MARKET FOCUS: Opening acts

Premieres, no longer the linchpin of a movie's marketing, are changing shape.

Premieres, no longer the linchpin of a movie's marketing, are changing shape.

Hollywood film premieres are a time-honored tradition, growing in proportion and polish as the movie industry itself has grown over the decades. From Jean Harlow to Jennifer Aniston, Cary Grant to Denzel Washington, stars have a long history of parading past the paparazzi in search of press for themselves and their movies. "That walk down the red carpet is such a hallowed part of the Hollywood experience," notes Steve Elzer, SVP of media relations for Columbia Pictures. "It's part of the glitz and glamour." While it may seem as if not much has changed from the original formula of flash bulbs and fashion, in today's 24/7 media world, nothing remains static. Premieres have evolved not only in their place in a film's marketing strategy, but also in the basics of how and why they happen. Once, a premiere was the major media event for a film. Today, by the time the premiere happens, news of a studio movie is usually well covered on the internet and in the voracious machine of celebrity-oriented media. That lowers the premieres' pivotal relevance when it comes to capturing audience interest. "People think that premieres are an important part of the equation [of marketing], but they probably have become less of an important part in today's media culture," says Paul Pflug, EVP of media relations and corporate communications at Miramax. He adds that most marketers consider premieres "a last burst of exposure for a film" or "a nice piece of the puzzle," but certainly not the main attraction of the PR push. "It's a relatively small but important piece of the rollout that reinforces your overall presence in the marketplace," adds Elzer. "A premiere gives you a legitimate platform to celebrate the opening of your film and garner a lot of press - from the electronic outlets that cover the red-carpet arrivals to the fast- breaking paparazzi shots that get picked up in magazines and newspapers around the globe." While big-budget studio films may not rely as much on premieres to capture consumers' attention, smaller films still do, says Harrison & Shriftman partner Gretchen Braun, who has helped plan both high-profile events such as the Legally Blonde II debut as well as the launch of lesser-known, indie titles. "When you have films where the marketing budget isn't as big, or where people aren't familiar with the kind of film or genre it might be, [the premiere] gets the word out," she says. "It can set the tone. It's kind of like the debutante ball, a coming-out party for the film." Big budget vs. indie flick Independent movies have traditionally relied on film festivals such as Sundance and Cannes to host premieres and build buzz, but Braun says that has changed in recent years. "More studio films are playing and premiering at festivals as opposed to true independent films," she says, pointing to recent examples like The Butterfly Effect, a New Line film that stars Ashton Kutcher and debuted at Sundance this year. Braun says it's simply a matter of access to press and other parties of influence. "You take people that are generally spread out and you condense them into Park City, so you have access to people who tend to build buzz." However, the low-key, independent approach to premieres isn't for everybody - or every film. "It has to match the nature of the movie," says Pflug. "If you have a $150 million tent-pole picture, you've got to keep with the scope of the film." Warner Bros.' SVP of domestic theatrical publicity, Debbie Miller, uses the final installment of The Matrix trilogy as an example of a film that required a big opening. "With The Matrix Revolutions being the final film in one of the studio's most exciting franchises, we were really looking for an element of showmanship," she explains. "We got that by being the first film to premiere at the just-completed Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. Frank Gehry's design perfectly complemented the innovation associated with The Matrix films, and the premiere itself provided the event nature we were striving for to launch the film." Most films, however, aren't as big as The Matrix, or as low key as film festival fare. For the dozens that fall somewhere in between, premieres can be a trickier matter. Hollywood hosts literally one or two such events a week, at a minimum. Getting Extra and Entertainment Tonight to give good play to an event often requires more than just the promise of celebrities. While camera-friendly stunts are nothing new to film premieres, they have seen a resurgence in popularity as a way to capture press coverage with something other (and hopefully more memorable) than a celebrity quote or photo. Clever or silly action at the affair is perfect fodder for press and audiences oversaturated with straight celebrity coverage. "As a rule, we'd rather use our dollars to create an interesting dynamic in front of the theaters, where it can be covered by the press and thereby expand the publicity," explains Miller. She gives recent examples of stunts that grabbed interest, such as a real marriage Warner Bros. arranged at the premiere of The In-Laws or a motorcycle stunt show on Hollywood Boulevard at this month's premiere of Torque. But the real place where stunts have been embraced as PR essentials is with the premieres of DVDs. As the DVD market continues to explode as a revenue source, studios are investing more in the rollouts of their products. DVD premieres with the same aesthetics and price tags as film premieres are becoming more common, and have spawned an industry of their own with high-profile event planners and PR professionals moving into the lucrative market. The studios "are really starting to realize that the world of video is no longer the stepchild," says Dan Kough, whose Paradigm Shift Worldwide has created dozens of DVD premieres from concept to execution for titles such as Chicago. The problem is that celebrities are often less involved in DVD launches, curtailing an important press draw. While talent often does turn out to support projects they care about, "the level of star that one can get at a DVD premiere is significantly less than what one can get at a film premiere," says Rita Tateel, president of Celebrity Source, which helps procure celebrity involvement in projects. "It is absolutely more difficult to get celebrities to attend DVD premieres." She points out that while A-list stars often don't want to go to DVD launches, the bar for "celebrity" has been dropped by reality shows, which gives marketers more options. Often, media is just as happy to cover Trista and Ryan, for example, as Demi and Ashton. New media, new approach But when stars of any wattage are scarce, DVD launches often live or die by the creativity of their stunts. It's also a venue where studios are willing to be riskier with the film's image, often tweaking its initial positioning to appeal to new or broader audiences, giving planners more chances to think outside of the ordinary. "The beauty of the DVD premiere is you can take a lot more leeway with the theme of the movie," says Pflug. Kough uses the example of the DVD release of Scarface last year. His company helped stage two events, aimed at two very different potential audiences. The first was "a very elegant party" in New York targeting the cinephiles who would be interested in the film for its status as a classic. The other audience was the hip-hop crowd. Scarface "is really seen as almost a cult film in that world," explains Kough. To reach that second demographic, Kough staged a party at an influential DJ convention in Puerto Rico with the theme, "The world is yours." Attendees could go in a "money shower," where women and men in swimsuits threw cash that could be collected and used to purchase items inside the party. The event got tons of buzz, but likely would not have worked as a theatrical film premiere due to its risque nature and narrow target. DVDs aren't the only form of entertainment industry now eyeing premieres. Video game companies have started dabbling with the concept for their products as well. "It's becoming apparent that between movies, video games, and music, they are all very important forms of entertainment," says Ubisoft Entertainment director of media relations Robin Carr, whose company recently held a premiere tied to Sundance for their release of the new game Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow in its Tom Clancy series. "It just made sense," she said of the move, citing strong interest in the product from celebrities, and the growing revenues of the gaming industry. And Pandora Tomorrow isn't the only title to win star treatment. The Matrix video games also saw a lavish release party last year, and as more studios look for video game connections with their products, the trend will probably continue. Regardless of what type of media is being premiered, an increase in security in response to both terror concerns and piracy has been embraced across the board as one of the most universal trends. Since 9/11, many studios have started "wanding" guests, and creating stricter measures to control who is attending events. To prevent films from reaching the internet before they open in theaters, big-budget premieres often require bag checks and security guards patrolling the audience looking for recording devices. "Security at our premieres and even our press screenings has tightened dramatically over the past year," confirms WB's Miller. "It's safe to say that security for our guests and the film itself is a bigger priority than ever before."

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