Sony pins hopes on Roberts

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Sony Pictures Entertainment is trying to move past its marketing mistakes as the studio gears up for midsummer.

Having put fictional critic David Manning to rest, Sony has just the remedy to rebuild its stature-a big-time Julia Roberts romantic comedy. She's been a consistent performer in her last few films, regularly ringing up $100 million plus in U.S. box office numbers for "Erin Brockovich," "Notting Hill" and "Runaway Bride."

The new film, "America's Sweethearts" is about how a movie publicist deals with the messy public split of a movie's co-stars and keeps reporters at bay-all while a reclusive director holds the film's print hostage.

One marketing problem Sony faces is that the movie is positioned as an ensemble piece rather than a Julia Roberts movie. For instance, in the poster Ms. Roberts is positioned on the side with Billy Crystal, who co-wrote the film. In the center of the poster is John Cusack and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

The positioning flummoxes some marketing executives. "Why would you do this?" questioned one. "[Ms. Roberts] just came off winning an Oscar. The shorthand for most people for this film should be `the new Julia Robert's movie."'

Another Sony Pictures' effort, "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," is derived from the popular computer game. This digitally animated film focuses on a female scientist who makes a last stand on Earth with the help of a ragtag team of soldiers against an invasion of alien phantoms. Whiz-bang computer-generated imagery and huge explosions target its young male audience.

The movie has been idling near the H$70 level. That could be because the movie materials don't seem to suggest than this film is anything more special that other similarly animated efforts, such as last year's bomb, "Titan A.E."

"If the movie isn't good, you sell the technology," said one marketing executive. "If the movie is about the story, then it should seem more resistant than it is."

Paramount Pictures' "The Score," featuring Robert DeNiro, seems to have hit the right marketing note. Edward Norton, Angela Bassett and Marlon Brando also star in the movie about an aging crook who is conned into one more heist. The movie poster shows an image of a man dangling from a rope in a supposed attempt at a crime. Its tagline: "There are no partners in crime."

"It's an old-fashioned story and [the marketing] looks foundationally solid-a good tag line, and good photos of the two stars," said film marketing consultant John Jacobs. "Paramount does this type of movie very well."

Reese Witherspoon stars in "Legally Blonde," about a blonde Beverly Hills, Calif., sorority queen who gets dumped by her boyfriend and goes back East to try to get him back. No doubt a young female audience is this movie's main target, according to executives. MGM Distribution Co. has done a content and contest deal with Alloy.com, the teen kids Web site, as well as one with Vidal Sassoon, where the winner gets the chance to be a blonde. "The material is cute," said Mr. Jacobs. "But I don't know if it's compelling enough. In the summer there are lot of movies that young girls can go to."

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