THE PUBLICIST: A hot PR team is the best cure for opening-weekend nerves

Everyone who works on a film production, from the star to the key grip to the - yes - publicist, wants it to be a box-office hit.

Everyone who works on a film production, from the star to the key grip to the - yes - publicist, wants it to be a box-office hit.

Whether a big-budget spectacle or a small labor of love, expectations about opening-weekend grosses nervously crowd all other thoughts from the mind as release date approaches. I'm going through that right now. Movies are typically shot a year or more before being released, making the excruciatingly long-awaited box-office verdict akin to getting the grade on your final exam 10 months after taking it. It's hard to tell during production if you struck gold or fool's gold. It doesn't matter if there's a great script, Oscar-winning actors, and a hot director. The key to opening-weekend box-office success is a crap shoot. And it doesn't always matter if the movie itself is crap. For instance, one of last year's worst offerings was also one of its biggest grossers. I remember attending a screening with several other industry toilers who left voicing similarly unflattering reviews: "How bad was that?" "It was awful." "Lamest duck we'll see all year." Yeah, sure, but how will it do at the box office? "Oh, it'll clean up." "Can't miss." "Nothing but net." Why the disconnection between entertainment value and dollar value? The film had three things going for it that greatly outdistanced the fact that it was painful to watch: a perfectly calculated audience demographic, a star perfectly geared to that demographic, and a marketing and publicity team at Sony and Revolution that has consistently hit them out of the park for months now. Indeed, ever since getting into trouble in 2001 with its phony reviewer fiasco and false TV testimonials, Sony's been red hot. It has not only righted its ship, but is leaving hull marks over the backs of everyone else. A publicist at one of the studios afflicted with the aforementioned hull marks attributes Sony's success to the types of films it's releasing and its crack PR machine. "They're picking their spots well and filling them with appropriate fare," he told me. "Just as much, their publicity campaigns for these films have been well crafted and executed. Things are clicking for them." Alas, things haven't been clicking like that for the studio that's about to release the movie I worked on last year. But expectations are high - very high. And if they're not met, everyone in the publicity department there will assume that's the state I was in when I predicted it would be a huge hit.
  • Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer

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