Movies hit big, small screens

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Movie marketers rarely think outside the box in making TV commercials, preferring the formula of short trailers that overload the senses with quick cuts of action or romance but that don't always tell the story.

Now, Viacom's Paramount Pictures is building on a small trend in offering a series of TV spots with some elements of public service announcements for its coming movie, "Hardball." The film, which opens Sept. 14, is about a man who needs to pay his gambling debt by coaching an inner-city Little League baseball team.

Eight commercials feature star Keanu Reeves, as well as some of his young co-stars, talking to the camera in their characters. These scenes, not seen in the film and shot specifically for the commercials, represent about 75% of the time in each spot. The rest of the time is devoted to standard movie footage. The spots are running on venues including Viacom's BET and MTV.

The movie's director, Brian Robbins, directed and co-wrote the commercials, with John Gatins (who co-wrote the screenplay), through his production company, Tollin/Robbins Productions. "It was a very mom-and-pop way to do it," he said. "I think we spent $75,000 on the whole thing."

In a number of spots, the young actors who portray Little Leaguers talk to the camera about what they are going to do when they get famous. They discuss what kind of cars they will get, and what famous actresses they will meet and know. In Mr. Reeves' spot, he discusses how much he wanted to be the coach of the team-much to the ridicule of his players who know about his gambling situation.

"The concept behind the spots, was that ... if I were a documentary filmmaker and I was going to make a documentary, these would be some of the [sound] bites I would have got from them," said Mr. Robbins. "We scripted them that way."

The PSA-focus, said Mr. Robbins, lets the viewer see what the characters are really like-which is why many people go to movies. Typically, potential moviegoers don't get this from movie TV spots.

"Ultimately, you are trying to sell a two-hour movie in 30 seconds of footage, with some voice-over," said Mr. Robbins. "When you are trying to tell a story-driven movie, it's very difficult."

This isn't the first time one of Mr. Robbins' films has had special footage shot for commercials. Mr. Robbins directed "Varsity Blues," produced by MTV and marketed and distributed by sibling Paramount in 1999. Specially shot spots ran on MTV. But MTV, not Mr. Robbins, produced and directed those commercials.

Another MTV-produced film, "Save the Last Dance," released earlier this year by Paramount, also used MTV-created, specially shot TV spots. The film was a surprise hit. Many credit MTV's campaign with helping make young viewers aware of a movie that had two lesser-known stars, Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas.

Movie analysts said these point-of-view commercials are most effective in targeting the much-sought-after young-skewing film crowd-one where MTV has a dominant position.

Still, there is little that tells viewers these commercials are movie commercials. Could that be a problem? "It is still Keanu Reeves talking to you," said Mr. Robbins. "Hopefully you get sucked in."

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