- Yanks flying flag
Cannes loading up on American fare - By DEREK ELLEY
-- With less than two weeks before the official unveiling of the lineup,
U.S. and American-set fare will share the spotlight at the 58th Cannes
Film Festival (May 11-22).
In fact, it's looking like a program with which former artistic director (now fest prexy) Gilles Jacob, 74, would be comfortable.
of the competition looks blocked out at this stage, with the following
leading the main contenders:
Lars von Trier's "Manderlay," the second part of his ironically titled trilogy "USA -- Land of Opportunities," this time dealing with racial oppression in the South during the Depression. Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, Danny Glover and Lauren Bacall star.
Gus Van Sant's "Last Days," with Michael Pitt as a Kurt Cobain-like rocker holed up in his house during his final hours in the early '70s.
Wim Wenders' "Don't Come Knockin'," co-written by and starring Sam Shepard as an aging cowboy star on a journey of self-discovery; Jessica Lange, Tim Roth, Sarah Polley and Fairuza Balk co-star.
David Cronenberg's "A History of Violence," with Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello, about the impact on a family when a father kills someone in self-defense.
Jim Jarmusch's untitled pic, with Lange, Bill Murray, Sevigny and Sharon Stone.
The latest drama by Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.
Austrian helmer Michael Haneke's French-lingo "Hidden," with Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil, centered on a TV host threatened by videotapes featuring him and his family.
Patrice Chereau's chamber drama "Gabrielle," based on a Joseph Conrad story, with Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory.
a two-couples ensembler by Dominik Moll ("With a Friend Like Harry"),
starring Charlotte Rampling, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Andre Dussollier
and Laurent Lucas.
Fest's selection of French pics traditionally goes down to the wire, and strong candidates for official selection include "Les poupees russes," by France's Cedric Klapisch, a follow-up to his ensembler "L'Auberge espagnole"; Nicole Garcia's male ensembler "Charlie Says," with Jean-Pierre Bacri; a first film by novelist Emmanuel Carrere, "La moustache"; plus, out of left field, Gallic vet minimalist Alain Cavalier's journal of his family and friends that has been five years in the making.
Already skedded as a special event is "Joyeux Noel," by Christian Carion ("One Swallow Brought Spring"), to be attended by French pols and notables. Pic is based on the true story of a Christmas truce arranged by soldiers during WWI.
Being mulled for a spot in the official selection is DreamWorks toon "Madagascar," set in Gotham's Central Park Zoo. Pic, which opens Stateside May 27, would be the third DreamWorks animated feature to appear in the Competition.
Noncompeting U.S. fare is led by "Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith," inked for a special screening. Also, fest has invited Woody Allen's first U.K.-shot movie, "Match Point," starring Allen, Scarlett Johansson and Brian Cox, but pic's participation has not yet been confirmed by its producers.
Among strong contenders, but not yet invited, for the official selection are James Marsh's Deep South drama "The King," starring Gael Garcia Bernal and William Hurt, and Italian Marco Tullio Giordana's "Once You're Born," a coming-of-ager set against a backdrop of illegal immigration. Giordana had a surprise hit at Cannes two years ago with his drama "The Best of Youth."
Universal's Ron Howard-helmed "Cinderella Man," about Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe), was originally thought likely for a noncompeting slot but is looking far less certain.
Looking wobbly for Competition is Ang Lee's gay Western "Brokeback Mountain," which is said to have underwhelmed the selection committee.
Dearth of options
Faced with an embarrassment of riches among U.S. and English-lingo fare, Fremaux has reportedly been struggling to find equivalent baubles from other regions, especially European territories such as Spain, Germany and Italy.
East Asia also is proving problematic, with many of the big names (such as South Korea's Hong Sang-soo and "Old Boy" helmer Park Chan-wook) looking more likely to show up at Venice with their latest work. However, already snagged for a spot in official selection is Zhang Ziyi starrer "Raccoon Princess," an exotic fantasy-cum-musical by cult Japanese vet Seijun Suzuki.
Under consideration is "The Bow," by South Korean maverick Kim Ki-duk ("Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring"), about a love affair on a remote island between an old man and a teen girl. This would be the first time one of Kim's pics has officially played the fest.
Still unseen by Cannes' committee but racing to meet its deadline is Zhang Yimou's contempo drama "Riding Alone for a Thousand Li" (literal translation), starring Japanese vet Takakura Ken and set in southwest China. Film is a deliberately smaller production after Zhang's martial-arts spectacles "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers."
East Asian fare looks to be more widely spread among the fest's sections.
Directors Fortnight opens with contempo drama "Be With Me," by Singaporean director Eric Khoo ("12 Storeys"), which was also offered a slot in Un Certain Regard. Other confirmed titles in the Fortnight include Im Sang-soo's "The President's Last Bang," a black comedy centered on the 1979 assassination of South Korean strongman Park Chung-hee; Iranian drama "Iron Island"; Sundance title "Police Beat"; and Greg McLean's "Wolf Creek."
Linked to the annual MTV party but not part of the official fest selection will be a screening of Stephen Chow's Asian smash "Kung Fu Hustle," opening Stateside on Friday.
Fremaux's biggest problem seems to be finding an opening movie.
Originally keen to have Sydney Pollack's "The Interpreter," Fremaux has now expressed interest in Tsui Hark's martial-arts fantasy "Seven Swords," the first film in a planned hexalogy by the Hong Kong helmer (and last year's jury member).
But doubts over whether the pic, still in post, can meet the May 11 opening date, and memories of last year's nail-biting over Wong Kar Wai's "2046," are casting doubts on this option.
(Adam Dawtrey, Alison James, Sharon Swart, Gunnar Rehlin and Nick Vivarelli contributed to this story.)
- Related: Praised and confused
'Jake,' 'Power' focus on world of publicists - By MICHAEL FLEMING
After decades of
working behind the scenes, personal publicists are suddenly being thrust
into the spotlight.
Trouble is, this newfound media glare isn't the kind of attention publicists want -- the kind they can shape.
While personal publicists used to remain in the shadows of their high-profile clients, the Pat Kingsley-Leslee Dart battle at PMK-HBH and Bumble Ward's shuttering of her praisery got lots of attention in the mainstream press -- not for such clients as Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton but for the publicists themselves.
So, praisers find themselves at a crossroads.
While the attention has made their work -- and presumably its value -- more transparent, veterans of the trade still have to suck it up, handholding clients (IDPR's Kelly Bush has been known to literally lead clients like Toby Maguire by the hand along the red carpet), running endless interference in a celeb-hungry media landscape and always craving what everyone in Hollywood wants: the big bucks and a little love.
And their power has been steadily eroding.
Since the 1980s and '90s, when publicists were arguably at the height of their power thanks to their control of access to clients, the proliferation of celeb-hungry media outlets has changed the ballgame.
Their role evolved from one of image control to image spin, working to rein in stories detrimental to their clients' interests. After a decade of dictating who would interview the star, who would photograph him and how the story will be angled, journalists have gotten fed up. Now, tabloids and paparazzi make it easy to circumvent the publicist.
To some, the Ward exit is a symbol: Personal publicists are at the crossroads.
"The first thing you learn about being a publicist is that you will be the first one blamed, the last one thanked."
Says one grizzled vet. "The other thing you learn quickly is that everybody thinks they can do publicity better than the publicist. Publicity results aren't as tangible as they are for an agent who negotiates a deal."
More galling to publicists is the fact that some clients announce they don't want to pay this month because the publicist didn't do anything. Or they request a lower monthly fee, because their name alone helps the agency attract other clients.
Publicists often feel underpaid. Compared to agents and managers, who get 5% to 10% of a client's salary, a PR maven can expect, at most, $60,000 a year from each client. Admittedly, with enough clients, that can turn into a six-figure income, but the real money these days is in corporate representation.
Major firms like PMK/HBH, Rogers & Cowan and Bragman Nyman Cafarelli have opted to grow the corporate sides of their businesses, because the retainers are much higher.
"The true money for a PR film won't ever be made on the red carpet with celebrities, or even by introducing those celebrities to companies," says Sean Cassidy, prexy of Dan Klores Communications.
Anyone who specializes in personal publicity these days is by definition keeping it small. "Celebrities are more of a one-off," says Cassidy, who estimates that of the agency's $17 million in annual billings, 7% is derived directly from celebrity clients.
Still, Simon Halls, a managing director at PMK/HBH, says the rewards outweigh the frustrations.
"You know the fee structure going in, and if anybody sits and compares themselves to others, they will spend a lot of time being frustrated," he says. "I don't think any of us feel like the red-headed stepchildren here. We do well financially, even junior publicists. This is not a bad job where people are clamoring to get out. We pay our mortgages and people build nice lives in personal publicity."
If a celeb's career isn't going well, it's usually the agent or manager who gets the blame. But publicists are held liable for other disappointments. Magazines' power lists are always ulcer-making; everyone wants to be higher than they are, even if they haven't had a hit film in years.
And when Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez got smacked with a wave of bad "Gigli" publicity, each hired new teams: He went to Ken Sunshine, she to Alan Nierob, and has since switched again.
But such switches are the exception to the rule. Most superstars stay loyal to their publicists for years, sometimes decades.
Among the many who've retained clients are Stan Rosenfield (George Clooney, Robert De Niro and Will Smith); Pat Kingsley (Michael Mann); Nierob (Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson); Brad Cafarelli (Cameron Diaz); Robin Baum (Russell Crowe); Cyndi Guagenti (Brad Pitt); Steven Huvane (Jennifer Aniston). Julie Andrews has been with Gene Schwam since "Mary Poppins" days.
When Hilary Swank accepted her best actress Oscar, she concluded her 2½-minute litany of thanks with a shout-out salute to "Troy Nankin, my best friend and publicist."
Among Nankin's accomplishments was a softball "60 Minutes" profile in which Mike Wallace gushed about Swank's unpretentious warmth, her volunteer work and her CPR attempts to save the life of a dying man -- a piece that aired when Oscar voters had ballots in hand.
No wonder Swank was grateful.
- Studios try on foreign accents
As o'seas grosses rise, blurbs offer cultural edge - By DON GROVES
the U.S. studios' domestic marketing teams are frantically prepping
their summer releases, their international counterparts are likewise
engaged -- but often they're crafting a very different sell.
Take "Cinderella Man," which BVI is releasing overseas, starting in Australia, Asia and Latin America in June/July; Universal is handling domestic.
"We're toning down the over-the-top Americana" of the U.S. campaign, says BVI prexy Mark Zoradi of the Depression-era set Russell Crowe/Renee Zellweger starrer. "We'll use a much different tone and pace."
The pic's boxing elements will be highlighted in Europe, but in markets like Japan the emphasis will be on the saga of an ordinary guy battling to protect his family.
Hitting the right cultural note is particularly important in Japan, the most lucrative market outside North America. The sell for Japan often accentuates pics' emotional aspects in an effort to attract the prime moviegoing demo: young women.
For example, UIP's Tokyo office created a trailer, poster and TV spot for "The Terminal" that centered on Tom Hanks' character's unfulfilled promise to his father to go to New York to get an autograph; director Steven Spielberg signed off on the campaign.
The payoff: The pic minted $39 million in Japan, more than half its U.S. gross and a hefty contribution to its $139 million overseas B.O.
BVI had an unusual problem when it was marketing "The Incredibles" in South Korea. The country won't allow red in outdoor ads (because it denotes communism) or black (meaning death), according to BVI VP David Kornblum. So the distrib modified and subdued the colors in the ads.
BVI created several different campaigns for the Pixar toon, emphasizing the comedy in Europe, the action in most of Asia and the emotional family aspects in Japan.
All that work paid off, as "Incredibles" has racked up $370 million internationally, including $50 million in Japan.
"We take a unique approach to nearly every movie in Japan," says Zoradi. That helps explain why "King Arthur" fetched $18.8 million in Japan out of its $149.2 million international total, and "The Village" made $15.3 million there of its $142.5 million abroad.
With "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," BVI's campaign addresses the fact that the tome is well known in the U.K. and Australia, but there's little awareness in most other markets.
Similarly, the marketing materials for Warner Bros. Pictures' "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" recognize that auds outside the U.K. and Oz aren't as familiar with the property.
"We will introduce the characters and be a bit more linear (than domestic) in telling the story," says WB Intl. marketing prexy Sue Kroll.
With "Batman Begins," the challenge facing the studio is that the Batpic franchise traditionally hasn't resonated as strongly overseas as at home. So the international campaigns will play up the title character as both a tragic and a romantic figure.
"We have a unique opportunity to reinvent the brand," says Kroll, as well as to connect with folks who had dismissed prior "Batman" films as comicbook-inspired actioners.
Crafting campaigns for overseas isn't just a matter of tweaking the domestic poster, trailer and TV spots; Kroll says: "We strategize and create campaigns from the beginning."
Of course, no elements are changed unless the talent approves -- and that isn't always forthcoming. "We have more latitude on some films than others," says UIP president/chief operating officer Andrew Cripps, referring to rare instances when the filmmakers or thesps reject any rejigs.
UIP is modifying the campaign for "War of the Worlds" in Japan to play up the emotional sell in trailers and TV spots. "We're emphasizing the Tom Cruise character as an everyday man who is fighting to save his children," Cripps says. "To be a significant success in Japan, a film needs to attract a large female audience, and our campaign is designed to attract that audience."
Some indie distribs changed the campaign for "The Aviator" to overcome the fact that Howard Hughes is largely unknown abroad.
"Most distributors felt it necessary for the one-sheet to tell a little more of the story, whether it was through the imagery of a plane, Hollywood glamour or the female cast," says Schuyler Ha of Initial Entertainment Group, which reps the pic internationally.
For "Million Dollar Baby," which opened strongly March 11 in South Korea, the local distrib used a teaser poster showing Hilary Swank as a shadowy figure, reinforcing her character's loneliness and determination. That was followed by the U.S. poster, then a final poster that conveyed more emotion and suspense.
needed to soften (Hilary's) appearance, make her more accessible,"
says Robert Burke, VP for worldwide marketing at co-financier Lakeshore
Entertainment, who says a similar look will be used in Japan, where
the pic launches in June.
- 'Cinderella' story in Oz
Rugby players will don jerseys advertising Crowe pic - By MICHAELA BOLAND
A rugby team promoting
a boxing film?
Crowe and BVI's Down Under topper Alan Finney have inked a deal for players to don jerseys sporting a "Cinderella Man" logo for eight weeks starting July.
The team's regular sponsor, Real Insurance, even agreed to transfer its logo to the backs of jerseys during the campaign.
"Cinderella Man" was pegged for release in Oz in June but was pushed back to October following the Oscar scoop by that other boxing pic, "Million Dollar Baby."
As a result, the jersey campaign will precede "Cinderella's" release by two months. It couldn't roll out any later because September is primetime for rugby finals.
Crowe has no formal
relationship with South Sydney other than being a huge fan. The team
-- part of the Rupert Murdoch-backed National Rugby League -- was dropped
from the league during a consolidation in 1999, but a concerted campaign
by supporters, including Crowe, got it reinstated in 2002.
- Searchlight: Less is More
Around the Fox Searchlight bungalows, it's the nastiest word you could utter these days.
For the last year, the studio has operated heel-to-the-steel, even as close competitors -- chiefly Miramax and MGM -- imploded, and massive restructuring at Paramount augured more direct competition with Fox's specialized division.
As a result, Searchlight has just enjoyed it's best year ever, releasing 11 pictures in the 2004 play period for a combined $173 million in box office, one third of that coming from screenplay Oscar winner "Sideways."
So, what's on tap for an encore?
"We made a strategic decision to make fewer movies," Peter Rice told Daily Variety, adding, "People in our marketing department, up until last week, have been working 16 hours a day, seven days a week. It's very hard to ask people to keep doing that. Having 12, 11 or even 10 movies a year really puts pressure on people that doesn't produce good results."
His rational approach may not sit well with a number of people, including numerous top independent film agents and even his own News Corp. bosses.
For starters, such thinking -- while perfectly logical, given the precision that specialized films need in execution, marketing and distribbing -- runs contrary to what News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch has said he wants from Fox Filmed Entertainment.
At an October 2004 Goldman Sachs conference, Murdoch announced that News Corp.'s film unit will pursue an aggressive strategy in 2005, with 20th Century Fox releasing 20-25 major films, and Searchlight releasing "eight to 10 pics."
Right now, neither Fox nor Fox Searchlight will come anywhere near that grand total: Searchlight has plans to release only seven pictures, and TCF and Fox 2000 have slated only 13, one less than last year.
"We only have a certain amount of staff and overhead," Rice says. "There's not really a strategic change in what we're doing, it's just what's most effective for the movies."
The movies, by the way, remain eclectic as ever, but some agents grouse that increasingly they represent few actual creative or financial risks. Major directors are the rule on Searchlight productions, rather than the exception for 2005: Danny Boyle's new film, "Millions," for example, and Woody Allen's new picture "Melinda and Melinda," which unspools in a little over a week.
They're paired with lower-cost acquisitions, like Russian vampire pic "Night Watch," which was acquired as part of a larger strategy at TCF to remake the film as an English-lingo big-budget franchise. (Rice, upfront on the substantial risks in backing tyros, doesn't dispute this, explaining, "I do prefer our first-time director movies to be acquisitions.")
When it comes to riskier material, like "Kinsey" and "I Heart Huckabees," studio shared the risk with overseas partners.
Meanwhile, independent filmmaker agents find that as Searchlight gets more and more successful, it's becoming more cautious, and that has sent their frustration level through the roof.
"Are they good at what they do? Absolutely," says one indie agent at a major talent agency. "But they're also infuriating; even though they're not in the indie film business, they're changing the indie film business, and changing it for the worse."
Numerous agents interviewed complained, for example, that the Searchlight strategy has of late meant plowing $25 million or so into prints and advertising on a $5 million acquisition -- as was the case with both Zach Braff's "Garden State" and Jared Hess' "Napoleon Dynamite" -- to the exclusion of new indie directors.
"Their whole strategy is to price everyone out of the marketplace: Searchlight only wants to acquire a 'pop' indie move that's going to do $20 or $30 million of box office, to impress their corporate parent. The result is they make good, old-fashioned independent dramas look like they're not profitable anymore."
Meanwhile, Searchlight's success, whatever it's effect, is hard to argue with.
And as if to sum up the Searchlight style, Rice, noted two films that haven't been dated but that will nonetheless be released this year. One is "Separate Lives," Julian Fellowes' exploration of the mores and ethics of the upper classes, based on the Nigel Balchin novel. The other is "The Ringer," a Farrelly Bros.-produced comedy about an attempt to fix the Special Olympics, toplined by "Jackass" star, Johnny Knoxville.
Says Rice, diplomatically, "I love all my children equally."
Inside Moves: Searchlight keeps cooking sans Rice
By CLAUDE BRODESSER, Tue., Jan. 25, 2005, 10:00pm PT
"It's a big film, with big stars," said a Searchlight spokesman of "Eucalyptus," which stars Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Geoffrey Rush. She added that Rice's trip Down Under was expected and that the pic is a top priority.
Still, Sundance has attracted an inordinate number of the industry's high fliers this year, from Tom Freston to Gareth Wigan and Scott Stuber, and Rice's absence on the scene has been notable. After all, "Napoleon" and "State" have made companies rethink their business plans.
But Searchlight's structure is unique in the indie world in that it has a team of vets that can make big buys on the fly even without Rice around.
"We are fully capable of buying on our own (without Rice), if either of us is really passionate" about a film, said Searchlight distribution topper Stephen Gilula. Marketing head Nancy Utley "and I operate as a team. And we want to be in the $7 million or $8 million or $9 million bidding range."
Sans Rice, Searchlight still has 10 execs on hand here, including Fox senior veep of acquisitions Tony Safford and Searchlight exec veep Claudia Lewis, in addition to Utley.
But after last year, in which it was so active, Searchlight's name hasn't come up on too many rumored lists of bidders. Gilula explains that the company, which has "Sideways" vying for an Oscar as best pic, has the luxury of buying only when it wants to.
"A film really has to fit the particular profile and particular personality" of a company, he said. "There's no pressure or compulsion to buy something every year."
Searchlight execs did, however, say they had been interested in Pierce Brosnan starrer "The Matador," which sold to Miramax.
Searchlight was one of the fest's few distribs not to go get its wallet out after screening Craig Brewer's "Hustle & Flow." As the execs from rival studios huddled together with looks of anxiety, strategizing after the film unspooled, Gilula was seen casually walking out of the theater.
Though Searchlight has a very hot hand, its forte has not been in releasing such urban-skewed film fare when it's R-rated. The company's DMX starrer "Never Die Alone" was one of its few missteps.