Fox lets reporters get closer to stars at casual events

LOS ANGELES: Down With Love is a stylized romantic comedy with a '60s sensibility, and Papi Chulo is a tale of three women who discover they all date one man. But these two upcoming films from Fox share an innovative publicity strategy that is building buzz months before the movies are even finished.

LOS ANGELES: Down With Love is a stylized romantic comedy with a '60s sensibility, and Papi Chulo is a tale of three women who discover they all date one man. But these two upcoming films from Fox share an innovative publicity strategy that is building buzz months before the movies are even finished.

Fox staged a media-oriented publicity event for each of the small-budget films recently, granting influential journalists unusual access to stars and insider information.

For Down With Love, which stars Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor and is due out in 2003, the studio invited journalists to the set during filming for a period cocktail party, complete with martinis. Zellweger and other cast members mingled with the guests, and the production crew, such as the costume designer, explained the style behind the film.

For Papi Chulo, the studio rented a hot tapas bar, and again invited journalists to mingle with the cast and crew.

While media events are a staple of Hollywood publicity, these two differ in that they grant journalists social access to the celebrities and behind-the-scenes players who are usually carefully managed through junket roundtable sessions and set visits.

One reason Fox may be pursuing the strategy with these films is simple economics. Normally, a studio spends about half of a picture's budget for marketing purposes. For a $30 million project, that means an additional $15 million is devoted to advertising and events.

With marketing costs rising, small-budget films such as Down With Love and Papi Chulo have trouble competing with their blockbuster counterparts.

Insider events provide a way of reaching decision-maker press, and generating interest and story angles within this group. More importantly, perhaps, such events provide a fresh experience for otherwise jaded entertainment reporters.

"When the talent came out, you could tell they were really into promoting this movie, said one event attendee. "It made journalists feel good, and a little important."

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