Here's what seems like a formula for failure: Take a costume drama of epic proportions, blend in a story line that hasn't been used successfully since Dwight Eisenhower was president, use no top-tier stars and sprinkle with a production budget of only $100 million.
And what did DreamWorks SKG get? "Gladiator," which has snared $440 million in worldwide box office receipts. At the time of "Gladiator's" May 2000 release, director Ridley Scott was the film's only major star and he was behind the camera. Russell Crowe, playing the Roman general-turned-gladiator, was just beginning to become synonymous with the role of reluctant hero in American cinema after turns in "L.A. Confidential" and "The Insider."
Among the real-life heroes that made "Gladiator" a winner are DreamWorks' marketing team led by Terry Press, who shaped a combined marketing/Oscar campaign budget of $30 million-plus into a powerful tool to support the sword and sandal epic, a "Ben-Hur" for the new millennium.
The 41-year-old head of marketing at DreamWorks has had her share of hits and misses in her 20-year career, but "Gladiator" takes a prominent spot on Ms. Press' trophy shelf along with "Chicken Run" and "What Lies Beneath," two other $100 million-plus films.
Ms. Press is a reluctant hero. "I want you to know I am doing this interview under protest," she asserts. "Whatever has been done right has been done by the entire marketing team. ... I'm only one part of it."
Plus, Ms. Press notes, "Gladiator" sold itself because it was a compelling story executed well.
But sending "Gladiator" out to theaters without savvy, well-timed marketing support would have been as been as ill-advised as putting the saga's central hero Maximus in the arena without his sword.
"With `Gladiator,' for much of the moviegoing public it was still Russell who? And how many chainmail movies do well? This campaign definitely falls into the category of accomplishments," says Oren Aviv, president of Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista Pictures Marketing. "They played to romance for the women and action for the men."
The Disney executive's praise carries even more weight since Ms. Press and her boss, DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, are Disney alums who left the Mouse house under acrimonious circumstances.
DreamWorks' first teaser advertising for "Gladiator" broke as a trailer during Christmas '99. That was followed in January 2000 by a single TV commercial airing during ABC's Super Bowl XXXIV. DreamWorks Creative Director David Sameth, who Ms. Press considers a creative genius, intercut TV spots between football footage and "Gladiator" fight scenes. He also cut similar spots to air during the NCAA basketball finals in March and hockey games.
Credit Ms. Press for pushing Mr. Katzenberg after he balked at the idea of the Super Bowl spot. It was very expensive-a number she would not reveal. GSD&M, Chicago, handles TV media buying.
"I said, `Look, Jeffrey, I will never again get 30 million male eyeballs focused on this movie. This is one shot.' "
Mr. Katzenberg assented.
The two movie executives go back more than a decade together. During the 14 years Ms. Press has worked for Mr. Katzenberg, the duo have enjoyed an unwavering employer/employee bond and a fiercely loyal friendship, unrivaled by industry colleagues.
Mr. Katzenberg gave Ms. Press away at her wedding (her father is deceased). The wedding and the baby shower for her twins were held at Mr. Katzenberg's Beverly Hills home.
"I have worked for the same person for 14 years, and in this business, I am lucky," Ms. Press says. "I am lucky because I can do my job ... one simply doesn't find this kind of working relationship easily ... a relationship where you can feel secure for the most part, in being able to really do your job well."
STARTED AT DISNEY
Ms. Press joined Disney in 1987 as a publicity staff writer for Buena Vista Pictures Marketing, eventually shooting up the ladder to senior VP-marketing. It was there, in the mecca of marketing for commercial movies, that she met Mr. Katzenberg and became grounded as a marketing maven.
Diana Loomis, DreamWorks' head of publicity, who is based in New York, watched Ms. Press hone her skills when the two worked together at Disney. She describes her friend and colleague as "someone whom everyone seems to have an opinion about. Many people don't realize the extent of her influence on our side of the business."
When Mr. Katzenberg unhappily departed Disney after a long reign as studio head and a longtime friendship with Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, Ms. Press left with him as he partnered with Steven Spielberg and music mogul David Geffen to create DreamWorks in 1994.
Ms. Press came aboard, bringing many of her colleagues with her. "Terry has always been a talented partner," Mr. Katzenberg says, "but now she has really come into her own. She has developed an unerring instinct of how to put movies into the world, whether they are a big Hollywood spectacle or a film like `American Beauty.' ... They don't have a miss."
"I worked with Terry Press at Disney. The only word to describe her is `great,' " says Joe Roth, the former Disney studio chief who now operates Revolution Studios.
Tom Sherak, Mr. Roth's partner at Revolution and a former marketing rival at Twentieth Do-mestic Film Group, says of Ms. Press: "I believe she is one of the best marketers out there. She has no pretense."
"What's great about her is that she has a point of view and she's not afraid of stating it," says Joel Wayne, Mr. Sameth's creative counterpart at Warner Bros. Studios. "Most people [in marketing] don't take a point of view."
Put another way, Ms. Press is "no bullshit," says director/producer Ivan Reitman. The two butted heads on the upcoming DreamWorks film "Evolution."
"We disagreed on one shot [from the film] that she wanted to use in a trailer. I told her no. She said, `Look, I'm going to use it in the ShoWest [trade show] piece whether you like it or not.' " He lost. She won.
Mr. Reitman learned to trust Ms. Press after his first venture with DreamWorks-"Road Trip."
"That was a movie where the marketing cost twice as much as the film because it was directed by an unknown with unknown actors making their debut," Mr. Reitman recalls.
"And we were trying to compete in the summer marketplace. You can't ignore the impact of marketing on movies like that."