AVATAR TICKETS ALREADY ON SALE

It's only August but tickets for James Cameron's much-hyped 3D sci-fi movie Avatar, which is scheduled to open on December 18,have already cone on sale. The Hollywood Reporter said that tickets for the midnight premiere at 75 AMC locations, most of them featuring IMAX 3D screens, are now available through online ticketers MovieTickets.com and Fandango. "Tickets being put on sale for a film four months in advance is unheard of," MovieTickets executive vice president Joel Cohen told the trade publication. "The fact that tickets have already been sold really speaks to the tremendous buzz the film has already created and the power of James Cameron at the box office." Fox distribution exec Chris Aronson said that it was AMC's idea to put the tickets on sale -- even before the chain had a rental deal for the movie -- after seeing fans pack the theaters for a free 16-minute preview of Avatar. "They said that if all these people are going to come to our theater to see 16 minutes of a film that doesn't open until December, let's give them an opportunity to buy tickets to the first performances of the show itself."

SAG WARNS MEMBERS ABOUT APPEARING IN JACKSON MOVIE

The Screen Actors Guild on Wednesday sent warning notices to SAG members, alerting them that the producer of This Is It, the theatrical documentary incorporating Michael Jackson's rehearsal footage, is not yet signed to an agreement with the union. "Guild members are reminded of their obligation not to accept employment on any non-signatory project, as well as their obligation to confirm with the Guild that a project is signatory," the notice said. The official producer of the movie is AEG Live, a subsidiary of Anschutz Entertainment Group and a corporate sibling of conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz's Walden Media, which produced the Narnia movies. What is particularly curious about the notice is that the movie is listed by several industry-related websites as being in post-production, and presumably all of the performers appearing in it were filmed months ago. Indeed, at the time the footage was shot there was presumably no intention on AEG's part to compile it into a theatrical feature.

STUDIOS TO PERMIT MOVIES TO BE DOWNLOADED TO DISC

In their latest cautious approach to Internet distribution, Paramount, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. and Lions Gate have begun offering movies, via the little-known movie website FilmFresh.com, that can be burned to a disc by the buyer. The movies are available in the Divx format, which is compatible with most DVD and Blu-ray players and numerous mobile devices. However, consumers must first register their players with Film Fresh, and their discs can only be played on those devices. Many analysts have indicated that legal downloading of movies has not been embraced by the public because copyright-protection software embedded in the movie files prevents them from being burned onto disc so that they can easily be played back on users' TV sets. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that Time Warner Cable has signed a deal with at least seven major media companies that will make TV programs available online and on-demand for paying Time Warner subscribers.

GERMAN BOX OFFICE SOARS 13.4 PERCENT

The first six months of this year produced the best results at the German Box office for any half-year period since 2002, the German Federal Film Board (Filmförderungsanstalt or FFA) said Wednesday. According to figures released by the FFA, ticket sales rose 13.4 percent to $600.8 million while admissions rose 6.5 percent to 65 million. German-produced films accounted for 25.4 percent of the box-office total, but several U.S./German co-productions also fared well, including The Reader and Valkyrie. The biggest hit of the first half was Sony's Angels and Demons, which earned $48.5 million.

INDIAN STAR'S DETENTION IN U.S. STIRS FUROR IN BOLLYWOOD

Controversy has erupted in Mumbai, India over whether what the U.S. immigration agency has described as a random, routine interrogation of a Bollywood movie star at a Newark, NJ airport was actually a case of racial profiling. The actor, Shahrukh Khan, had complained that immigration officers searched his luggage, asked whether any U.S. citizen could vouch for him, and detained him for more than a half hour before allowing him to leave the airport. He called it an "unfortunate procedure." His fans, however, were livid. One Indian blogger suggested that "it was an outright case of harassment. Intentional to the power of infinity. I mean, where in the world do you stay if you don't know who is Shahrukh Khan? ... His wax idol [sic] is appearing in the Madame Tussauds London, England! And the US doesn't know SRK?" But some Indian marketers are skeptical about the fuss. Prabhat Choudhary of the Mumbai marketing firm Spice told the French news agency Agence France-Presse suggested the incident may have been used by the actor's public-relations advisers to generate interest in his upcoming movie -- which coincidentally deals with the experiences of Muslims living in the U.S. following the 9/11 attacks. "The kind of media which SRK got, it's helped the film for sure," he said. Mayank Shekhar, cultural editor at The Hindustan Times, remarked, "Everyone is trying every [publicity] trick in the book. ... The usual one is the leading pair in the film breaking up or getting together or perhaps getting married. But that's so common now it's passé." And Kumar Ketkar, a veteran Mumbai newspaper editor, told AFP that the Indian public is beginning to realize that many Bollywood gossip stories appearing in the Indian press are "manufactured, and that's why some films bomb at the box office."