It’s “ridiculous” that AOL Time Warner is not promoting LOTR with Harry Potter.
LOS ANGELES (The Hollywood Reporter) — If Warner Bros. has its way, moviegoers flocking to theaters that are opening Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone today will first have to sit through an unprecedented five minutes of movie trailers from the studio.
Under established industry guidelines, a studio normally attaches only 2 1/2 minutes of trailers to the films it sends to exhibitors. But Warners is using the leverage of Potter’s expected boxoffice bonanza to demand that theater owners break with accepted practice.
Warners has attached two trailers, totaling 3 1/2 minutes, directly to the Potter prints, and it also has distributed a third trailer, running 1 1/2 minutes, which it is demanding that exhibitors show as well.
According to rules governing trailers that have been approved by the MPAA and National Association of Theatre Owners, a studio can attach one or two trailers to a film as long as they don’t exceed 2 1/2 minutes total.
Warner Bros. requested an exemption from the rule, according to NATO, but its president, John Fithian, denied the request. Sources close to MPAA confirmed that the association supported NATO’s decision as well. (Warner Bros. denies that it requested such an exemption.)
“We didn’t approve the five minutes of trailers,” Fithian said. “Beyond that, it’s an individual matter between Warner Bros. and the theater companies.”
Theater owners were not able to negotiate with Warners over the placement of the three trailers, however. Instead, a document titled “Additional Terms for Harry Potter,” obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, was delivered in the past few weeks to each theater chain screening Potter.” It read, in part: “Warners has five minutes of trailers that each exhibitor must agree to play before each performance (on each screen) of Harry Potter. These consist of a tied trailer of Majestic and a teaser of Scooby-Doo (attached) and a teaser of A Walk to Remember.“
According to Warner Bros. president of distribution Dan Fellman, he has received no calls from exhibitors complaining about his trailer demands. “They have to play all five minutes of the trailers in order to have the movie,” he said. “Nobody is forced to do anything. There are terms involved with the showing of Harry Potter, and part of the deal is a trailer commitment. This is done every day, and I’ve had no complaints.”
One source said: “The whole matter has been shoved down the exhibitors’ throats. Exhibitors are flabbergasted that one distributor would engage in such behavior.”
Fithian declined comment on theater owners’ reaction to Warners’ demands.
Fellman also said he didn’t violate the trailer rule. He said that attaching the two trailers to the prints was simply a cost-saving measure. “I told (exhibitors) they can cut them out and run them separately,” he said. “In actuality, I only have one 2 1/2-minute trailer.”
What Warner Bros. might have done is set a precedent in which studios with potentially high-grossing films bypass all agreements within the industry and use their film as a negotiating tool with exhibitors.
“It poses a problem,” DreamWorks head of distribution Jim Tharp said. “A precedent will have been set, and people will start to use the movie itself as a bargaining chip. I think it could potentially be a big deal.”
Another leading industry executive said that if the exhibitors do honor Warner Bros.’ demands, then any agreement set forth between NATO and MPAA will no longer be honored. “It will be a free-for-all.”
The trailer rules have been put in place to allow the studio presenting a movie a certain advantage but at the same time to ensure that other studios can also advertise their films before a captive audience.
“The idea that the one whose film it is is entitled to an advantage is not a new concept, but this much of an advantage is definitely a new concept,” one distribution executive said. “It will be closely watched by all the distributors, and if it’s successful, then it will change the rules for how people with big movies deal with exhibition.”
According to a source familiar with one theater chain’s operations, the company will run the two attached trailers but will opt out of running the third, unattached trailer for “Walk to Remember.”
Another source believes the majority of exhibitors will not play all five minutes but will stick with the two trailers currently attached, running 3 1/2 minutes.
“It’s unfortunate because they probably would have played the two trailers anyway if they had just asked,” the source said.
However, another exec close to the exhibitors doesn’t believe that Warners’ demands are precedent-setting. “The exhibitors received larger requests when Star Wars: (Episode I — The Phantom Menace) came out a couple years ago,” he said. “The hardest part for the exhibitors is getting all the trailer requests on the screen. The only good news is that there are a lot of prints of this movie, so the exhibitors will be able to spread out the trailer requests (for other, non-Warners movies) across all the prints.”
Those requests have been coming in droves. Fox is pushing for Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones, and every other studio is fighting for screen time, including AOL Time Warner’s New Line division and its upcoming film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
“This will not set a precedent because it’s unenforceable once it leaves L.A.,” said Chris Pula, former marketing executive at Warner Bros., Disney and New Line. “I’m not disappointed that they’re getting heavy-handed with their trailers — you can’t blame them for that. But it’s ridiculously myopic that they are not promoting Lord of the Rings from New Line. It’s just damn right stupid.”