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It took several stabs at finding the right positioning, but Miramax Films has found a marketing approach for its unlikely hit "Sling Blade": focusing on its unlikely celebrity star, Billy Bob Thornton.

In a year where the Oscar nominations are dominated by independent films, "Sling Blade" stands out in Hollywood marketing circles because of the struggle its marketing-savvy studio has had in finding the proper positioning. Now, buzz is building behind the movie, largely because of the performance by Mr. Thornton, the film's director, writer and star.


After 110 days in the theaters, the film has grossed $4.8 million, a success in relation to cost. But Miramax believes it can play to a broader audience. The studio, which handles advertising in-house, intends to ramp up its TV advertising this week in advance of the Academy Awards on March 24. Last weekend, Miramax expanded the film into 800 theaters, up from 270.

Initially, the Walt Disney Co. unit had modest-at-best expectations for "Sling Blade," a film about a mentally impaired man who is discharged from a mental hospital 25 years after murdering his mother and her lover.

With no stars to boast of, newspaper ads for the film were somewhat ambiguous, merely touting reviews and a profile shot of the film's main character, played by Mr. Thornton. Miramax struggled to isolate the driving force behind the movie's durability. "We went through eight or nine different attempts, starting with a 'quality film' positioning," said Mark Gill, Miramax president of marketing.


Finally, research showed consumers were going to the movie mostly because of the word-of-mouth buzz about Mr. Thornton's performance. Mr. Gill found the research to be surprising, "because it's very rare for a film to do well solely because of a performance."

In early February, Miramax retooled its ads to trumpet Mr. Thornton's performance, which mirrored Miramax's aggressive trade campaign promoting Mr. Thornton for Oscar consideration. When the film snared two nominations for Mr. Thornton, Miramax took the campaign to TV.

But the fine-tuning continued. Oscar nominations generated much publicity for Mr. Thornton, and as a result Miramax is now marketing the film to women and older consumers; media buys were made on morning network news shows and

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