THX pulls custom Shrek Trailer

What promises to be an entertaining battle royal between the green ogre Shrek and the nightmare beasties from Monsters, Inc. appears to have claimed its first casualty – a Lucasfilm THX promotional trailer that has been scrapped at the eleventh hour.

PDI/DreamWorks“ “Shrek,” the summer smash, and Pixar/Disney’s “Monsters, Inc.,” which opens Friday, are preparing to square off, with the CG-animated features likely to end the year duking it out for boxoffice bragging rights and competing for Oscar glory in the new animated feature category.

But first, Shrek was to have made a surprise appearance in a THX promotional trailer thanks to an agreement between THX and DreamWorks. But THX had a mysterious last-minute change of heart, shelving the trailer and igniting suspicion that Pixar and the Walt Disney Co. might have blackballed it.

In June, DreamWorks marketing staff contacted THX executives and pitched the idea of utilizing “Shrek” characters in one of the company’s trailers, which have become a staple of multiplex preshows. While there was not much precedent for such a collaboration — though THX had used characters from television’s “The Simpsons” — THX jumped at the opportunity to use the popular Shrek character in conjunction with its logo. The only stipulation THX laid down was that the trailer not promote “Shrek” in any way beyond the use of its characters.

The deal called for DreamWorks to develop and produce the 30-second spot, picking up its $70,000 cost, and for THX to distribute the trailer on 1,156 domestic screens and 1,248 international screens. It was to be released Nov. 2, to coincide with the “Shrek” video release — and, coincidentally, the theatrical debut of “Monsters, Inc.”

THX was delighted with every step of the trailer’s development. Correspondence between the companies reviewed by The Hollywood Reporter reveals THX executives commenting that the storyboards and an early version “looks and sounds great,” and that the Lucasfilm company was “looking forward to finalizing everything.”

THX was so impressed with the trailer that it hoped to include it on the consumer DVD demo disk distributed to THX-licensed manufacturers in order to showcase the technology. A THX executive even wrote that the company planned to include an article in its corporate newsletter on “both THX’s involvement with ”Shrek’ in Digital Cinema and our involvement on the new trailer.”

On Oct. 5, with the trailer completed by DreamWorks, THX told the studio how many copies it would need and promised to ship the spot during the week of Oct. 29. But that was not to be. On Oct. 15, only 10 days later, the company informed the studio that it no longer wanted to distribute the trailer. The about-face left DreamWorks stunned. “We were extremely surprised due to their overwhelming enthusiasm for the idea from the very beginning,“ DreamWorks marketing chief Terry Press said.

So why did THX suddenly scrap the Shrek trailer, which the company had pursued enthusiastically for months?

One scenario: Pixar was alerted to the existence of the trailer when several DreamWorks craftsmen, working on the trailer at the THX sound facility at the Lucas Ranch in the Bay Area, bumped into several Pixar players. Pixar executives then sounded the alarm at Disney, urging Disney to lodge a protest with THX about the Shrek trailer. Faced with pressure from Pixar and Disney, the scenario goes, THX backed out of its agreement with DreamWorks.

THX general manager Monica Dashwood said the decision to dump the Shrek trailer ”had nothing to do with any other studios.“ But she stopped short of denying that she had been contacted by Disney or Pixar about the matter. A Pixar spokeswoman said her company was not aware of the Shrek trailer and did not register any complaints to THX, and a Disney spokeswoman did not return repeated calls requesting comment.

”It was just a business decision,“ Dashwood said. ”We usually do not have trailers tied to one release, and we thought it might be confusing to viewers about what we were promoting.“ But, Press countered, ”at no point in the entire process did anybody suggest that doing this may be against their policy.“ THX has offered to reimburse DreamWorks for the costs racked up creating the trailer. DreamWorks has yet to respond to the offer.

Dashwood said the reimbursement offer is a good-faith gesture to the studio, and THX will ”do what’s right in that regard.“ As for why THX entered into the agreement in the first place, given that it would later claim ”a change of policy“ about creating a trailer tied to a specific film, Dashwood said, ”Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

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