'Greek Wedding' success turns movie PR on its head

NEW YORK: My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the unexpected sleeper hit of the season, but the publicity team behind the independent film is dealing with some surprises of its own.

NEW YORK: My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the unexpected sleeper hit of the season, but the publicity team behind the independent film is dealing with some surprises of its own.

"I've never seen this happen before," said Rogers & Cowan EVP Jeanne Berney, who is handling publicity for the IFC-distributed movie.

Berney explained that Greek Wedding's publicity has been the opposite to the normal cycle of film promotion. Usually, small movies try to generate early interest with a campaign beginning months before the film's debut.

Magazine editors and film critics are given screenings and profile opportunities, then shorter-lead-time media are approached. By the time the film actually hits theaters, PR is beginning to slow down.

With Greek Wedding, interest heated up months after the release, at a time when most independent features are heading to video. Some of that success can be attributed to R&C's publicity plan. The company tried to stage a long-lead-time campaign in early 2002, but had a hard time drawing interest due to the lack of star power. John Corbett, best known for his role in Sex and the City, and producer Rita Wilson, wife of Tom Hanks, are the biggest names involved.

"We ran into a lot of dead ends on the print side, largely because we didn't have the big names," said Berney. "We had to figure out something else to do."

Part of that plan included screening the film at ShoWest, a trade show for theater exhibitors in Las Vegas that offers a single night for independent films.

"Usually that is a quiet night," said Berney. "What was different was I decided to bring in talent, and it created sort of a mini-sensation at the movie theater. A lot of exhibitors who saw the crowd said, 'We've got to have this film.'"

That helped the film open on 108 screens in eight markets. But since its April start, Greek Wedding has grossed more than $80 million. It is now on more than 1,600 screens, and grossed $14.2 million over the Labor Day weekend to earn the number-two spot at the box office - an unheard-of advance for a five-month-old movie.

Now media outlets are rushing to play catch-up on the word-of-mouth success.

Dozens of business stories have appeared on the film's marketing, and entertainment outlets are backtracking on their initial disinterest in writer/star Nia Vardalos.

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