Oren Aviv

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With no big marquee name to sell several movies on his 2003 schedule, Oren Aviv turned to the story as star.

In our celebrity-obsessed culture, a bankable star can do wonders for a campaign, but Mr. Aviv, president of Buena Vista Pictures Marketing, had no such luxury for much of his slate. What he did have was a remake of a `70s comedy, a fish-out-of-water/urban-meets-suburban picture, a book-based story about kids in juvenile detention and a high-risk, big-budget adventure based on a decades-old theme park ride. And, then there was a matter of a little fish tale. Those movies-"Freaky Friday," "Bringing Down the House," "Holes," "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" and the animated "Finding Nemo"-pulled in more than $960 million collectively at the domestic box office and helped buoy the entire Walt Disney Co. conglomerate last year.

"Stars were born or reborn with the success of those movies," Mr. Aviv says. "But that doesn't help us, in terms of creating attention, when we're trying to open the movie initially."

Included in the star-is-born category are Queen Latifah for "Bringing Down the House," Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley in "Pirates of the Caribbean," and Lindsay Lohan in "Freaky Friday."

Among those reborn were Jamie Lee Curtis ("Freaky Friday"), Steve Martin ("Bringing Down the House"), Ellen DeGeneres ("Finding Nemo") and Johnny Depp ("Pirates of the Caribbean," for which he earned an Oscar nomination for best actor).

sells the story

When Mr. Aviv was launching those projects, however, he was focused on selling each story. "You have to mine the concept of the movie when you don't have that lead character to hang your campaign on," says Mr. Aviv, 42. "You have to be as simple and direct as possible."

There were pivotal tactics supporting each film. For "Pirates," the studio staged a roadblock of the movie's trailer across nearly every Disney-owned TV channel. The 21/2-minute spot ran simultaneously across more than a dozen networks in March for the summer-opening film. It was the public's first look at the action adventure, and it created immediate buzz on Web sites and in the entertainment media.

"He finds the unique selling proposition," says Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer of "Pirates of the Caribbean."

The studio chose sneak peeks as a way to build buzz for "Bringing Down the House," with Queen Latifah's production company kicking in some grassroots marketing efforts. Mr. Aviv's team repeated the sneak peeks with "Freaky Friday" and used the Disney Channel extensively to help move the comedy out of a girl-only realm and into an all-family pick. For "Holes," the marketer keyed in on the quirkiness of the story.

Mr. Aviv comes up with creative media concepts and marketing strategies from the earliest point in the movie's life, filmmakers say. "He's very thoughtful about the marketing, and he lives and breathes it," Mr. Bruckheimer says. "His touch is on everything, from the trailers to the print ads to the TV spots."

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