Pete Hammond

Sony Pictures played it lean and mean with a tightly produced program for exhibitors at CinemaCon on Wednesday evening that put the emphasis squarely where the theatre owners wanted it — on the product. And the studio delivered as promised with an intriguing 51-minute reel showcasing their 2013 movie slate — and in no particular order. Where other studios this week have put the emphasis on summer, Sony presented a year-round picture with a wide diversity of product and more than one potential Oscar contender.

Among the previously unseen footage in the reel were brief snippets from year-end awards contenders The Monuments Men directed by and starring George Clooney and an all-star cast, along with David O. Russell’s newly named American Hustle with virtually the entire cast of last season’s Russell Oscar darling Silver Linings Playbook. Also, Tom Hanks is starring as Captain Phillips (October) from director Paul Greengrass, a true story about a ship hijacked by Somalian pirates. If this weren’t enough to whet Oscar-watcher appetites there was generous footage from 2010 Best Picture Oscar nominee Neil Blomkamp’s (District 9) latest, Elysium, which those who have seen a rough cut tell me could be another contender for the director. Matt Damon and Jodie Foster star. There’s also a Russian production of a World War II epic, Stalingrad, from director Fedor Bonarchuk which the studio is partnering on for fall release that has “prestige product” written all over it. At the Will Rogers Pioneer dinner later in the evening, Sony President of Worldwide Distribution and Marketing Rory Bruer, who also hosted the presentation, told me the studio thought the project had great potential on a worldwide basis. despite the fact it features no known stars to American audiences.

But stockholders need not worry. Sony isn’t abandoning its bread-and-butter, tried-and-true approach to crafting hits. At least four times in the presentation Bruer reminded the theatre owners that 2012 was Sony’s biggest year ever at the box office, earning an industry-leading $4.4 billion. Much of that success can be attributed to Bond, James Bond, with Skyfall accounting for at least one fourth of that total, but it’s an impressive number and Sony is turning once again in 2013 to some of those familiar faces on the Culver City lot who are the most reliable breadwinners including Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Will and Jaden Smith, Hanks, Seth Rogen and The Smurfs. “Our success is truly your success,” said Bruer. “And 2013 is just as exciting and ambitious as it has ever been.”

In fact  Sony chose to lead off the presentation with the only live star appearance of the show by trotting out Sandler, James, David Spade and Salma Hayek to promote the sequel to one of Sandler’s most successful Sony confections, Grown Ups 2. Sandler told the crowd it is a true family film and then proceeded to cement that statement. “Dare I say it is a fucking four-quadrant movie!” He also promised Hayek a Ferrari if the film exceeded the impressive gross of his fall animated hit Hotel Transylvania. It seems every key cast member of the original got a free car from the star except Hayek. “But you have to know I can’t drive a stick,”  said Hayek, to which Sandler replied, “Every man enjoyed that line!”

Unlike other studios who used their top executive to run their presentation Sony likes to keep it familial with the CinemaCon crowd and the affable Bruer fits the bill. He is someone they all know and you could feel the warmth in the room. He even joked about his past appearances including last year when he lost a tooth on stage and two years ago when a bear cub pissed all over him. The exhibitors seemed to remember and loved the abuse he takes year after year.

The slickly produced reel also included looks at the Will and Jaden Smith June 7 sci-fi release, After Earth, Smurfs 2 (7/31), Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (September), an inspirational dance drama Battle Of The Year (September), and the remake of Stephen King’s Carrie starring Julianne Moore and Chloe Grace Moretz (10/23). The packed summer lineup also includes White House Down (6/28), the teen-oriented bestseller adaptation The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones (8/23), and the concert film One Direction: This Is Us (8/30). But the biggest reaction, whether pro or con, probably came for the June 12th apocalyptic comedy This Is The End, in which Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco and numerous others play themselves in a film that looks like it might make their previous films Superbad and Pineapple Express look like child’s play compared to the raunch factor that was so high in the footage shown. It could make this a candidate for an NC-17 based on language alone. Of course, with the clout any major studio has with the MPAA that’s highly unlikely, but it was undeniably funny stuff if you have the acquired taste for it. One studio insider flat-out predicted to me this will be Sony’s Ted.

Perhaps the funniest bit of the presentation was the taped greeting from Clooney and producer Grant Heslov on the German set of Monuments Men. The pair, holding their recently won Best Picture Oscar statuettes for Warner Bros’ Argo and sporting Argo baseball caps, seemed confused as to which studio they were addressing. “We just wanted to say that working with Ben Affleck and the support that Warner Bros gave us has just been one of the greatest experiences we’ve ever had,” said Clooney before realizing who he is really supposed to be talking to. “Uh, we are on the set of Monuments Men. It’s going to be a big film. Great cast. Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean DuJardin – he’s French – Bob Balaban, me and it’s literally coming to a cinema near you on December 18. Don’t drink too much today because I know how you guys do. That’s it. Thanks.”

At the end of the reel there was a brief listing of some 2014 Sony product including Spider-Man, Annie, Robocop (with MGM) and sequels to Think Like A Man and 21 Jump Street.

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