No longer. In Hollywood today, it's not just a movie any more - it's a gamble of hundreds of millions of dollars and, often, the futures of whole studios hang in the balance. " />

 
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April 18, 1998
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SJP


Marketing of a monster
By JEFF CRAIG


HOLLYWOOD -- It used to be that when things got really nuts in Hollywood - one star wanting 14 assistants, another a separate luxury trailer just for her dog ... another demanding an extra $100,000 to attend a premiere - the collective feeling was: "Grow up, it's only a movie."

No longer. In Hollywood today, it's not just a movie any more - it's a gamble of hundreds of millions of dollars and, often, the futures of whole studios hang in the balance.

This trend has never been more apparent than with the upcoming Sony Tri-Star picture Godzilla, which even the studio's head of marketing admits isn't about entertainment: "This is full-fledged, D-Day warfare," Bob Levin told the Wall Street Journal.

The studio is banking a considerable amount of its future on turning May 20th's Godzilla into a three-picture (or more) franchise that will generate billions of dollars, with more than 150 promotional tie-ins and merchandise. Oh, and maybe make some money at the box office, too.

But since the studio is reportedly spending less money on the movie than its promotion, that promotion has been engineered as if it were crucial to national security.

The creators of the updated Tokyo-stomping lizard (this time it's Manhattan that gets it), Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (who hit it big with ID4), have gone to unprecedented lengths.

Remember that Godzilla trailer you saw in the theatres last year? Fake. Well, not fake in that it wasn't a Godzilla trailer, but the footage doesn't actually appear in the film. The studio has been too afraid to actually release real footage; even scenes shown to industry insiders don't reveal the entire creature.

Director Devlin has personally been in Internet chat rooms and on fan home pages disseminating false rumors about the film.

It's all because of the information age, Devlin says - and if Godzilla gets out before the film, "an entire promotional campaign of $150 million will go down the drain," he told The Associated Press.

As was reported earlier this week, the studio released fake drawings of the new Godzilla to merchandise manufacturers in a sting operation to weed out who could be trusted and who couldn't. Fruit of the Loom, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, failed the test and was dropped from the promotional roster. A toy manufacturer and a freelance sculptor were similarly dropped.

Since then, the lawsuits - or threats of lawsuits - have been flying. A book publisher and even a rival studio's attempt to make fun of Godzilla while promoting one of its own films had lawyers foaming.

Fans of the Godzilla tradition who dare to tread too close to the new franchise on the Internet have also been stamped on.

One fan who leaked an early version of the Godzilla script was hit with a threatening cease-and-desist letter from Sony.

In the spirit of true fandom, he removed the script and instead posted a synopsis ... along with the studio's letter.

Secrets aren't new, of course. The producers of Seinfeld have begged those in the know not to dish on the just-completed final episode. George Lucas has demanded the tightest security on the Star Wars Episode 1 details. But aggressive campaigns are the new trend. Producers of Star Trek 9 and the X-Files movie have also gone beyond security and have instigated campaigns of dis-information - to the point of crafting and leaking entire scripts that are fake - and have ordered their lawyers to shut down fan sites containing any images or sounds.

But the fury with which Sony is guarding Godzilla is unprecedented, says Harry Knowles, who runs a gossip and entertainment news site (Ain't It Cool) that specializes in advance reviews of films, something that enrages the studios.

The Austin, Texas-based Knowles has received his share of nasty missives from Sony for Godzilla postings, but maintains the public's right to know before it gets to the theatre ticket office.

"I attempt to cover all stages of development of the films that you and I look forward to, without the 'studio line' clouding our judgment. Personally, I feel audiences ought to be able to hear if a movie is a turkey ahead of time."

It's one thing to have a surprise, Knowles says, and another to totally manipulate the audience into seeing a movie based on hype alone.

So maybe the Godzilla tactics will work. Or, perhaps, as some fans have been pointing out in chat rooms, it will backfire - just like it did when Warner Bros. tried to keep Batman and Robin under wraps, and a hugely underwhelmed public responded by not going to the film.


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