There wasn't much glitz. There was even less glamour. So those attending the annual National Assn. of Theatre Owners/ShoWest convention had to settle for gossip.
But it was good gossip.
--About the cola war that is shaping up this summer between Pepsi-backed "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and Coke-promoted "Ghostbusters II."
--About the first joint public appearance by "Batman" leading lady Kim Basinger and the film's producer Jon Peters since their romance began.
--About Warner Bros.' wild gamble on weird Yahoo Serious, the Australian star-director-producer-writer of the upcoming "Young Einstein."
Without such tidbits, the three-day convention of theater owners would have been at best an undistinguished event. Absent were such things as star power, lavish spending or the imaginative gimmicks and giveaways that movie studios and producers employed in years past to drum up enthusiasm among the nation's theater operators.
Instead, the gathering maintained a level of excitement by becoming a hotbed for movie-making hyperbole, a breeding ground for bedroom-and-board-room rumors and, most importantly, a taste-testing of the year's motion picture offerings.
Already, months before their scheduled release dates, the four most anticipated summer movies among those conventioneers who have seen their trailers are Paramount's "Indiana Jones III" Columbia's "Ghostbusters II," and Warner's one-two punch of "Lethal Weapon II" and "Batman."
Though 20th Century Fox has a major financial investment and most of its summer hopes riding on "The Abyss," theater owners interviewed hardly mentioned it. And they gave only weak acknowledgment to the latest James Bond flick from MGM-UA, "License to Kill," after seeing a long clip whose only highlight had star Timothy Dalton escape being stabbed by a stuffed marlin. "This film looks as dead as that fish," complained one theater owner.
One thing that wasn't dead was the conventioneers' sense of humor. And they lapped up the many industry jokes told over meals of mystery meat and rubber chicken. At the final banquet, where actress Glenn Close, producer James L. Brooks, director Robert Wise and others were honored as the convention's 1989 Stars-of-the-Year along with DeVito, the actor used his thank-you speech to poke fun at the studio brass from Fox, for whom he's directing and starring in "The War of the Roses."
"This is a wonderful opportunity to tell them we haven't started yet and we're already $1.6 million over budget," DeVito said, looking at Fox executives Barry Diller and Leonard Goldberg. Then he said with mock seriousness that he was the love child of the owner of the studio, media mogul Rupert Murdoch. "But my father won't acknowledge me." He hoisted his award. "So this is for you, Dad."
In previous ShoWests, studios would pack their hospitality suites so full of stars that the movie exhibitors could sit down, talk and even have their pictures taken with them. Now, not only do the Hollywood celebrities show up in paltry numbers, but they have about as much contact with theater owners as the British royal family has with commoners.
"These people act like they're guarding the President of the United States," said one exhibitor.
Warner Bros. was the only studio to go all out and fill up its dais with high-intensity talent from its '89 films. Clint Eastwood, present with "Pink Cadillac" leading lady Bernadette Peters, got the most applause, while Mel Gibson elicited shrieks from some women.
Michael Keaton, wearing his sunglasses indoors, visibly perked up when theater owners roundly applauded the "Batman" trailer.
Perplexity could be seen on some theater owners' faces when Warners introduced Yahoo Serious, the orange-maned Australian multi-talent unknown in this country. Even Chevy Chase, in a piece of shtick delivered from the audience, grumbled to Warners president of distribution D. Barry Reardon that he had been denied a seat at the star table because of "this Yahoo Serious." More likely, it was because Serious' film, "Young Einstein," is due out in late summer while Chase's "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" won't hit theaters until December.
At Tri-Star's luncheon the day before, Bruce Willis was the only star who spoke. No doubt because he has not one but two movies with the studio--the adventure film "Hudson Hawk" and a voice-over role as a 2-year-old in the tentatively titled "Daddy Wanted."
There was some surprise that Columbia didn't host a lunch or dinner and some griping about Buena Vista's decision to present a floor show instead of a product reel for the second straight year.
And even some amazement that Paramount had bothered to host a luncheon with no stars. Though scheduled to appear, Jodie Foster was in Europe, and "Naked Gun" star Leslie Nielsen sent his limo driver in his place. So George Lucas held down the fame fort, introducing his "Indiana Jones III" leading lady, Alison Doody, a British TV star, and announcing a Pepsi tie-in with the movie.
"This is the summer that we're going to beat 'Ghostbusters II,' " he said, not needing to remind theater owners that the sequel is being made by Columbia Pictures, which is owned by the Coca-Cola Co. On Thursday, a Coke spokesman confirmed that the movie will have a promotional deal with the soft drink to be announced soon.
The other studios that didn't host lunches or dinners or cocktail parties simply entertained exhibitors in hotel suites. Their product reels ran continuously at ear-splitting decibels and buffet tables groaned with drinks and snacks while freebies like portfolios and paperweights were handed out.
Orion Pictures attracted conventioneers to its hospitality suite by offering to take a picture of them with RoboCop. Something got lost in the translation because this RoboCop was wearing a satin Orion Pictures sash around his armor, making him look like a beauty pageant contestant.
For Orion, it didn't seem to matter.
"He's a great guy," said one theater owner. "We could use him for crowd control."