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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In a move that will allow movie studios to inject racy jokes into the trailers they use to promote their more adult-oriented films, the nation's largest theater chain has decided to permit restricted, "red band" trailers in its multiplexes.
The move by Regal Entertainment Group, which operates 6,388 screens in 39 states and the District of Columbia, likely will lead to similar decisions at a number of the nation's other major chains.
As last week's ShoWest convention of movie theater owners in Las Vegas drew to a close, the Knoxville, Tenn.-based circuit began notifying the studios of its decision.
The news was received enthusiastically by distributors who have had to promote such R-rated comedies as "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" with sanitized, green band trailers tailored for general audiences.
"This is going to be hugely helpful for us when we want to give targeted moviegoers a true sense of the kind of movies we are offering," said Adam Fogelson, Universal president of marketing and distribution. "I couldn't be happier or more grateful to the people at Regal for continuing the dialogue that has led to this decision."
The MPAA's Advertising Administration, which oversees the advertising materials used by its member studios, approves two types of trailers for use in the theaters. So-called green band trailers -- also known as green-tag trailers -- open with a green advisory card that reads "the following preview has been approved for all audiences." Red band trailers, which can appear only before R-rated, NC-17-rated or unrated movies, warn that "the following preview has been approved for restricted audiences only."
Studios once used red band trailers routinely, but theaters dropped them like hot potatoes after a 2000 Federal Trade Commission report criticizing the entertainment industry for marketing violent entertainment to children.
Exhibitors cut back on red band trailers out of fear of offending patrons and also out of a concern that in handling the dozen or so films screening in a modern multiplex, a red band trailer could be attached inadvertently to a G or PG movie.
The second problem should be eliminated, though, when theaters fully convert to digital, which will allow theater operators greater control and flexibility over the materials screening in each of their auditoriums.
"We had intended when we went to digital to begin to review trailers on a case-by-case basis, but we've decided to jump ahead of that," Regal senior vp marketing and advertising Dick Westerling said.
He explained that the chain's executives were sympathetic to the studios' arguments last summer when Sony said it would have liked to screen a red band trailer for "Superbad" in front of Universal's "Knocked Up." In recent months, Regal quietly has experimented with screening red band trailers at its Regal Cinema Art Theaters that show indie and specialty movies.
"We've been monitoring their use carefully," Westerling said. "And there haven't been any issues that have come up at the theater level. So based on the discussions we've been having, Regal has made the decision to program red band trailers on a case-by-case basis. We're confident that we can execute the new policy successfully."
In recent years, studios have continued to assemble red band trailers, but banned from the major theater chains, the trailers have appeared instead on the Internet, where the MPAA approves them only for sites that carry some age restrictions or make them accessible only during a late-night time period.
During a presentation at ShoWest, Universal's Fogelson showed exhibitors the red band trailer for the R-rated comedy "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," set to open April 18. With "Knocked Up's" Judd Apatow serving as one of its producers, the movie stars Jason Segel as a man trying to break up with his girlfriend, played by Kristen Bell. The movie's green band trailer establishes its premise and plot, while the red band trailer gives a much fuller taste of its raunchy humor and sexual calisthenics, and it had exhibitors laughing.
"I don't think anybody is arguing that all red band trailers are appropriate in front of all R-rated movies," Fogelson said. "For example, it would not be appropriate for a red band trailer for a movie like 'American Pie' to run in front of 'Schindler's List.' We all want to be smart and careful about the use of red band trailers, working closely with our partners in exhibition. We don't want moviegoers seeing material that is inconsistent with the movies they are going to see."
1999's "American Pie" was the last Universal movie that saw a red band trailer play in theaters, and Fogelson argued that the trailer -- which featured the infamous Jason Biggs pie scene -- was critical in establishing how the movie's tone differed from a lot of the teenage sex comedies that Hollywood produced in the 1980s.
Regal said it hasn't decided which red band trailers it will run first, but distributors indicated they'll be submitting trailers this week to Regal for consideration.