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publicity mongers

press kits do boffo box office on ebay

March 26, 2000|Lisa Leff

Here's a quiz for collectors of movie memorabilia: Which item associated with 1999's "Fight Club" fetched the highest price--$218.49--on eBay, the online auction site/global garage sale?

A) a first-edition of the best-selling novel on which the movie was based B) an 8-by-10 glossy signed by co-stars Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter C) a press kit that Fox used to promote the film to critics and entertainment beat reporters. If you guessed "C," then you're hip to one of the hottest and perhaps oddest trends in the Hollywood collectibles market. Press kits--usually nothing more than a serviceable assortment of still photographs, slides and production notes, with gimmicky tchotchkes sometimes thrown in for good measure--are being snapped up by fans willing to fork over serious money for the kind of mind-numbing minutiae that journalists get for free.

In most newsrooms, recycling bins moan under the weight of these ubiquitous byproducts of the studios' spin machines. To collectors, though, the fact that press kits were produced for a select audience is part of their appeal. "It is more collectible because not very many people will have one," says Tim Gettings, 19, of Leicester, England, the successful bidder on the aforementioned "Fight Club" press kit. He was particularly swayed by the kit's shrink-wrapped bar of pink soap in a metallic dish sent to, if its seller is to be believed, "highly credentialed journalists only." (Spoiler: In the film, Pitt's character makes soap out of fat stolen from a liposuction clinic.) "I do feel like I got my money's worth," says Gettings, "although not everyone will think so."

Hollywood bookstores have peddled press kits for years, says John Kantas, a manager at Hollywood Book and Poster Co. But it wasn't until they started showing up on eBay that they gained momentum. Now some collectors buy kits at local stores for between $5 and $20, only to hawk them online for two or three times that. On a typical day, more than 2,000 press kits on eBay flack everything from new model cars to music CDs. An "Ally McBeal" kit with 46 slides recently sold for $385, for example, while standard kits from "Girl, Interrupted" and Leonardo DiCaprio's latest, "The Beach," went for $81 and $80, respectively.

Members of the media--and in the case of television and film material, studio staffers--are the likeliest sellers. So far, studios have not altered the way they distribute or store their kits. In fact, some press kits enjoy more satisfying returns than a film's dismal box office. "After a recent press junket for 'Random Hearts,' the promotional items we had given away, which were calendars, were for sale on eBay the very next day," says a spokesman for Sony Pictures. "I thought to myself, 'I really ought to get a side business going.' "

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