Client: Canal Plus
PR Team: Optimum Releasing (in-house)
Campaign: Re-release of The Third Man
Timescale: May 1999 ongoing
Optimum Releasing, a two-man film distribution company, was charged with
the UK re-release of the 1949 classic The Third Man, by the film’s
owner, Canal Plus. Also being re-released this summer, but not by
Optimum, were two other classics starring Orson Welles: Citizen Kane,
and the lesser known Touch of Evil.
Not only did Optimum’s two-man team have to compete with these, it was
also up against The Phantom Menace - the mother of all blockbusters,
backed by Twentieth Century Fox.
To generate as much publicity for The Third Man as possible, with the
minimum spend. The aim was to drive box office sales at three screens in
London and one in Dublin.
Strategy and Plan
With 20 to 30 classic films being re-released each year, Optimum knew it
would have to do something special to make its film stand out. The fact
that it was a digitally re-mastered uncut version was not enough in
itself to guarantee box office traffic. While most other distributors
did their best to avoid releasing their films at the same time as
Phantom Menace, Optimum decided to make a virtue out of releasing The
Third Man in the same week. Only two other films also opted for a 16
Optimum gambled on a strategy that would deliberately link the release
of The Third Man and Phantom Menace, hoping to create a ’David and
Goliath’ scenario, which would prove irresistible to a press tiring of
Star Wars hype.
The first strike was a press release titled ’British film to face the
Menace’, designed to set the stage for the encounter. This started to
get the film talked about long before release, with pundits amused at
the stark contrast between the two films.
Next, Optimum contacted the Austrian Tourist Board (ATB). As The Third
Man is set in Vienna, the ATB was staging events to mark the 50th
anniversary of the film’s release, including erecting a ferris wheel
like the one in the famous fairground scene. Optimum communicated these
stories to the UK press, linking the ATB’s initiative to the forthcoming
release of the film.
To keep the pre-launch buzz going, Optimum enlisted the help of Charles
Drazin, author of a book about the film. Drazin became the ’voice of the
Third Man’ and conducted several radio interviews to talk about it.
In the week of the release, Optimum booked a reviewers’ screening slot
for The Third Man directly after Phantom Menace. Optimum wanted the
contrast between the films to be as marked as possible and for the
reviewers to talk about the 1949 film as ’the thinking man’s choice’. It
also wanted them to admire the plucky defiance of releasing it in the
face of so much Hollywood hype.
Measurement and Evaluation
Optimum’s strategy of pitching The Third Man against The Phantom Menace
was an unqualified success. The Independent on Sunday headline on the
cover of its Culture section on 16 July was ’You could see this (Phantom
Menace)but you should see this (The Third Man)’. The Daily Telegraph
said pitching The Third Man against Phantom Menace showed ’magnificent
and justified self-assurance’. The Mail on Sunday called it ’a classic
lesson for George Lucas’.
In the first three days The Third Man took pounds 18,000, and pounds
40,000 in the first week. Touch of Evil took six weeks to reach the
pounds 40,000 mark. Citizen Kane - arguably a better-known film - took
pounds 100,000 in two months, showing on 20 screens. Optimum anticipates
The Third Man - showing on just four screens - will take the same amount
in three weeks.