Studios continue to reschedule


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As the aftershocks from Tuesday’s horrific tragedy continue, studio marketing and distribution heads are scrambling to re-examine their feature film schedules.

Columbia Pictures and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin productions announced they were reworking the ending of Barry Sonnenfeld‘s Men in Black 2 because the World Trade Center was involved in the climax. According to Variety, sources said that the ending had already been shot in New York over the summer, but the studio insisted the scene had not been done yet. The sequel once again stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and is slated to be released July 2002.

On the marketing side, DreamWorks has pulled a national advertising campaign for their upcoming prison drama The Last Castle because it depicts an American flag flown upside-down, a universally recognized sign of distress. A spokeswoman for DreamWorks said they will redo the promotional campaign to highlight the film’s stars James Gandolfini and Robert Redford. The movie is still set to be released Oct. 12.

Warner Bros., meanwhile, is rearranging some 500 sneak previews of their film Hearts in Atlantis, the Anthony Hopkins starrer based on the Stephen King novel. Originally set for this weekend, the sneaks have been moved to the next weekend, to allow for travel.

There are also business and profitability concerns from marketing departments, who are finding it difficult to promote their films when the TV networks are being dominated by commercial-free news coverage.

For example, Warner Bros. is delaying the release of the drama Training Day, starring Denzel Washington as a rogue cop and Ethan Hawke and his rookie partner, to Oct. 5. The film was slated to open Sept. 21, but Warner Bros.’ distribution chief Dan Fellman told Variety the recent events made it impossible to promote the film adequately over the next several days. The premiere of Day, set for Sept. 17, is also expected to change.

“It wasn’t a problem with subject matter but rather the inavailability of media,” Fellman said.

If the U.S. retaliates in the next few weeks with military action, the TV stations will once again blanket coverage, making ad-buys virtually impossible for upcoming releases.

“You can’t open a movie if you can’t buy commercials,” expressed one concerned veteran producer told Variety. “If that’s the case you are going to see a major shuffling of the fall release schedule.”

One studio is looking farther ahead than the fall. Paramount has begun to consider films scheduled to appear in 2002, particularly the planned release next summer of the political thriller The Sum of All Fears, based on the novel by Tom Clancy and starring Ben Affleck as CIA operative Jack Ryan. The film centers on a group of Neo-Nazi terrorists-changed from the Arab operatives featured in the book-who smuggle a nuclear bomb into a crowded football stadium.

Yesterday, two major film releases, Touchstone’s Big Trouble and Warner Bros.’Collateral Damage, were taken completely off the fall release schedule because of their terrorist subject matter. There has been no word on when the films will be released.

In addition, the teaser trailer and movie poster for the upcoming Spider-Man, which features the World Trade Center towers, was removed from all outdoor advertising and Web sites. However, the film will not be affected since the trailer did not depict an actual scene from the movie. Columbia still plans to release the film in the spring of 2002.

“The decision was an easy one,” Geoffrey Ammer, president of marketing for the Columbia TriStar marketing group told Variety. “It’s based on humanity. No cost of editing can outweigh the sensitivity of the issue.”