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'Coyote's' Wily Packaging May Blast Box Office

August 04, 2000|Claudia Eller

How shrewd is movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer?

Very. Instead of making "Coyote Ugly" the T & A booze-athon those sexy posters might lead you to expect, by design Bruckheimer has produced a PG-13 romantic fantasy appealing to teen and twentysomething movie junkies. Hollywood has been smelling this hit coming all summer.

Bruckheimer knows the commercial value of the MTV generation. He's packaged "Coyote Ugly," opening today, with such glossy, pop ingredients as a cast of feisty chicks easily adored by both sexes and a driving soundtrack of new and old hits by Kid Rock, Third Eye Blind, Snap, LeAnn Rimes, Don Henley and Elvis.

"We could have made it an 'R,' but we wanted young girls to see it as an inspirational story about dreams and attaining dreams," said Bruckheimer, who had blockbuster success 17 years ago with the similar-themed, music-driven, girl-power movie "Flashdance."

That 1983 movie not only sold more than $200 million worth of tickets at the worldwide box office, its soundtrack went multi-platinum and the torn, off-the-shoulder T-shirt worn by its star, Jennifer Beals, became the fashion craze.

The female stars of Disney's Touchstone Pictures "Coyote Ugly," scantily dressed in black leather outfits, adorn the cover of Maxim's August issue, which according to the magazine's publicist, "looks to be one of our bestsellers based on early newsstand sales."

Like "Flashdance," Bruckheimer's new movie, written by Gina Wendkos and directed by commercial and music-video impresario David McNally, is about an ambitious young woman pursuing her dream and making it on her own against all odds. Piper Perabo plays a 21-year-old aspiring songwriter from the Jersey suburbs who goes to New York and lands a job as a dancing barmaid at a hot watering hole called Coyote Ugly. (The movie idea was based on a once-published magazine article about the real-life dive bar of the same name in New York's East Village).

While "Flashdance" cost a mere $8 million to produce, the price tag for "Coyote Ugly" was more than $45 million--an extraordinary amount for a film with no stars and made by a first-time feature director.

Then again, Bruckheimer, one of Hollywood's highest paid and most successful producers, never does things on the cheap, sparing no expense on movie sets. His current production "Pearl Harbor" set sail at about $140 million. But Bruckheimer is also known for delivering such megahits as "Armageddon," "The Rock" and "Con Air" as well as such past hits as "Top Gun" and "Beverly Hills Cop."

This weekend, "Coyote Ugly" faces stiff competition for its audience from Columbia Pictures' special effects horror movie "Hollow Man," which was tracking to open as the top-grossing movie. But some industry insiders who have seen "Coyote Ugly" think it will have legs--so to speak--and view it as " 'Flashdance' for the new millennium."

And, of course, Bruckheimer and Disney, which finances his movies, are banking on that. "Flashdance," which first paired Bruckheimer with his colorful, longtime producing partner the late Don Simpson, overcame a dismal opening of $4 million and savage reviews to become a sleeper hit that earned close to $100 million domestically alone.

"It never opened, and the critics killed it," recalled Bruckheimer. "It was considered a big disaster" initially.

"Coyote Ugly" presented a challenge for Disney's marketing team, which needed an advertising campaign that would appeal both to young males and females without turning off the other sex.

"The target was very specific--12-to-24-year-old girls and guys," said Geoffrey Ammer, Disney's co-president of marketing. "The challenge was you didn't want to pigeonhole it as a T & A movie for young boys because our research from testing the movie showed that young females liked it as much, if not more than young males."

The provocative print campaign, featuring the film's five, seductive female leads in revealing clothing leaning on a bar top, suggests a more racy movie than a PG-13. Bruckheimer admits that at first look, the message could be confusing to some parents who might be reluctant to send their youngsters to what they perceive is a steamy movie.

"We're fighting the fact that people think it's an R-rated movie because it's sexy," admits Bruckheimer, insisting he's not overly concerned since "when their kid tells them it's PG-13, they'll say 'OK.' "

Bruckheimer said that after shooting a full-on love scene for the movie, "we cut around it and just show the beginning and the aftermath, not because of the rating but because it wasn't necessary."

The producer claims he didn't have to make any major edits to get the PG-13 rating.

In fact, "Coyote Ugly," contains no nudity, no raunchy language and no explicit sex--leaving Disney marketing executives grappling with the possibility that young male moviegoers might feel cheated and misled by the movie's more suggestive advertising.

"As it turns out, it wasn't the case at all," said Disney's other co-marketing president, Oren Aviv, noting that when Disney tested the movie, research showed that "guys and girls of all ages found it so much fun, the expectation of seeing a lot of sex or flash didn't even come up."

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