PROFILE: Well-traveled Higgins finds a home at Miramax Films

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

Shipping News.



"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

imagine leaving."



"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

7,000 screens.



"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

weekend."



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

Weinstein.



"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

number-two role.



"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."



DENNIS HIGGINS

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

York)

1989-2001: Columbia Pictures, SVP, publicity - North America

2001: Co-head of publicity, Miramax Films (New York).



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