Friday, April 27, 2012

A Whole New World: A Look Inside My Vegas Convention Experience

Battleship lobby display, [Photo from]

In its second year as CinemaCon (formally ShoWest), the Las Vegas trade show owned by the National Association of Theater Owners showed off tons of footage from upcoming movies, featured a variety of products on the floor for theater owners to consider (and for me to eat), provided seminars on things like social networking, 3D, and texting in theaters, and got thousands of people drunk. It was my first time making the trek to Vegas to see what all the fuss has been about so I thought I’d sum up the best parts of my two days in Caesar’s Palace.

A Peek Into A Different Demographic
One of the hands down most interesting parts of my entire CinemaCon experience was taking a look inside a demographic that I have never been privy to before. I am mostly all geeks all the time or all hipster artists all the time. In my universe, the big winners of the convention would have been Prometheus, The Amazing Spiderman and 47 Ronin. SO not what happened here. Case in point: the unexpected winner of the Universal presentation and possibly the whole weekend?  Ted, the first feature length film from Family Guy mastermind Seth McFarlane, the clips from which got the loudest, most enthusiastic response of any film at CinemaCon. 
Also, in chatting with folks after the Sony presentation, pretty much everyone, but especially women, came away most excited personally for Hope Springs, the film where Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones go to a marriage counseling retreat to get some spice back into their lives. I’ll see it, sure, but I think I can safely say I have never been in a room before with this many people who dismissed genre films as noise and explosions, but simply can’t wait for a middle aged romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep. Although, to be fair, a lot of these folks happen to be excited for Looper as well, as it seemed smart and liked that there was more in there than just noise and explosions. Yay!
Here's the kicker: after killing it at Wondercon with fantastic footage complete with silly intro and hilarious panel with Seth Grahame-Smith and Benjamin Walker, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter seemed to utterly stump the CinemaCon crowd. When chatting with attendees, I discovered just how true this was. This movie is not for this crowd. Thankfully, anyone I personally spoke to got to hear that it was based on a great book, that the writer is extremely clever, that Benjamin Walker starred on Broadway, that it was extremely well received at Wondercon and the geek crowd is super excited for it, but it was definitely eye opening to encounter a bunch of people that aren’t automatically excited at the thought of Abe Lincoln chopping up vamps on top of a train. 
Oh, peeks inside other demographics, how interesting and rare you are!
More after the jump

Learning about the controversy that is frame rate
Something we *all* learned this week, whether we physically attended CinemaCon or not. The Hobbit screened ten minutes in 48 fps for the first time during the Warner’s Presentation, to mixed results. Most of the attendees I talked to were actually rather positive about the whole thing, as were a couple members of the press who echoed the sentiment Scorsese touched on Wednesday – that innovation in cinema always takes some getting used to, but most of that was drowned out by some loud and immediate gut reactions. But considering these loud and immediate gut reactions were from people whose opinions I trust and respect beyond description, it had me worried. The day after, I saw some 120fps 3D test footage and found myself very much on the fence about the whole thing. Only time will tell how this all shakes out, but it cannot be denied that frame rate has become a very hot button issue.
I'm Katniss!
The Lionsgate party had a photo area where you could get green screened in as Katniss on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. I did this. It was awesome. Party win!
Junk Food Overload
So it turns out there is such a thing as eating too much candy. I know this because I did it. I mean, the trade show floor had samples of every candy ever from every company ever, not to mention like eight brands of popcorn, three brands of hot dog, plus frozen yogurt, slushies, pretzels, nachos, oh and a bar that makes its own drinks. If you want to know the quickest way to make yourself sick, I truly think I’ve stumbled upon the secret – just go to the trade show floor at CinemaCon! BRB gotta go eat one of my five packs of peanut butter M&Ms I brought home from the event.
The MOST drinking
I was astounded with how much alcohol I was being plied with almost constantly at CinemaCon. Starting at lunch (or breakfast if you go to Mimosa route), there were drinks upon drinks upon drinks, and because you can consume alcohol pretty much everywhere, there was never any hurry to finish up. They just give you a to go plastic cup at the exit! This was great for day one, but at the ripe old age of 26, I was dead by day two when my body just decided to stop functioning.  If Comic-Con fed me alcohol all day, I wouldn’t make it past Friday afternoon. WHY AM I AN OLD PERSON.
Sony Swag
Various types of swag were handed out over the weekend, and Universal’s variety of soft shirts featuring classic film logos came close to taking the cake, but generally, track jackets/hoodies > shirts/hats. So it should be no surprise that Sony’s track jackets, one forThe Amazing Spiderman, and one for Men in Black 3 win Best Swag. Of course instead of a size small Amazing Spiderman jacket, I randomly ended up with an XL Men in Black 3 one, but… first world problems.
Judd Apatow and Charlize Theron's Acceptance Speeches
The two best speeches during the CinemaCon Awards Thursday night came from these two, laced with a similar type of humor. I can’t help but think that Theron would thrive in Apatow’s hands, the way she did when she worked with Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, even in a smaller supporting role. Who can make this happen?

Total Recall may not suck
Guys, the three boobed alien from Total Recall looks pretty awesome. I mean, it looks like a woman with three actual boobs. Well done! Plus, even though the clips shown gave away way too much, the film actually seems kind of cool and fairly engaging. Is that so wrong to think?!
Discovering Jack Black is still funny
It’s easy to forget considering the projects he has chosen over the past several years, but when Jack Black MCed the Pioneer of the Year award presentation to Jeffrey Katzenberg, he had me in a fit of giggles. There’s hope for you yet to get back on track, Jack Black, I know there is!
Getting excited for Fox in 2013
Yes we have Abe Lincoln: Vampire HunterPrometheus and Taken 2 this year, but 2013 will bring us A New Day To Die Hard (fifth in the Die Hard franchise,) Spielberg’sRobopocalypse, the Rise of the Planet of the Apes sequel, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and for the none of us that care, but the bajillion tweens who do (but maybe you should change your tune cause Nathan Fillion is in it!) the next installment in the Percy Jackson series.
Life Of Pi (Which will win ALL of the awards)
Despite Ang Lee’s multiple protestations that the footage was unfinished, spoken with a deep seated fear in his eyes, the CinemaCon audience absolutely ate up the screened clips from Life of Pi. This ambitious undertaking looks phenomenal, and as long as newcomer Suraj Sharma in the lead role can hold his own, I would be surprised to see this film ignored come Oscar time. At the very least, expect it to make a strong showing, if not a complete sweep, in the technical categories, the way Hugo did. For more on this, see my article on Lee and Scorsese talking 3D and the future of cinema.
Les Miserables (which will fin all of the OTHER awards)
40-60 seconds screened against the live-on-set track of Anne Hathaway singing I Dreamed a Dream and I 100% lost my shit. Maybe it’s just the nostalgia factor at play, but hell, if the film can successfully capitalize on that, mission accomplished. I can already anticipate crying from start to finish and I may even forgive Tom Hooper for ruining the 2010 awards season for me if he can pull Les Mis off the way the short clip suggested he could.
Learning That CinemaCon is nothing like Comic-Con
Never having attended CinemaCon and only knowing vaguely that it had something to do with theater owners, I had no clue quite how different it was from any other convention. In San Diego, everything is for the fans, and although some (who don't know any better) dismiss it as a giant marketing tool and trade show, it is truly neither. Comic-Con is where smaller filmmakers and actors can bring genre projects that perhaps won’t make any money, but are solid work that deserve some attention and to find its audience. Comic-Con allows the fans to connect to those projects, as well as the large scale ones – no matter what, the focus is *always* establishing that connection between fan and creator. CinemaCon, actually is a trade show, where companies display their wares to theater owners, and the point of the presentations, moderated by executives who understand the business side of things as opposed to like, a Patton Oswalt, is to get theater owners excited for the potential box office and learn about which demographic is going to be drawn in by which huge film. Only the most giant of movies are previewed, and franchises are spoken of as if they are gold, the monetary value of the films clearly taking center stage. But rather than feeling gross, it all makes sense, it all feels right. These are people doing their jobs. It’s a completely different experience than anything I’ve ever attended and I kind of felt like I walked into a corporate office and witnessed a day on the job in that world that is normally supposed to be kept concealed from nerdy bloggers like me. Truly, CinemaCon and Comic-Con shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath, as the two have nothing in common and there is no reason why anyone should think they do. One is a fan convention. One is an industry trade show. Yes, both are fun and informative and show clips of upcoming movies, but that's it. The end. Oh and you know what else makes CinemaCon vastly different from Comic-Con? It’s an R rated room. The cursing, sex and violence on screen and the cursing that continued in the room made it clear, in case you forgot, which city were in. Which was fucking awesome.
Favorite Footage:
Looper, Skyfall, Prometheus, Life of Pie, The Bourne Legacy, Snow White & The Huntsman, Les Mis, This is 40, 47 Ronin
(Note: I only saw Sony, Fox and Universal. Was not at CinemaCon for WB or Disney)
Find photos from my trip to CinemaCon here


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