THE PUBLICIST: Strikingly similar movies bring studios' PR differences to light

Though it's not quite Ali v. Frazier or Michael Jackson v. the press, there's been an interesting year-long PR tiff between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. The studios have been staring each other down since they both announced early last year that they were going to make separate versions of essentially the same movie.

Though it's not quite Ali v. Frazier or Michael Jackson v. the press, there's been an interesting year-long PR tiff between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. The studios have been staring each other down since they both announced early last year that they were going to make separate versions of essentially the same movie.

Perhaps inspired by the Bush daughters 2002 Euro vacation, both studios developed romantic-comedy scripts about a teenaged daughter of the US President who tires of the constant curbs on her freedom, and looks to evade secret-service surveillance and embark on a cross-country journey. Fun, romance, and fashionable wardrobes ensue. In one version, the story takes place in the US. In the other, it's a Euro thing. The films went into production at roughly the same time, each clinging to the title of First Daughter like a three-year-old clutching his security blanket. The bevy of press releases that accompanied each film's development - casting, location shooting, etc. - amounted to a spirited game of publicity one-upsmanship. Warner Bros. blinked first, changing the title of their film to Chasing Liberty. Round one to Fox. But Warner Bros. countered nicely by casting Mandy Moore, who is a big draw with the teen set. Round two to WB. There was a decent amount of production publicity generated by both projects, with a slight edge going to Warner, which capitalized on the cool Euro locations and Moore's recent album release to gain coveted attention on TV and in entertainment titles. Things got unpleasant when the producer of First Daughter, still feeling a bit cocky about having won the title tussle, made disparaging remarks about Chasing Liberty. Something akin to college football's AP champion USC Trojans' attitude toward the BCS champion LSU Tigers: "We're the real deal; you're an imposter." Taking the whole thing up a notch, the respective studios initially scheduled the movies to be released within days of each other in early January. This time, Fox blinked, delaying its film until later in the year. Chasing Liberty was released this past Friday. The two films will chase the same target audience, 13- to 17-year-old girls, who may just give both pictures a pass and go shopping. But you can bet some nervous studio execs will compare final box-office results with the anxiety of a Florida recount. One theme, two movies, dozens of egos. This time, it's personal.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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