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Sony executive discusses Bond 22 tent pole date, set to open against `Madagascar 2`, no finished script

23-Mar-2007 • Quantum Of Solace

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" - reports Kansas City Star.

Which is about all Blake knows. As of today, there’s no finished script and no title beyond the generic “Bond 22.”

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

MI6 Note: "Madagascar 2" is currently scheduled to also open on 7th November 2008 opposite Bond 22. 007's major box-office rival will be "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" which opens two weeks later in the USA (21st November).

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 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.

Complex special effects, such as creating a believable Sandman for “Spider-Man 3,” also can necessitate working years ahead. That’s partly why DreamWorks Animation SKG last fall snagged Nov. 20, 2009, for its young-Viking fantasy “How to Train Your Dragon.”

In its strategic moves and inevitable showdowns, the film dating game can resemble chess, poker or chicken. Paramount had planned the Jack Black wrestling farce “Nacho Libre” for last June 2, until Universal plunked its romantic comedy “The Break-Up” onto the same date. So Paramount delayed “Nacho Libre” to June 16, when it opened instead against the street-racing sequel “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”

In Hollywood jargon, the scheduling practice is known as “planting the flag,” which gave rise to the term “tent poles” for the industry’s biggest films. The competition for calendar spots is keenest when it comes to these costly movies, as each studio seeks ideal launch dates such as holiday weekends for its heftiest bets.

Few had obsessed about release dates before opening weekends became so crucial to the industry’s economics. Two horror comedies, “Ghostbusters” and “Gremlins,” opened the same day in 1984, and both clicked.

For their tent poles, studios can pitch camp and expect rivals with similar projects to steer clear. When two or more major films aimed at the same audience end up on a collision course, the question is whether either studio will blink. If one does, a chain reaction can result.

New Line Cinema scheduled “The Golden Compass,” a $160 million fantasy in the style of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, for Nov. 16 of this year.

But when Paramount picked the same date for Robert Zemeckis’ version of the fantasy epic “Beowulf,” New Line switched to Dec. 7, where Sony had “The Water Horse.” It has since been moved to Christmas Day.

“Our picture is going to be huge,” said David Tuckerman, president of New Line Theatrical Distribution. “And I’m sure they feel the same way. It would be dumb to keep them against each other.”

Tuckerman keeps track of what his competitors are doing on a “war board” on his office wall. It shows every release over the next 16 weeks.

“I see danger behind every tree,” he said.

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