By Published on .

Marketing a movie is like drawing some poor-quality geometry, according to Arthur Cohen. He calls this job "the theory of the incomplete circle."

"A circle that is completely drawn is less interesting that one that's two-thirds drawn," says Mr. Cohen, president of worldwide marketing for the motion picture group of Paramount Pictures. "Your eye causes you to want to complete the circle. And if you do that you become involved in the circle. And then you may spend seven dollars to go see [a film]. But the trick is how much to let out."


Sketching the right size circles is Mr. Cohen's metaphor for revealing the appropriate amount of film material to tease consumers -- whether through one-sheet film posters, movie trailers or TV commercials. This past year, Mr. Cohen has been drawing a number of perfectly imperfect circles.

Paramount had a wildly successful 1998, landing in a strong second place in market share with 15.8% to Walt Disney Co.'s 16%, according to Paramount. It finished the year with $1.08 billion in U.S. box office revenue, just slightly behind Disney's $1.1 billion.

Better still, its fortunes rocketed 48% in 1998 over the year before -- the highest increase of any major fully-operational studio.

That's not all.

"We did it with almost 40% fewer movies," says Mr. Cohen.

Paramount had 13 releases vs. the Disney unit Buena Vista Pictures' 22, which gave Paramount an industry-leading $89 million per box-office release -- far and away the top in Hollywood.


"Titanic," the colossal megahit, accounted for a big share of Paramount Pictures' bottom-line success last year. But Mr. Cohen doesn't take much credit for that.

Instead, he says the film's director, James Cameron, was the real star, giving him a perfectly positioned film to sell: a love story targeted to women, which was wrapped around an action-adventure movie appealing to men.

In getting this dual-audience, Paramount and its studio partner, 20th Century Fox, reaped major kudos from the Hollywood community, 11 Oscars, as well as co-ownership of the "Titanic" title as the new box-office champion with $1.2 billion in receipts worldwide.


Paramount's story was more than marketing just big hits last year; rather it was a tale of launching its more modest slate of movies and reaping significant-revenue opening weekends.

"You have to be able to do it every three weeks," says Mr. Cohen. "It's a combination of hitting the long ball and getting singles."

Paramount's successful films included "Deep Impact," which had an opening weekend of $41 million and eventually grossed $140.5 million, and "The Truman Show," which pulled in $31 million during its first weekend period and ended up with $125.6 million.

Down the list were other films that scored strong opening week-ends: "Star Trek: Insurrection" ($22 million), "Rugrats" ($27 million), "Snake Eyes" ($16 million), and even "A Night at the Roxbury" ($9.5 million).

Delivering these movies, Mr. Cohen says, is becoming more complicated because audiences are more sophisticated with all the multimedia marketing coming at them.

For instance, in advertising for "Deep Impact," the story of a meteor hitting the Earth, Paramount's TV spots took a chance in showing one major key scene -- that of the massive tidal wave that is just about to engulf a skyscraper-filled city.


In a similar vein, the one-sheet poster for "Deep Impact" showed the comet slamming into the Earth.

"We ultimately showed the comet hitting the Earth, because so many of these movies [usually] cop out," he says. "We didn't cop out. It caused people, I believe, to be very curious as to what effect this [comet] might have. I have this theory called `object seen for the first time.' If I can show you something that I have never seen before, you'll be curious."

Working this approach for a number of years, Mr. Cohen has now become one of those rarest breeds in the film industry -- a longtime veteran.

Increasingly, film marketing executives have had short stays -- sometimes just a couple of years -- because of the severe volatility of the business.

Movie marketing can be a no-win business for executives. If a movie does well, many savvy film executives can be quick to say it's because of the quality of the entertainment. However, if it fails, marketing executives, usually can be fingered for the blame.

"You can use the same tricks but it always comes down to the movie," says Mr. Cohen. "It is the star."

Mr. Cohen has been at it nine years -- "It's a world record," he jokes. "I'm too stupid to get promoted, too dumb to get fired."


His previous experience was as exec VP-advertising at Revlon. Mr. Cohen held other marketing and executive positions, including a partnership with theater executive Robert Nederlander as president of Telelst, a division of ABC Video Enterprises, and in running his own ad agency, Lansdowne Advertising.

Unlike other consumer products, which don't change year-to-year, marketing films is a roller-coaster discipline. It's a job Mr. Cohen relishes.

"What I like about marketing a movie is that it is varied, it is always interesting, and you are at the heart of a process that affects millions of

Most Popular
In this article: