Studios in a Snit Over Star Wars Trailer

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) — Under a watershed pact between two pioneering film producers, George Lucas' Lucasfilm will screen trailers of its upcoming Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones before Pixar Animation's Monsters, Inc., which opens Friday.

The pact had nothing to do with the film's respective distributors, Fox and Disney, who now fear a slippery slope of trailer favor-swapping and an erosion of control over a time-tested link in the marketing chain.

"The question is, Who owns that space before the movie?" asked one studio distribution chief. "Is it the theater? Is it someone who produced or starred in the movie? Or is it the studio?"

Much of the outcry is over the physical attachment of the Star Wars trailer to the front of the Monsters print — the best promotional real estate offered at the multiplex.

Under Motion Picture Assn. of America guidelines, only two and a half minutes of trailer time may be attached to the feature at the film lab. An attached trailer plays more frequently, and in more prominent slots than trailers shipped separately to exhibitors.

The MPAA makes an exception for one film per studio per year, allowing the attached running time to reach four minutes. People familiar with the Monsters case believe the one-time exemption was taken, enabling the Clones trailer and one for Disney's Lilo & Stitch cartoon to run two minutes apiece.

Lucasfilm and Pixar share deep roots. Lucasfilm holds a financial stake in Pixar, which started as the computer animation unit of Lucasfilm before being sold to Apple in 1986.

The two entities also share a rare degree of power over the studios distributing and marketing their pics. It was Lucas, after all, who used the success of the initial Star Wars to demand an unheard-of cut of the gross on The Empire Strikes Back: north of 50 percent.

THX Shrek Promo Scrapped The Lucas-Pixar relationship is close enough that a promo trailer for the THX sound system was recently scrapped because it featured characters from Shrek, DreamWorks' animated archrival to Monsters, Inc.

Curiously, the Lucas-Pixar bond carries a potential downside for both of their host studios despite the Star Wars PR manna: Attack of the Clones reaches theaters on May 17, shortly before Lilo & Stitch bows.

Fox referred questions to Lucasfilm. Jim Ward, Lucasfilm's VP of Marketing, said the "long-standing relationship" between Pixar and Lucas benefits them both in this case. He dismissed any complaints about the tactics. "All of this over a trailer?" he said.

Executives from Disney and Pixar could not be reached for comment.

In November 1998, the trailer for Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace played before Universal's Meet Joe Black, an ignominious host which Star Wars fans walked out of after getting their trailer fix.

Reuters/Variety REUTERS