Online press kits sprouting up

SAVE A TREE: There’s no doubt that one of the biggest wastes of trees is the studio press kit, long a staple of Hollywood publicity departments. Usually 30 or 40 pages in length and filled with information on a movie — along with biographies of the film’s stars and filmmakers — press kits have long been used to promote films before they open.

Years ago, they also came in handy for journalists who were too lazy to write their own stories and would “borrow” a story or two and put their own byline on it. And though press kits have slimmed down considerably from years ago, when studios would send out mountains of paper detailing every facet of a production, they still usually contain enough material to fill a novella.

But in recent years, especially with the advent of the electronic press kit, the paper press kit has fallen on hard times. But, like many other areas in Hollywood affected by the computer chip, that’s about to change, thanks to an innovative company called Hollywood Online.

Hollywood Online’s Stuart Halperin and Steve Katinsky have come up with something they’re billing as the first “interactive press kit.” It isn’t merely press-kit information transferred onto a computer disk. Hollywood Online has come up with imaginative presentations of soon-to-be-released films, which include digital movie trailers, production information and photo images, all in an interesting format that might actually compel a journalist to read one of these things.

Hollywood Online has been around for almost a year. Its first film assignment was Columbia’s “In the Line of Fire.” Among the 16 films the company has turned into interactive press kits are “Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult,””Addams Family Values,””Six Degrees of Separation,””Short Cuts,””The Age of Innocence” and “Philadelphia.”

The information is available to anybody who subscribes to CompuServe or America Online, which makes the interactive press kit a natural for movie promotion — exposure to an audience approaching 4 million.

“From my perspective, the opinionmakers, who constitute the core audience for any movie that’s more on the cutting edge, are the people who spend their days online chatting about movies,” said Fine Line Features president Ira Deutchman. “If you look at the movie areas, you’ll find that these people are talking about movies. The bulletin boards are a means of hitting a wider amount of people. It’s basically costing us next to nothing.”

Additionally, any user of CompuServe or America Online can download the entire press kit and run it on their computer. Once the press kit is downloaded, it can then be copied and given to anybody with a computer — either a Macintosh or a multimedia PC — making the exposure for a film that much farther-reaching.

Each press kit typically takes only about a megabyte of disk space, which makes it an ideal reference tool for journalists or film buffs who don’t want a 25-foot-high stack of press kits littering their offices.

CAREER SWITCH: From the “But what I really want to do is direct” department comes word that acclaimed visual-effects supervisor Bill Mesa has formed his own production company, Flash Film Works. He plans to develop film projects that incorporate many of the state-of-the-art effects he has used on such films as “The Fugitive” and “Fearless,” both of which were done while he was creative director at Introvision.

Mesa left Introvision, where he’d been since 1981, after “The Fugitive.” He’s currently directing “Terminal Force,” a special effects-laden film that’s being produced by his company and Morphosis.

“I was never just a visual-effects person,” said Mesa. “The visual part has to go together with the action. I felt comfortable moving on to directing.”

In addition to picking up the helming reins, Mesa is director of visual effects on Wes Craven’s “A New Nightmare” and is developing several other projects that he’ll direct. Among them are “Trouble in the Tree,” written by Nick Davis, which Mesa calls a “haunted house comedy” in the tradition of “Ghostbusters.”

“My forte is putting actors in troublesome situations,” Mesa said. “I like doing that. It’s a lot of fun seeing your stars in trouble.”

(Andy Marx can be reached on PAGE and CompuServe. His CompuServe number is 70324,3424.)

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