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Sony Pictures Classics is looking to expand the sponsorship boundaries of theatrical movies with the launch of a new Imax movie created by French Canadian circus troupe Cirque du Soleil.

Large-format movies, such as ones using the dominant Imax technology, have grown due to the opening of theaters as well as the success last year of "Everest" which, surprisingly, pulled in more than $50 million in box-office receipts.

This activity has pushed major studios such as Sony and Walt Disney Co. to enter the large-format race with major productions next year.

Cirque du Soleil's performances are live theatrical-like events in mostly resort locations. The Sony release, "The Journey of Man," weaves many of the group's trademark mystical visual design and acrobatic elements into a story about a child's spiritual adventures.


"We have 10 companies who are deeply interested, so far," said Mark Workman, senior VP-strategic marketing for Columbia Pictures Worldwide Marketing, another division of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Sony will be looking to sign one major presenting sponsor and possibly two other regional sponsors, at a price tag from $5 million to $10 million for the entire run of the movie. A final decision will be made in September, to give the tie-in marketers six months to get ready for the spring 2000 premiere.

Sony will debut the movie in Berlin at its new Metreon multi-theater entertainment center.

A major difference in sponsorships for these projects vs. other standard theatrical presentations is its longevity. Imax-type films run anywhere from three to four years, unlike the short two- to three-month runs of a traditional movie.


Sony likens this kind of sponsorship opportunity to that of a Broadway show, where it'll open up in one or two major locations and then move to other cities over the course of a multi-year run.

"People are building more theaters," Mr. Workman said. "It's such a different feeling than going to a planetarium or a science center," where Imax movies got their start.

Currently, there are some 180 large-screen theaters in the world, with 100 of those in the U.S. Plans are for another 80 to be built next year.

Sony anticipates "Journey" will open in 25 to 50 screens in the U.S.

This isn't the first sponsorship for an Imax movie. MacGillivray Freeman Films put together a deal with Polertec, the outdoor clothing marketer, for its "Everest."

The success of that movie caught marketers by surprise.

" 'Everest' and Polartec popped everyone's eyes open," Mr. Workman said.

Automobile, brokerage, financial service and telecommunications marketers are some of the categories Sony is targeting for "Journey." It's touting large-format movies as a venue with little or no commercial clutter. Mr. Workman believes companies will use their sponsorships to entertain clients and, perhaps, set up an area in theaters to display their services or products.

On next New Year's Day, Walt Disney Pictures is planning its release of "Fantasia 2000," in a large-format production. Industry executives said, however, that Disney has no plans to sell sponsorships associated with that

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