing our relationship with Pixar, we are confident that our own product will hold its own in the market place from next year. We are also working with new production houses, who are constantly coming up with fresh ideas as to how a concept can be tackled."

Coming back to the exhibitor programme, to get points on the sales increase criteria a film should have been running for at least five weeks. Of course, this should not be a problem for the bigger films like Spiderman 2. In addition to the sequel, the other movies that Columbia Tristar is pinning its hopes on to do business on the basis of in theatre displays are Hellboy, Anacondas, the thriller Ladder 49 with John Travolta and Joaquin Phoenix playing firemen and two Jerry Bruckheimer big budget films.

The first is the big scale adventure film King Arthur, which along with Spiderman 2 could prove to be another huge hit this summer. It helps that some people are familiar with the tale of the character and his knights the round table. The other movie, which will be released in December, is the adventure film National Treasure with Nicholas Cage. In fact Columbia Tristar's marketing manager Harshavardhan Ganghurde pointed out that Cage's previous action films Con Air, The Rock and Gone In 60 Seconds had fared better overseas than they had in the US. It also does not hurt that the trailer of National Treasure reminded this writer of The Mummy to a certain degree.

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