Did you catch a whiff of that popcorn-scented whirlwind
which made its way through Vegas this week? It was brought on by the annual
gathering of exhibitors, distributors, and marketers of motion pictures, CinemaCon.
This was CinemaCon’s inaugural event after the National
Association of Theatre Owners (or, NATO — seriously) retook ownership of the
convention (then called ShoWest) last year. Besides getting a new name and new
management, CinemaCon also got a new home under the colosseum roof of Caesars Palace.
Another big change, and fortunate for me, was the date getting pushed back a
couple weeks. Typically, ShoWest happened right in the middle of another West
event, SXSW Interactive. Now that it didn’t overlap with that geek Spring Break
of awesomeness, I was finally able to attend my first CinemaCon. And what an
enlightening first experience it was.
The first thing I noticed upon picking up my press pass at
the Palace Ballrooms was the movie marketing machine had been dialed up to 11.
The only other movie-related events I ever attend are film festivals, where
marketing consists of fliers plastered over a signpost or a dolled-up trade
show model pinning a button to my jacket. But at CinemaCon, where a quarter of
the attendees are movie marketers, there were 100-plus lightbox posters lining
the hallways, 12-foot tall standees towering over passers-by, and 100-yard long
banners running the length of the escalators. There was so much marketing
overload I expected to see the urinal cakes in the men’s room advertising
However, there really was no time to look at all the eye-candy
goodness since CinemaCon was packed to the gills with screening events, panels,
parties and previews. That’s “Previews” with a capital “P,” because that’s what
creates so much buzz around the convention. Well, that and the huge stars who
come out to play.
The first night started off with a bang … and a panda, a
Norse God, a superhero, and a Super 8 camera. Called “Celebrating the
Moviegoing Experience,” CinemaCon officially opened its inaugural event with
this special program that featured exclusive sneak previews of this summer’s
blockbusters. Since theaters and theater attendance make or break a movie, it’s
important for the studios to get the exhibitors excited about the “products” in
the pipeline. Weird, I know. I’m used to the studios — especially at film
festivals — wielding the power, but at CinemaCon it’s the theater owners who
need to be pleased. One way to do that, besides showing never-before-seen
footage of highly-anticipated films, is to bring out surprise guests to
introduce the clips.
So, as I chowed down on the complimentary Player’s Choice™
Cheese Corn, looking up at Celine Dion’s stage in The Colosseum, I watched
Hollywood power players and thespians become salesman for their wares.
The best and brightest salesman was J.J. Abrams who showed
20-minutes of his Spielberg homage and highly-anticipated monster movie Super
8, while spinning yarn after yarn about his first encounter with the mega-director.
Following him was Frederick Huntsberry, Chief Operating Officer of Paramount
Pictures, with a handful of unfinished (and unimpressive) Captain America:
The First Avenger footage. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation,
unveiled some very cool 3-D action sequences from Kung Fu Panda 2 with
some help from the film’s star Jack Black. Always the consummate performer,
Black couldn’t help himself, and performed a Celine Dion medley in addition to
some sort of kung fu demonstration that left him wheezing. Even God himself
showed up — a Norse God that is. Actor Chris Hemsworth debuted clips from Thor,
in which he plays the title character and gets to kiss Natalie Portman. Damn