THE PUBLICIST: Movie marketers can't decide how to spend $80m in Vegas

Eighty million bucks. That's how much it costs to open a big-budget movie these days. Not to make one, mind you. To open one. In other words, that's what's spent on production, promotion, ads, publicity, and exhibition.

Eighty million bucks. That's how much it costs to open a big-budget movie these days. Not to make one, mind you. To open one. In other words, that's what's spent on production, promotion, ads, publicity, and exhibition.

The studio marketing mavens who determine how and where to spend all those pesos gathered for a panel discussion at the ShoWest convention last week in Las Vegas. The rub with these types of panels is that they often crap out. Participants are more likely to demonstrate knowledge than impart it. Thus, our Vegas troupe tossed out typical nuggets of wisdom: "Marketing has never been more important," shared Fox's Pam Levine. "Reach your targeted demo in their environment," chipped in Warner Bros.' Dawn Taubin. "Print movie ads are more or less a directory; they do not sell the picture," said New Line's Russell Schwartz. Though her focus seemed to wander a bit during the 90-minute session, Dreamworks' Terry Press kept things lively, what with her cell phone ringing onstage and her opening query, "Is this on the record?" - as if the media members present were UNLV interns. Press expressed envy over Taubin's upcoming release slate, which includes The Matrix sequels. And while other panelists seized the chance to note their studios' pending releases, Press dismissed the question, noting Dreamworks had nothing much, really, coming out. (At $80 million, perhaps it's more profitable not to release films.) There was uneasiness among the panelists. They are, after all, high-profile competitors in an industry whose box-office grosses are reported on the network news. Egos and jobs are always on the line. Their agreement that Oscar mailers (DVDs of movies sent to Academy members to drum up support) do an injustice to filmmakers was coupled with an admission that it's a practice none would abandon unilaterally. The only sharp point of difference among the speakers pertained to the studios' reliance on focus groups to determining whether to tweak or overhaul films and marketing campaigns. Levine and Taubin endorse such tracking, Press opposes, criticizing these proxy efforts as "panic money spent when we're not sure of our own instincts." She might be right, although as panic and money are in ample supply in Tinseltown, market research will continue to be viewed as the most reliable aspirin for the studios' worrisome headaches. Take two and have your focus group call me in the morning.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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