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You and a Guest are Not Invited

Studios are beginning to question the value of lavish premiere parties, a staple of Hollywood promotion.

August 26, 1997|CLAUDIA PUIG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"This is supposed to be about show business, it's supposed to be about glamour," said Dick Cook, chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group. "It's supposed to be about bringing attention to this world of imagination and fantasy. And premieres are certainly one way to do it. We can all buy television advertising. We can't all do the events and premieres."

In the late '80s premieres started to become more elaborate, say those who plan and organize them. Many point to the 1988 premiere for "Working Girl" starring Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith as a turning point. The industry buzz on the movie was modest. After its premiere--a re-creation of portions of New York City including Rockefeller Center and its ice rink--drew widespread media coverage, the movie was a surprise hit. The premiere was widely thought to have been influential in its box-office success.

"It was the first time anyone had done anything thematic and it sort of set the standard," said an executive who helped to organize it. "We spent $500,000. It paid for itself in spades, even though [at the time] it seemed like a shameless waste."

But since the mid-'90s, fiscal conservatism has come up against the demands and desires of high-profile filmmakers and stars.

"You can easily throw money at these things, but then all you're doing is creating more excess," said Jeffrey Godsick, 20th Century Fox's senior vice president for publicity and promotion. "A couple hundred thousand into a premiere is fine if you feel you can really generate the coverage out of it. . . . The coverage is worth millions, but that doesn't mean that's what you should spend on a creative event."

In some cases, exotic premieres are held per the dictates of filmmakers or stars.

"It becomes a talent relations issue," said a studio executive, who requested anonymity. "People will point to one and say, 'I want what Jerry Bruckheimer got.' If you try to do it on a cheaper level, then they cry. It is no different than your 5-year-old screaming they want their birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese."

Conversely, the real heavy hitters may not even show up at premieres, or if they do, they just make an appearance. Often, their invitations are passed on to assistants, or assistants' assistants.

"The people with real power in Hollywood don't go," said the studio executive. "They show all these movies in their home screening rooms. It's the hand-slappers, the wannabes that go. You see the people associated with the movie and all of their hangers-on, and then you see all the people who hope to be in business with the person whose movie it is. It's a $500,000 suck-up."

Some actors and studio executives say they will attend premieres if they must but would just as soon catch the movie elsewhere and skip the hype.

"If it's a friend of mine's film and he asks me to be there, I'll go and support him," said actor Andy Garcia. "Other than that, I'd rather just see it with an audience."

Others suggest that these industry-only affairs are less effective as promotional events than if they were to include the general public.

" 'The Rock's' premiere was really clever," said an executive at a rival studio. "It also made thematic sense. The 'Con Air' premiere was a clever idea, but they missed the boat. It was celebrity-poor. We [in the industry] go to Vegas all the time. They should have made it a promotional thing where a regular Joe Schmo could have won tickets to attend." And no amount of opulence will impress or distract a premiere audience if the movie itself does not hold up.

"If the movie doesn't play, I can't say a premiere is a wise strategy because you don't need negative word of mouth before the movie opens," Rich said.

Most studio officials agree that holding too many premieres makes them lose their effectiveness.

"I think you need to look to see if it makes sense," said a DreamWorks executive. "We're not cheap. The three guys here [founders David Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg] get more money than anyone I know. Not all movies lend themselves. ["The Peacemaker"] is a great movie, but what would be the theme of the premiere? Premieres don't really lend themselves to 'Let's go Play a Nuclear Disarmament Game.' "

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