Friday, June 12, 2009

Paramount called dibs on IMAX BEFORE the Harry Potter date change.

In response to my essay yesterday on the Harry Potter/Transformers IMAX overlapping release situation, I've received what appears to be the official story of just what happened. First of all, the comment that allegedly came from IMAX that was reported in TV Watch Online was not an actual IMAX representative, but rather someone who was operating a specific IMAX theater (they are apparently independently owned and operated).

I have a limit on what I can officially say, as no one particularly wants to drag this out in the press (certain parties refused outright to comment). But I can confirm that Paramount had an exclusive contract with IMAX theaters to show Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen well before Warner Bros. changed the release date for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. As we all know, Warner Bros. switched the would-be November 2008 release to a July 2009 release more or less at the drop of a hat. It was announced on August 14th of last year; so suddenly that the Time-Warner-owned Entertainment Weekly was humiliated when its fall movie preview issue hit the stands days later with Harry Potter on the cover.

Yes, IMAX did have an exclusivity contract with Warner Bros. for the intended November 2008 holiday run for Harry Potter 6. They were pretty much banking most of their fourth-quarter profits on it and were most disapointed when Warner upped and ran without any real warning. This was especially damaging to IMAX since Warner Bros was the first studio to consistently release their tent pole films in IMAX, starting with The Polar Express 3D back in November, 2004. And it quickly turned catastrophic since IMAX also had an exclusivity deal with Paramount for a mid-summer run of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (Michael Bay intended to incorporate four scenes shot in IMAX film).

So basically, had everything gone according to plan, Warner Bros would have had exclusive rights to IMAX screens to show Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince starting November 21st, 2008 for an undisclosed period of time (probably right up until Watchmen opened in February). Then, come June 24th, Transformers 2 would take over the IMAX screens from Night at the Museum: Battle For the Smithsonian. But Warner Bros. switched gears and planted Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince smack-dab in the middle of Transformers 2's exclusive IMAX engagement. Negotiations between IMAX and Warner Bros and Paramount have apparently been ongoing since and they've only recently reached the compromise that you read about on Monday. For months now, IMAX promos have had Harry Potter 6 advertised merely as 'summer 2009', because until recently, they didn't know how this would all shake out. That's why this news only broke three days ago, because the compromise was relatively hot off the presses.

I've always felt that moving Half-Blood Prince to summer 2009 was pretty much a necessity due to the strike (which left Warner with only one tentpole film - Terminator Salvation), and due to the fact that they already had the top grossing film of 2008 (The Dark Knight). But this new development puts a nasty kink into what otherwise was a razor-smart scheduling move. It now appears that Warner Bros, the studio that neglected to properly secure the rights to Watchmen and The Dukes of Hazzard, is now primarily responsible for IMAX theater owners' most unfortunate predicament. Oh, and I'm not the only one who wonders about how the various studios are going to fight over the limited IMAX screens for their franchise pictures. Those controversial retrofitted-IMAX theaters are in fact a direct response for the increased demand on the studios' part to have their competing films available in the premium format. This will not be the last turf war that is waged over IMAX screens, and the company is already taking steps to theoretically insure that there is plenty of IMAX for every studio's overbudgeted sequel.

Scott Mendelson

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