18 Things I Learned At CinemaCon 2012

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 it up with a list of all the things I learned over the course of my two days in Caesar's Palace.

Middle Aged men will go see Ted in DROVES

The unexpected winner of the Universal presentation and possibly the whole weekend? The clips from Ted, the first feature length film from Family Guy mastermind Seth McFarlane, got the loudest, most enthusiastic response of any film at CinemaCon. Oh, peeks inside other demographics, how interesting you are.

Middle Aged women are ecstatic for Hope Springs

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!

Middle Aged men and women don't understand Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

This had me cracking up. 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 over the weekend, I discovered just how true this was. These folks simply didn't get it. 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.

Frame rate is a controversial issue

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.

Make me Katniss, I will love your party

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!

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!

In Vegas, it's okay to take photos with celebrities

During CinemaCon, perhaps because everyone attending is a professional in the film business who the studios need to keep happy, taking your photo with celebrities is not only acceptable, but expected. I come from a world where asking celebrities to take photos with you is a big no-no. If someone happens to photograph you talking or if it comes naturally, because you happen to be chatting near a photographer, that's one thing. But generally, it's an act I avoid at all costs. So it came as a huge surprise to me that no one thought twice, attendees or talent, about taking photos together.

An event in Vegas means you will constantly be 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, barely able to drink a drop of booze without needing to go pass out for a hour. If Comic-Con fed me alcohol all day, I wouldn't make it past Friday afternoon.

Sony makes the best 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 for The 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.

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?!

CEOs are the worst moderators

I guess everyone feels better hearing about how much money they are all going to make from the CEOs who understand such things but WOW, zzzzz central, guys. Can I get a Patton Oswalt up in here?

Universal really digs itself

After a two hour in depth presentation where Universal patted themselves on the back non-stop, they held the only cocktail party on site that had a list. Yes, a lot of the films in the presentation looked fantastic, but the tone was a little icky. A lot of "We're back and ready to rock and roll!" that appealed to the audience, but was a bit unappealing to someone like me. I mean, the 100 year retrospective ended with "the human condition is Universal." ...Really? Still, it was fun to see extended footage (still over the top excited for Snow White and the Huntsman) hear actors and creators speak (+20 for Charlize Theron's sassypants, -20 for Taylor Kitsch who is surprisingly unappealing off-screen) and enjoy how often the new head of Universal distribution cursed.

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!

2013 will be a great genre year for Fox

Yes we have Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Prometheus and Taken 2 this year, but 2013 will bring us A New Day To Die Hard (fifth in the Die Hard franchise,) Spielberg's Robopocalypse, 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 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 will win 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.

Judd Apatow and Charlize Theron should work together

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?

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, especially Comic-Con. In San Diego, everything is for the fans, and although some 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. At CinemaCon, it actually is a trade show, where companies hock their wares to theater owners, and the point of the presentations is to get theater owners excited for how much money they are all going to make and 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 taking precedence over the artistic. But rather than feeling gross, it all kind of makes sense. These are people doing their jobs. The weird part is involving press, and adding the word "Con" to the event, when it should really just stay for those in the movie theater business and not attempt to be anything else. 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 people like me. 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.

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