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Marketing for the gold

Part of the 79th Academy Awards Commemorative Poster

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: We're smack in the middle of the awards season for movies. You may have noticed the very large ads for films in your local paper. The ads say things like "On over 200 Critics list of Best Films of the Year" and so on. Studios are hoping that Oscar or Golden Globe wins will translate into more money at the box office, but does it really work that way? Mike Speier is the Managing Editor for the Daily Variety. Welcome Mike.

MIKE SPEIER: Hi How are you?

THOMAS: These ads can be pretty ridiculous. I mean, does it really matter how many critics' lists a film is on?

SPEIER: Let's put it this way: It's better than being on none of them. And when it comes to marketing, you want anything that can help your movie look special and that's the way they do it.

THOMAS: So being on 200 lists is just really cool I guess.

SPEIER: It's really cool and it's something to make a huge poster out of and believe it or not, studios wait for this moment. I mean that's what they do all year long and they wait to see what they can push. They can push critics' lists and they can push nominations for awards. And that's what they do.

THOMAS: You've done an unscientific survey of Oscar winners for Best Picture, I think you looked at the box office draw after the nominations and after they won. What'd you find?

SPEIER: What I found is that it does matter. Put aside the movies that came out in the summer that won, something like Braveheart or Forrest Gump because by the Oscars they're not around anymore, and put aside a movie like Lord of the Rings which made all of its money right away you know in the first couple of weeks. What you get is a lot of movies that have openings that are kind of limited box office. They open in 800 theaters or a 1,000 theaters, then they build. They make a decent amount of money, the reviews are good, then the nominations come out and then all of a sudden they expand into theaters and they're able to use that advertising that you're talking about to really promote their movie — and it works. Something like Shakespeare in Love. Something like Million Dollar Baby. Something like Chicago.

THOMAS: Crash?

SPEIER: Crash is a different situation. Crash was out on DVD by the time all of this came around, which is also kind of a nuance to this and that's a very new nuance to all of this.

THOMAS: So what's the formula? If a studio spends X on a film, and it makes Y income, how many Z dollars does it put into marketing for awards in hopes to bring in even more money?

SPEIER: Every movie gets a push. It's contractual. You'll see advertisements for movies that have absolutely no shot because they want to make their stars and their directors very happy and they want to be pushed and let 'em be pushed.

THOMAS: Right.

THOMAS: But, if you advertise something like The Queen, which is a very nice little movie and it didn't cost that much and there's not a lot of money behind it, but it is getting a lot of recognition. So the studio, Miramax, decides at the end of the year, 'well we have a shot and we want to be recognized, let's put X amount of money — it could be millions, it's in the millions — behind trade ads, re-releasing, expanding . . . consumer ads, now they've gotten into it, like the LA Times and the New York Times. Let's get the Oscar voter, the Golden Globe voter into our camp and that's how they do this.

THOMAS: And in Los Angeles, I'm Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend.

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