Tales from Tinseltown: Box-office game keeps pros on toes during summer heat

Tallying summer movie box-office has replaced baseball as America’s favorite pastime. Grosses are reported on Sunday network news, while studio publicists scramble to submit ’estimated’ box-office reports for Monday print coverage.

Tallying summer movie box-office has replaced baseball as America’s favorite pastime. Grosses are reported on Sunday network news, while studio publicists scramble to submit ’estimated’ box-office reports for Monday print coverage.

Tallying summer movie box-office has replaced baseball as America’s

favorite pastime. Grosses are reported on Sunday network news, while

studio publicists scramble to submit ’estimated’ box-office reports for

Monday print coverage.



Of course, this often leads to accusations of ’number fudging’ among

rival studios striving to win a closely contested weekend. It’s

important to come out on top, because the advertising department can

then add ’America’s No. 1 Movie’ to newspaper and broadcast ads. Being

number two just isn’t as sexy.



Fortunately, there’s many ways to be number one, even when you’re

not.



One is to claim dominance in a specific genre. Let’s say a little

romantic comedy finishes third behind Mission: Implausible and Gladiator

Lizards.



Will the ad trumpet ’America’s Favorite Second Runner-Up?’ Well, no. But

’America’s Favorite Comedy’ works nicely.



There’s no question what triumphed over last month’s holiday

weekend.



M:I-2 became the second-highest-grossing movie in the history of

Memorial Day weekend movie madness, which runs Wednesday through Monday.

Like Dinosaur, it blasted right through mixed reviews, both films being

critic-proof.



’Some films require us to carefully position the film in a way that

critics will respond to. Others, like Dinosaur, are a no-brainer,’ a

studio publicist told me. ’What parent is going to keep their child from

seeing it because it was poorly reviewed in the local paper? In fact,

the reviewer’s own kids are going to demand to see it, regardless of

what Mommy or Daddy wrote.’



With the summer’s big-budget releases, studio publicity and marketing

staffs are under a lot of pressure to ensure that their tent-pole

releases open to huge numbers. Producers, directors and stars are quick

to point a finger at marketing when the numbers are less than

spectacular. Bad reviews can, however, take some of the pressure

off.



When I worked at Paramount, a publicity VP once half-jokingly said to

me, ’It’s almost better in some cases if a movie gets panned. That way

they can’t blame it all on us.’



One of the summer’s biggest box-office brawls will occur June 30, when

The Perfect Storm blows up against The Patriot. Mel Gibson, who stars in

the latter, was originally penciled in for the former; alas, the deal

fell through over - gasp! - money. George Clooney then stepped in to

captain the Storm.



My money’s on George. How can you top 100-foot waves and a classic

man-against-the-sea yarn?



Forget the Yankees and the Braves. The real boys of summer are the

studio publicists rallying their films to victory and the accountants

who will be calculating all the loot. And we don’t even have to watch

them spit tobacco or grab themselves.





Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and

writer.



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