Gloom and despair have settled over Hollywood. A "highly placed studio executive" recently told the New York Times that the industry's mood is one of "self-loathing"; the films being produced, the mogul said, were "a lot of formulaic, by-the-numbers, cliche-ridden, high-concept garbage." Still, from Westwood to Studio City, the creative fires do burn on - though not on soundstages or in story conferences. In 1993, Hollywood's true auteurs are its marketers, the men and women charged with luring an increasingly skeptical public into the theaters. The sort of genius that once was displayed in a deft tracking shot or a well-executed plot twist can now be detected in the subtlety of a product tie-in or the grace of a phone call to the producers of Entertainment Tonight.
To showcase the increasingly challenging job of the Hollywood marketer, Harper's Magazine green-lighted some high-concept garbage of our own - Save the Earth, a megabudget, environmentally correct rain-forest love story. We pitched our movie to four young Hollywood executives and invited them to do the impossible: to transform Save the Earth into next summer's runaway hit.
THE MARKETING TEAM
PAUL TOUGH a senior editor of Harper's Magazine.
MARK GILL is the senior vice president of publicity and promotion for Columbia Pictures.
JEFFREY GODSICK is the executive vice president of entertainment at Rogers & Cowan, the largest publicity agency in Hollywood.
BOB ISRAEL is the CEO and cofounder of Aspect Ratio, a Hollywood advertising agency.
JOE NIMZIKI is the executive vice president of Cimarron Bacon O'Brien, a Hollywood advertising agency.
PAUL TOUGH: Welcome to the first meeting of the team responsible for marketing Save the Earth. You've all read the coverage see page 35 , so you know the story we're working with. Our two lead roles have been cast: Julia Roberts will play Daphne, the devoted young anthropologist who stumbles onto evidence of an ecological catastrophe while studying the Yanomamo Indians in the Brazilian rain forest. Jake - the environmental biologist who falls in love with her - is played by Steven Seagal. This will be his first film outside the action/adventure genre, and he sees it as an opportunity to be taken seriously by a wide audience. Our director, who is down in Brazil right now scouting locations, has cast a Yanomamo chieftain in the role of Kumchika, the medicine man who saves the planet's ecosystem. His dialogue will be subtitled.
As you know, our studio head is passionately committed to this movie and has personally approved its $ 47 million budget. He's been quoted in the trades as saying, "This is more than just a movie for me; this is what I got into this crazy business to do - something meaningful, for myself and for the planet." Save the Earth will be released in the summer of 1994. Now, before we even start shooting, what sort of marketing decisions do we have to make?
JEFFREY GODSICK: The first thing we need to decide is how we're going to position this movie to the journalists who are going to write about it early on. Forget direct contact with the consumer at this point - that's twelve months away. Right now it's the press that's going to transmit our message to the consumer. We've got to make sure that they send the message we want, or our movie will be positioned wrong.
MARK GILL: It's a matter of getting the interpretation we want. Disney could have sold Dead Poets Society as a suicide movie instead of an uplifting story about a really inspiring teacher. But, wisely, they took care to position it as the latter.
BOB ISRAEL: In this case, I don't think we want to push the ecological angle.
GILL: I agree. I think we want to push the adventure.
ISRAEL: I was actually thinking we might want to push the romance. In any case, what we want to avoid is the actual story.
TOUGH: How would you position the movie, in a couple of sentences?
ISRAEL: In a nutshell, it's an epic romantic adventure.
ISRAEL: I don't want to do "about." I want to run from the story. I want to run from the whole environmental theme. I think it's box-office poison. My main job here is going to be to cut together a trailer, the preview of our movie that will play in theaters. The trailer I'd like to make doesn't tell the story at all. It probably doesn't even have any dialogue. It's just music and quick cuts.
GILL: To find our position, I'd look at the great adventures like The Hunt for Red October. In that situation we had a handy nemesis - the Soviet Union. That's gone now. So what's the new evil? The threat to the ecosystem.
ISRAEL: It's starting to sound political.
GILL: I'm not at all suggesting that we politicize it, but one man fighting the big evil works extraordinarily well.
GODSICK: And it can be political even though it's not a political movie. I mean, Hunt for Red October had political overtones. Even when you go back to the World War II adventures, it was one man against a huge enemy.
ISRAEL: I just don't think people want to see a movie about one guy defending the ecosystem.
JOE NIMZIKI: Usually I would be right on the bandwagon with Bob saying, "Let's get away from the movie," and we definitely want to shy away from making it one man trying to save the world, which borders on the ridiculous, especially if we're trying to tell the story in a two-minute trailer. But we need some tension and drama, or else we're going to end up advertising this as a movie about nothing. And "A Movie About Nothing" is not a very catchy tag line.
ISRAEL: You know, this is the kind of movie that politically aware, well-educated people are talking about when they say, "Why doesn't Hollywood make more meaningful movies?" Well, here's your answer. The intent is noble, but the execution is inevitably banal. The sad reality is, every time Hollywood tries to make a politically correct movie, it bombs.
TOUGH: Let's talk about promotional tie-ins. Do we need to begin approaching various companies now about licensing Save the Earth products?
GILL: First we want to talk to the director and make sure this film is going to be rated PG-13.
TOUGH: Well, there's some serious sex in it.
GILL: If you really want to make an R-rated movie, say good-bye to all your corporate promotion. Say good-bye to Burger King. Say good-bye to Choice Hotels. Say good-bye to Coca-Cola. They don't want to be involved with an R-rated movie. The end. No discussion.
TOUGH: What about the eighteen-year-old guy who wants to see Julia Roberts, you know -
GILL: Let's look at it this way. Only a third of the movies that have made $ 100 million were R-rated. Do you want to make an economic decision, or do you want to make a decision based on an eighteen-year-old's hormones?
NIMZIKI: Actually, I think we can do both. We can do a PG-13 version of this rain-forest sex scene and have it more than steamy and titillating enough for your advertising.
GILL: Once you've got a PG-13, the floodgates are open. Now you go after everything in the world. You can go after corporations in a hundred different categories. They'll be delighted to be onboard with this movie, because it shows that they're not the evil, mean old polluter industrialist nightmare from hell.
NIMZIKI: I can see it now: Exxon Save the Earth hats . . .
GILL: Well, okay, maybe not everybody.
GODSICK: But even though we're going to avoid the environment in our advertising, that angle is a definite plus when we're seeking corporate promotional tie-ins. Companies are doing everything they can to get out there and try to show they're environmental.
GILL: The premise is that this project grants companies instant prestige.
GODSICK: What we're offering is the chance to license something that is extremely credible. Nobody's going to criticize a company for tying in with a movie. It's a no-risk way of buying into the environment.
TOUGH: If we assume that every corporation in America wants to get onboard, where do we start? Who's going to help us the most?
GILL: Well, we want to go after the big, brand-name advertisers. The reason is simple: we can piggy-back on their advertising. On a $ 47 million film the studio will probably spend $ 15 million on advertising. A fast-food company might buy another $ 10 to $ 15 million of their own advertising, featuring clips from our movie, to promote the tie-in. That's a big help. NIMZIKI: We start off with a fast-food restaurant that will give out action figures or cups with scenes from the film. Not only is that wonderful publicity; it's a place where you might hint at the message a little bit.
GILL: They would be recyclable cups, of course.
GODSICK: We cross-promote this between a fast-food restaurant and a beverage: Coca-cola or Pepsi. You get your recyclable Save the Earth cup from Burger King, but only when you order Pepsi. And Pepsi chips in another few million in advertising.
GILL: Let's go to the third step, which is that we want to cross-tie this to MTV. We want a contest in which the winners get to spend a day with Julia or with Steven, and we want that cross-promoted with Burger King. You enter the contest in the restaurant.
GODSICK: Once you go to MTV, it's a perfect opportunity to do a "We Are the World"-style environmental song. We get some great music stars to write a song called "Save the Earth," and we do a music video around that, again elevating this thing as important but not being too preachy.
ISRAEL: Hold on, hold on. It will automatically be too preachy. We've got to avoid the content of the film. It's got to seem like big star entertainment and nothing more. We have to go back to our original positioning, which is that this is an epic romantic adventure. No "about."
GODSICK: I don't think it's preachy for your favorite music people to sing a song about being good to the environment. That's almost hip these days.
ISRAEL: But if it's associated with this film, then we're got a film about being good to the environment.
TOUGH: Are there any other companies we should go to now?
GODSICK: We might want to go to a clothing company, like the Gap or Patagonia, that could take us into malls. That way, we can hit our audience really hard through retail.
GILL: And the premise there is very clear. We're going to be competing on the television screen with the five other movies that are opening when we are. In a store where we've got a display, we're the only movie. You walk into that store and you won't forget us.
GODSICK: The key is to get them to run our trailer on video monitors in the store. That lets us expose people to the trailer in a non-traditional location, outside the movie theater. It's much more effective.
GILL: The only way for us to reach our audience is to cut through the advertising clutter that surrounds them. And this is a clutter-free opportunity.
TOUGH: What about finding a public-interest group of some sort to hook in with at this early stage?
GILL: Well, here's a sort of absurd idea. I think we need to find a town that has not yet discovered environmental responsibility and take it over. We help them convert everything in their lives to be ecologically sensitive. The corporations that sponsor this get to feel like good-hearted citizens. The town will become the absolute epitome of American spirit and patriotism. It will be all over the front page of USA Today.
ISRAEL: How do you tie in the film?
GODSICK: We form something called the Save the Earth Coalition with five major sponsors - Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Gillette, whatever. The Save the Earth Coalition is the foundation that funds the whole thing. The movie title keeps getting wrapped up into it. And, of course, for the big event in the town we bring in the stars from the film.
GILL: And the question will always be, "Why are they doing this?" And the answer will be, "Oh, because this wonderful movie is coming out."
GODSICK: It also mirrors the theme of the film, which is that people are the solution to this problem. The town gets cleaned up, but only because people commit to it.
GILL: And the best part of it, of course, is that they will adopt a sister village in the rain forest.
NIMZIKI: And you can never predict what will happen. We could have a serious ecological crisis on our hands when we release. Three Mile Island blew two weeks after The China Syndrome was released: that's a perfect example of how a crisis can elevate a movie. All of a sudden this becomes timely and important. And who knows? People might embrace the environmental message more than we expect. I would want to be in a position to get the environmental stuff out after the movie opens; it'd make a great second week. First we tap our audience for the entertainment value; after a couple of weeks, if there's any reception at all to this movie, we get our stars together for the cause.
ISRAEL: I like the idea, in theory. But ultimately what it's going to come down to is this: two months before the movie opens, we're going to start testing our trailers and posters with randomly selected shoppers in malls - and what I think they're going to tell us is that they don't care about the environmental aspects of this film. And then it's a question of how much we play up the adventure aspect.
GILL: A lot.
ISRAEL: I mean, it'd be wonderful if we had a Raiders of the Lost Ark. That'd be terrific positioning because Roberts and Seagal make sense in that movie. But if it's true that there isn't enough to support it as a Raiders - and God knows we'll do everything we can to make it seem like it is - then we have to say, "Well, what's left?" How are we going to salvage what could be a disaster? What we'll do is test spots that are romantic and hope that romantic with a secondary aspect of action is enough. Maybe it becomes more of a women's picture - but one with enough action that women can convince their dates to go too.
TOUGH: What about the soundtrack? Is that going to be a big deal for this movie?
GODSICK: I think the soundtrack should be a big deal. It helps widen our audience. Whether you do a "Save the Earth" song or not, I think the soundtrack should be released well before the film is. And it might be nice to think about doing something special. What about having various artists write something about the Earth?
GILL: A theme album sounds like a theme park: absolute death. I think you just want it to be an event album to go with an event movie.
GODSICK: But I would have major stars. I'm talking about Springsteen doing a song. I'm talking about Whitney Houston doing a song.
NIMZIKI: This is where we take advantage of our environmental angle. It's a very fine line for us to walk, but I think the fact that the message of the movie is so politically correct is our means to get these big stars to do the album.
ISRAEL: It is a fine line: we get them in by talking about the environment, but we make sure the songs they do are not overtly environmental.
TOUGH: How about a David Byrne/Paul Simon-type song incorporating the traditional music of the Yanomamos?
GILL: That'll work for about 10 percent of our audience. We need a much bigger hit than that.
GODSICK: I'd rather see Springsteen. And I think we also have to have acts that cross over. I'm not saying there's a big ethnic market for this movie, but let's not pigeonhole it as white right away.
NIMZIKI: Even an urban dance or rap song with a real soft-coated message would be up our alley. And, actually, I would say throw in Paul Simon too.
GILL: But him alone?
NIMZIKI: No, but it wouldn't hurt to have one song by Paul Simon and a Brazilian band. We want the soundtrack to be as diverse as we can get.
GODSICK: If it's done right, the soundtrack could make the film important, simply because of the quality of people involved.
ISRAEL: That sparks something for me. The positioning for this movie may ultimately be that it is an important movie. That's something we haven't considered.
GILL: Oh, God help us. Just shoot me now. Are you kidding me? A $ 50 million important movie? How many of those work each year? And how many of them work in summer? Zero. None. Less than zero. For our highbrow audience, yes, it's got to be an important movie, but for everyone else, we've got to come back to what you said before, which was much smarter: it's an epic romantic adventure. Period.
NIMZIKI: I think it's always better to let an audience discover a film that's important. You don't want to tell them, "This is an important film." That's the kiss of death.
THE TEASER TRAILER
TOUGH: So far, we've been talking about decisions that aren't going to take effect for another year. How do we start to get our message out to the audience directly?
NIMZIKI: With a movie this big, I think we're going to want what's known as a teaser trailer, which comes out as much as six months before the movie's release. In our case, since we're doing a summer movie, we'll attach the teaser to our big Christmas release to make sure everybody sees it.
ISRAEL: What a teaser trailer says is, This movie's going to be an event.
GILL: It also means that come next spring, when the Los Angeles Times Calendar section and Entertainment Weekly are predicting what the five big summer movies are going to be, we're automatically on the list.
ISRAEL: We don't want to reveal too much in our teaser; it's just a great piece of music and big images. It's got sex. And it's got enough adventure to suggest something more.
NIMZIKI: We promise something amazing: "Here's Steven Seagal as you've never seen him before. Julia Roberts is back." And we need a slight hint of what the story is - "in his greatest adventure yet" or "in a movie that affects us all" - a simple tag line that doesn't get preachy, doesn't get political, doesn't even tell you the exact dilemma they're in. And then there might very well be room for a montage set to music - twenty seconds of stunning shots, the titillating romance, the action, the beauty shots of our stars.
ISRAEL: I like Joe's trailer, but I wouldn't make it the teaser trailer. I'd make it the final trailer. Because our story trailer - the one that we put out a month or two before the movie - has to develop from the teaser. Unless we go to story, which I don't want to do, I don't think there's any place to go from Joe's trailer.
TOUGH: So you're saying no teaser at all?
ISRAEL: I think not. I'm just terrified of getting into the story, which is what we're going to be forced to do if this is our teaser.
NIMZIKI: But in the real world this is a $ 47 million movie and the president of the studio is saying this is the most important film he's ever made. There's going to be a teaser.
GILL: How about a concept teaser - no footage at all? We just set up the reported threat and we flash the names of the stars. Promise the thrill, promise the adventure, show the names, get out.
NIMZIKI: I think you've got to have some urgency to it. Perhaps you have the sound of ticking to give the message: Time's running out. Or maybe you start on an image you can't quite make out and you slowly pull back to reveal that it's the Earth.
ISRAEL: But that's going away from the position that we agreed on. That goes back to the environment.
NIMZIKI: You don't have to lean on it. You don't want to tell the whole story. You still want to do your big montage wrap-up. But time as a metaphor is critical, especially if we're concealing the plot. There has to be some sense of urgency or conflict, and we can get that by quick-cutting images, by saying, "Time is running out," and maybe by laying driving music underneath. The film might not deliver any conflict and action, but our trailer is going to suggest lots of both.
ISRAEL: But to me, the ticking clock is off the position. People will stay away in droves if they think this movie has a social message. Everything we do has to convince them that it doesn't.
THE FEATURE STORIES
TOUGH: At this early stage, while we're still filming, what are we doing in terms of publicity?
GILL: We invite selected press to the set: major outlets like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Premiere magazine, and Entertainment Weekly. We're going to let about half of them write about the movie right away, to create an early buzz. The other half will bank their stories, to run when we release the film. And in both cases, these reporters are pretty much going to take our spoon-feeding. But if we don't create a nice loving spoonful for them that accurately reflects our movie, we're in trouble.
GODSICK: The only other outlet I would add is a morning TV show, like Good Morning America. The press follow the morning shows, so that will help us set their agenda early.
TOUGH: Do you have to do a selling job at this point on the editors and producers?
GODSICK: It's not hard to get someone to see Julia Roberts and Steven Seagal on the set. The risk is in mis-selling the movie. If we call up the editor of Premiere and say, "Yeah, we've got this thing about saving the Earth," we're in trouble.
TOUGH: But isn't this exactly when we want to use the environmental angle? Are these editors really going to want to do big feature stories without a hook like that?
GILL: Come on. The reality is that these are two stars everybody wants to see. Ask the immortal question posed by Dawn Steel, who used to run Columbia: "Are they fuckable?" And these two absolutely are. These are two hot, hot stars.
TOUGH: What about the more personality-driven magazines, like Vanity Fair or Esquire?
GILL: If you've got a star who wants to be profiled, you're fine. But he or she is going to have to reveal a lot. Our stars might have had problems that they don't want to share with the readers of Esquire.
NIMZIKI: And I'd be wary of letting Steven Seagal loose with the press. This is a stretch for him, and he's trying to prove to America that he's a serious actor. He's going to harp on that point in his interview, whether the studio wants him to or not. I've seen stars in this position before. They go on the big talk shows and say, "This isn't an action movie; it's got an important message. It's intelligent and serious, like me." And bingo, we're off position.
GILL: Don't worry. We'll make sure that he's well trained about what to say and what not to say. It's like coaching a political candidate: we convince him to stick to the message.
THE ROUGH CUT
TOUGH: It's now January 1994. We're in a screening room at the studio, and we're about to see a rough cut of the movie. It's an early version: it hasn't even been test-marketed yet. The director's here; Julia and Steven are here. What are we thinking as the lights go down?
NIMZIKI: What am I going to say to them if it's bad?
GODSICK: That's easy. You just say, "Steven, Steven, Steven!"
GILL: "You did it again!"
GODSICK: No, really, what we're looking for in the film is elements we can use to do our jobs. Maybe Steven Seagal turned out to be fantastic; maybe there's something we didn't anticipate that turned out great.
NIMZIKI: And it's a two-part process too. I mean we're all going to walk in and have our opinion of the film, but the next step's going to be recruited screenings, when we're going to test in front of a regular moviegoing audience, not a jaded, tainted, cynical crowd like us. And who knows? We might find that teenage girls eat it up. We might find that the boys are in love with Julia Roberts. Sometimes you think you have a movie that's going to be in trouble and the scores are great.
GILL: So, do we have a movie that scores well or not?
TOUGH: Well, I don't know. We haven't tested it yet. I can tell you my personal opinion. It looks to me like Steven and Julia didn't really get along. There's not a lot of spark between them.
GODSICK: So the romance doesn't work.
ISRAEL: So the movie doesn't work.
GILL: What were you thinking when you green-lighted this?
TOUGH: Do we - as marketers - now try to get involved in recutting the movie?
GILL: Absolutely. This is the moment to put in our two cents.
ISRAEL: What I'm going to advocate at this point is that they shoot more action/adventure footage so that we have an opportunity to position it more like a Raiders. The studio is going to say, "Holy shit, this movie is a bomb. We've got to go and spend another couple million."
TOUGH: What if the studio won't shell out? Does the fact that it looks to us like there's no heat between the stars mean that we have to abandon the romance angle?
ISRAEL: Not necessarily. The fact that it doesn't work in the movie doesn't mean that it won't in the trailer.
GILL: He's right. It doesn't matter if the movie doesn't deliver. If you can create the impression that the movie delivers, you're fine. That's the difference between playability and marketability. When you've got playability, you show it to the critics. If you've got marketability, there's enough there to cheat it or stretch it and make people believe that it really does deliver.
TOUGH: What have we got here?
GILL: In the romance category, we have marketability but not playability. The romance really doesn't play, but we can probably find enough wistful looks to make our trailer work.
NIMZIKI: Actually, I'm not so pessimistic. I think we've got the makings of a great trailer here. We're going to have enough oneliners and witty bits of dialogue. We've got enough good sex. And we're going to have enough good action. Out of ninety minutes, we've got to be able to come up with a good ninety seconds.
TOUGH: But at this point, if the movie's looking like a dog, shouldn't we start to put more of our resources toward the other films on our summer list?
GILL: No way. There's too much riding on this. Our chairman has said that this is the most important movie he's ever made - which, by the way, means it's a guaranteed failure. But as much as we might like to abandon ship, we're reminded on the hour of how important this is.
NIMZIKI: This is our worst-case scenario. When you take a little film and make it look good, it's wonderful. When you have a movie like this, which is costing the studio a fortune and which will create mass panic if it doesn't make its money back, jobs are on the line. You have to believe in your head that this movie can and will succeed. You have to find a way to bring it to its audience.
GILL: And the terrible, horrible, scary thing is that every now and then we actually make it work.
THE STORY TRAILER
TOUGH: Tell me about the second trailer, the story trailer. What are we going to do for that?
NIMZIKI: I would probably start with a shot of Steven Seagal and a line like, "He's always been a fighter, but he's never had so much to fight for." I'd want to get his audience in, promising them what they want: Steven Seagal fighting bad guys. But a line like "he's never had so much to fight for" puts in a hint of something more.
GILL: Which brings in, guess who?
NIMZIKI: Our next shot is Julia Roberts. We definitely want to say, "She's back, and we've got her." And if this romance is something we're going to sell, we're going to push a Julia Roberts love line hard.
ISRAEL: "In love with a people, in love with the country, and in love with a man."
GILL: Now bring in the threat.
ISRAEL: And then the conflict could be: "In the least likely place on Earth, they fell in love - at the worst possible time."
NIMZIKI: Next we want the quintessential villain line. We want our bad guy to say, "They're screwing up our plan. We've got to cut down these trees to put in our dump." Once we've hinted at the story elements, we do a kick-ass montage set to music. They're running and kissing and -
ISRAEL: "Two people have never kissed at this speed before."
GODSICK: At last we have a tag line!
NIMZIKI: And if this footage is as spectacular as I hope it will be, we can use the shots of people joining hands and chanting without actually saying, "They're saving the world."
ISRAEL: Maybe the chant actually starts to drive the montage.
GODSICK: You know, if that chant's really great, you could take it out of the movie and put it into the first single off the soundtrack. It becomes a kind of symbol.
ISRAEL: Here's the poster: You've got the two of them in the rain forest, hugging or holding hands in the midst of all these Indians, as a volcano explodes behind them. The whole background's on fire.
TOUGH: Do you have copy for the poster?
ISRAEL: I think you say the names. "Steven Seagal and Julia Roberts - "
GILL: " - in an epic romantic adventure - "
GODSICK: " - of global proportions."
NIMZIKI: It's got to be something about "the fight of their life" or "time is running out." Some real generic line that suggests that there's something a little important about this movie.
GILL: It's not just that the town is going to be destroyed; a way of life is going to come to an end, which is metaphoric for the end of the universe.
ISRAEL: Yeah. I like that.
GILL: So: "A town is about to be destroyed. Their friends are about to be killed. A way of life is about to end forever. Only these two can stop it . . . And they're running out of time."
TOUGH: How are we going to use these images and these ideas when we go to the press?
GILL: We're going to work from the same positioning that we've already developed. That goes for everything we give them. We're going to hand them an electronic press kit - a pre-cut piece of videotape that's like a mini-documentary of the film. We're going to hand out clips that emphasize our chosen themes and that hide the elements of the story we're uncomfortable with. And the remarkable thing we're going to discover is that the press people are going to pick up our exact phrases and words and incorporate them in their stories.
TOUGH: So we're going to be able to convince critics that this is a romance?
GILL: There are ten different ways to describe any movie. If we give them one way to go, and it's at least marginally credible, chances are they're going to take it and go with it. Reviewers may ultimately say bad things about it, but most of the feature stories will use our positioning to describe the movie.
GODSICK: And every TV reviewer is going to run a clip from the film. If the clip works with our advertising position, then they're supporting our campaign, even if they give us a bad review.
GILL: And we only give them clips that support our message.
NIMZIKI: The main reason we need reviews is to create what's called a review spot, a thirty-second TV ad with quotes from reviews read over scenes from the movie. It's only thirty seconds; all we need are five or six good reviews, out of the hundreds of reviews the film is going to get. We run the spot in the first week of release, once all the negative reviews are out. What it says to the audience is, "Forget the bad reviews you've read. This is a quality film."
TOUGH: What about a press junket? Are we going to do something out of the ordinary?
GILL: Well, the really big splash would be to fly everybody down to Rio de Janeiro. If we've got the money, that would be a gold mine. It would make people think it's a special event.
TOUGH: At the junket, Julia and Steven are going to do about fifty TV interviews in one day. What are we going to say to them the night before?
GILL: "You're going to get a lot of questions about things you're not going to want to answer. All you have to say is, (I'm not here to talk about that, but I would love to tell you about my movie.' And as you're talking about the movie, make sure you remember this one phrase." And then we give them our positioning line: It's an epic romantic adventure, set in a stunning location, about a struggle to save a village." We have to keep them on the message.
THE DAMAGE CONTROL
TOUGH: It's now a week after the junket. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association holds a press conference. He says that he's heard from people who have seen this movie that it glorifies pantheism and paganism and has a very anti-Christian message.
GODSICK: He said that about Home Alone.
GILL: Wake me when it's over. Nobody listens to Donald Wildmon anymore. He's cried wolf so many times that it doesn't matter. If Ross Perot is nailing our movie, we've got a problem.
GODSICK: And there are ways to combat it. There are experts we can show our movie to. There are psychologists, there are teachers. And they'll say it's wholesome and positive.
GILL: For every expert you can dredge up on the Reverend Donald Wildmon front, there are ten others we can pull up from other sides who are going to love the movie. I would say we don't even bother to dignify the Reverend Donald with a response. Who cares? If we can show him the movie and shut him up altogether, terrific. Otherwise, ignore him.
GODSICK: And if he pickets, we get press coverage.
GILL: This controversy doesn't go to the core of our movie's credibility. It's not going to hurt us. It's only going to help us. It just fans the flames.
TOUGH: The day after Wildmon's press conference, the Wall Street Journal publishes a page-one story about the way our film crew treated the environment down in Brazil. It turns out that we cut down a lot of trees when we built our sets. It's sort of a wry article, insinuating, "Isn't it ironic that they actually harmed the rain forest while they were trying to make this so-called environmental movie?" What do we do?
GODSICK: Get Wildmon back!
GILL: Our side of the story is this: it turns out that some crew members did not follow proper environmental procedure. But the stars of the movie were terribly disappointed by that and have now, as a countermeasure, started a campaign in this country to demonstrate that even people who are involved in a movie on this subject could somehow fail to be cautious enough about these things. It just underscores the point that we all need to be reminded about the importance of the rain forest. Our stars, in all their wattage, are going to blow the shit out of a story about a couple of crew members who didn't pick up their gum wrappers. USA Today, the networks, everybody is going to follow Julia Roberts to this school where she's going to teach third-graders how to recycle.
GODSICK: You might even take these stars in front of Congress, which will get you a hell of a lot of media coverage.
GILL: Right. They've seen close at hand how dangerous it is. Even people working on a movie that is trying to change things, even they slip. So it's more important than ever, and Julia Roberts is out here to tell you why. And I promise you, with that kind of star wattage, the other story will be totally forgotten two days later.
TOUGH: The movie's opening in a week. What do we have planned for a premiere?
GILL: Clearly we're looking at a benefit.
TOUGH: For whom? Greenpeace?
GILL: Let's get real here. We've got Corporate America tied in to this.
GODSICK: You don't want to go too radical.
GILL: We want an organization that can raise money.
TOUGH: Does our premiere have a gimmick?
GODSICK: For every ticket that's sold, ten trees will be planted.
GILL: And you cannot come to the premiere unless you've shared a ride. You cannot come in a limousine. It's the anti-Hollywood premiere.
TOUGH: And stars are going to show up?
GILL: Sure. There'll be too many people for them to suck up to. They won't be able to stay away.
NIMZIKI: Between a big movie spectacle like this and a party concept that's so politically correct, I think we'll get a huge turnout.
GILL: Having a theme is critical. It's a nugget that the media can take away when they're covering the event. Thirty camera crews turn out for every one of these things.
GODSICK: And it gives them more of a story to walk away with than "Al Pacino showed up with so-and-so."
NIMZIKI: You could get very interesting guests here too. If the studio has the right connections, you might have Gore there, even Clinton.
TOUGH: Well, the premiere was fun, but now the numbers are in: our movie made $ 5 million in its first weekend.
GILL: Ishtar! Ishtar!
NIMZIKI: Great. We're all fired.
TOUGH: Why do we take the fall? What were we supposed to do? The movie was terrible.
GILL: So was Alien.sub.3 . But it made $ 23 million in its opening weekend.
ISRAEL: Basically, what we're responsible for is a strong opening.
NIMZIKI: After about two weeks, it's mostly word-of-mouth. Our job is pretty much over.
TOUGH: So the biggest success for a marketer is to have an enormous opening weekend and then have the film tank?
GILL: If that happens, you know that the film was terrible but the marketing was genius. Obviously you prefer to have the movie hold on very well. But if it opens big and then crashes, that's when you know that the marketing campaign was absolute perfection.