By ELIZABETH HAYES
The much-anticipated film "Godzilla" may set a whole new standard not necessarily in special effects for gigantic dinosaurs, but in the terms that distributors demand from theaters.
Sony Pictures Releasing, in a move that has created shockwaves among exhibitors, plans to ask some theater chains for 80 percent of the movie's box-office receipts during the first week of release after the film hits screens later this spring.
Exhibitors typically agree to pay studios 70 percent of the box-office gross during the first week of a film's run, with the percentage paid to the studio decreasing as the run continues.
The payment can also be calculated in other ways, but in any case the amount is less than 80 percent.
According to some accounts, the new arrangement could fatten Sony's wallet to the tune of $10 million to $20 million. Faced with a firestorm of criticism, Sony officials took to the bunker last week and were refusing comment on the proposal.
Richard Fay, head of AMC Film Marketing, said most of the industry is not prepared to pay the increased percentage at this point but then, they haven't yet seen the film, which debuts May 20. Exhibitors will view "Godzilla" in late April.
"Seventy percent has always been a barrier over which nobody has tread just yet," Fay said.
Written, directed and produced by the "Independence Day" team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, "Godzilla" stars Matthew Broderick as a scientist who helps track the beast responsible for causing natural disasters in the Pacific. The radioactive dinosaur later terrorizes New York City.
"They're counting on it being a big blockbuster and on exhibitor greed, wanting to get the picture into the building," Fay said.
Phil Smitley, assistant vice president and controller for Columbus, Ga.-based Carmike Cinemas Inc., said he believes the 80 percent request will be applied only to large metropolitan areas, where the competition is stiffer than in the suburbs.
"In our markets, which are small to mid-size, I don't think it will have much effect," he said. Carmike theaters are located predominantly in the Southeast.
"The studio always gets the majority of the film anyway. They're going to get more wherever the movie runs a shorter period; they'll get a larger percentage up front. If it runs for a longer period, the splits become more even," Smitley said.
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