John Hegeman Oversaw Recent Box Office Hits for Studio

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LOS ANGELES ( -- John Hegeman, the marketing executive behind box office hits such as “Saw,” “Crash,” and “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” has resigned from Lions Gate Films. The move marks the second top marketing executive to depart a studio within the last week.
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Just over a year
Mr. Hegeman, who was one of Advertising Age’s recent Entertainment Marketers of the Year, worked at the independent film company for just more than a year as president-worldwide marketing. His most recent success was “Saw II,” a bloody sequel to last year's hit that has made $109 million worldwide, topping the original’s take at the box office.

Lions Gate distributes a mix of teen, urban, genre, art-house and franchise movies, many of them acquired at film festivals and well-suited to the grassroots and guerrilla marketing in which Mr. Hegeman specializes.

Terse statement
The studio released a terse statement, and executives there wouldn’t comment further. “Lions Gate has accepted John Hegeman’s resignation. We wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Mr. Hegeman is expected to leave within days. He did not return calls for comment.

With his resignation, Mr. Hegeman becomes the second top studio marketer to step down within the last week, though under different circumstances. Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group’s head of marketing, Geoffrey Ammer, recently resigned on the heels of a string of disappointing openings, including “Rent” and “Zathura.” Sony has struggled this year, particularly in summer, with expensive duds like “Bewitched,” “XXX: State of the Union” and “Stealth.”

'Blair Witch'
Mr. Hegeman became well-known in marketing circles for his deft handling at Artisan Entertainment of the Internet-centric campaign for “The Blair Witch Project.” The $60,000 movie, shot with handheld cameras in a grainy cinema verite style, pulled in a stunning $140 million in the U.S. and another $110 million internationally.

It’s a challenge to market such low-budget independent fare with minuscule marketing budgets compared to the major studios. Independent Lions Gate spends $1.5 million to $15 million to market its films, while large competitors routinely spend tens of millions.

Targeting a specific audience of taste-makers is the key to success. If a studio marketer can establish a conversation early in the process, the influencers will do a lot of the legwork and take ownership of the movie. “We want them to feel that the success of the picture is just as much about their effort and support as the studio’s,” Mr. Hegeman said this summer.

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