After stints at nearly every major movie studio, Dennis Higgins
knows a thing or two about publicizing a film. Anita Chabria talks to
Miramax Films' New York-based co-head of publicity
Dennis Higgins is in a rush to make it to the New York premiere of
Amelie, a French comedy about a young woman's attempt to do good - and a
runaway hit for Miramax Films, where Higgins has recently taken the top
East Coast publicity position.
While New York is still reviving itself, at Miramax there's been little
break in the company momentum, which helps turn out 40 films a year. In
fact, the Disney-owned studio has half a dozen films slated to hit
theaters over the next few months, including the recently-released Hugh
Jackman-Meg Ryan romance Kate & Leopold, and the Pulitzer-adapted The
"This place doesn't go slow," confirms Higgins, who is married with two
young sons. "The pace is hard to gear up to."
Despite the full schedule, Higgins claims he's found a home at Miramax,
a growing entertainment powerhouse where he says employees "can't
"There is no company that has the passion for movies that you find at
Miramax," he says. "It's not just a job.
It's people who love movies."
Higgins is in a position to judge. Since the 1970s, when he graduated
from the State University of New York's Oswego campus, he's wound his
way through positions at most of Hollywood's top studios, with a quick
foray into the agency world.
His career began at the New York headquarters of United Artists, one of
the last studios to be based on the East Coast. As an assistant in the
publicity department, he got his first taste of film promotion working
on the 1978 release of Semi-Tough, a Burt Reynolds/Kris Kristofferson
comedy about "two football players and their mutual girlfriend,"
according to the Internet Movie Database. Luckily for Higgins, his
talents have outlasted those of most of Semi-Tough's cast.
Higgins' PR career got its first big boost by a move to the West Coast,
and a year at PMK. "There's probably no better agency than PMK in the
movie business," he says. "It's a great place to get some experience on
that side of the ball. I ended up going back to the studios in a better
position because of that experience."
Back to the studios meant back to New York, and top positions at 20th
Century Fox and MGM/UA.
"Being the head of publicity in the New York office of a studio is a
great job," he points out with a laugh. "You're 3,000 miles away from
some of the craziness."
After those prestigious stopovers, Higgins spent 11 years at Columbia
Pictures. For the first five, he ran the studio's New York publicity
office. But a return to the West Coast made him a senior VP at
Columbia's offices on the Sony Picture lot in LA, where he met with a
gargantuan PR challenge - the premiere of Godzilla. Higgins and his team
came up with the idea of a blowout at Madison Square Garden - an event
that would be the largest in-door premiere in the Big Apple's history,
and one that reportedly cost $2 million dollars.
"We threw this idea out and never thought anyone would spend the money
or go for it," he remembers. But the pitch was a hit, and Higgins soon
realized he had to "pull off the biggest premiere in the world."
The May 1998 event was a success, complete with 11,000 attendees and a
green carpet in honor of the Japanese giant. The movie received tepid
reviews, however, and grossed only $58 million during the
four-day Memorial Day opening weekend, despite playing on more than
"You hate the Saturday mornings when you've done what you can, you got
the movie out there, it opens, and you find out that not enough people
went Friday night," Higgins laments. "A movie lives or dies on that
Despite his long tenure with Columbia, Higgins decided to leave both the
studio and the West Coast earlier this year.
"It had been a long time," Higgins admits of his job at Columbia. "They
recently had a shift in their management ... and I just felt like this
was a good time to look for new pastures."
Not one to linger too long, he decided he'd like to be at Miramax, so he
wasted no time in getting in touch with studio head Harvey
"I called up Harvey and left a message saying I'd like to talk to him
about being the head of publicity," recalls Higgins. "A few days after
that I was on the phone with Harvey making a deal."
Higgins is now part of a publicity triumvirate that leaves him in charge
of the East Coast and reporting directly to Weinstein. Counterpart Janet
Hill heads the West Coast, and SVP of publicity, Dan Scheffey, fills the
"What drew me to Miramax is that these guys are renowned for their
marketing wizardry," says Higgins as his car pulls up to the premiere.
"Hopefully, a little bit of that genius will rub off on me."
1970-1981: Various studio and PR agency jobs, from a stint at United
Artists New York headquarters to a one-year run at entertainment PR
agency PMK on the West Coast
1981-1984: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., senior publicist (New York)
1984-1986: MGM/UA, East Coast publicity director
1986-1989: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp, publicity director (New
1989-2001: Columbia Pictures, SVP, publicity - North America
2001: Co-head of publicity, Miramax Films (New York).