Studios grabbing weekends three years in advance

In the pressure-cooker world of blockbuster movies, studios are planning far ahead to get the most desirable opening dates.

By Josh Friedman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
March 19, 2007


Jeff Blake's day is already spoken for on Nov. 7, 2008.

That Friday, the Sony Pictures Entertainment executive will open another James Bond movie starring Daniel Craig, who four months ago debuted as the British spy in "Casino Royale."

Which is about all Blake knows. As of today, there's no finished script and no title beyond the generic "Bond 22." In fact, some of the teenagers he hopes to entice with Bond's signature action and suaveness aren't even teens yet.

But, Blake said, "two things are definite: Daniel Craig is returning, and we're going Nov. 7. After that it gets complicated."

In the pressure-cooker world of opening movies, studios are reaching as far as three years into the future to grab first dibs on the most desirable weekends.

With an average of nearly 12 movies opening every week, claiming prime big-screen real estate as far in advance as possible is crucial. Studio production and marketing costs have soared past $100 million a movie on average. How a film performs on its opening weekend at the box office can determine whether the studio turns a profit. And studios increasingly rely on corporate partners such as fast-food chains to shoulder promotional costs and to sell movie-themed merchandise. Those partners can require two years to craft campaigns and products.

May 4's "Spider-Man 3," which is loaded with such tie-ins, was scheduled a full three years in advance, during a conference in 2004. Sony's promotional partners on the sequel include Burger King, General Mills, Kraft, Activision and Hasbro. DreamWorks Animation SKG last fall snagged Nov. 20, 2009, for its young-Viking fantasy "How to Train Your Dragon."

Complex special effects, such as creating a believable Sandman for "Spider-Man 3," also can necessitate working years ahead.

In its strategic moves and inevitable showdowns, the film dating game can resemble chess, poker or chicken.
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