Studios play it safe in reaction to FTC

Document creates waves throughout the industry

Monday’s Federal Trade Commission report was such a hot potato that most studio marketing execs lobbed requests for reactions into the laps of corporate spokesmen, who in turn clammed up on the subject.

“One reason nobody will comment is that it’s hard to defend against the truth,” said an exec at one major studio, who declined to offer a single word on the record.

The voluminous FTC document slams Hollywood for wooing young people in marketing of movies, music and videogames that are inappropriate for their age. Among other things, the agency charges that studio marketers have been using networks like MTV and youth-oriented magazines to attract patrons younger than 18 to R-rated movies.

“Thank heaven for the First Amendment,” said Sid Ganis, former head of worldwide marketing for Sony’s Columbia Pictures and now a producer based at the studio. “That said, as Thomas Paine wrote, ‘Freedom does come with responsibility.’ ”

Ganis was one of the few Hollywood honchos willing to speak on the record. “We know young kids are easily influenced; therefore, we have to check our responsibility over and over. Most of us know right from wrong, inappropriate from appropriate. Some few, however, don’t.”

One studio insider noted that the majors are reluctant to speak individually, preferring to wait for Wednesday’s testimony in Washington from Motion Picture Assn. of America head Jack Valenti.

In a typical response Monday, Warner Bros. officials declined to comment. They cited a gag order from the highest corporate levels, pending a thorough review of the FTC report.

Digesting

“This is a very large and important document, and we need time to review it,” a Universal spokeswoman said in explaining why worldwide marketing president Marc Shmuger wouldn’t be available to comment. “We intend to give it the time and attention it deserves.”

DreamWorks spokesman Andy Spahn said, “We just received the report, and it will take a while to go through it before we can have any reaction.”

Similarly, Fox, MGM, New Line and Sony declined comment.

A spokesman for Miramax, which drew media scrutiny this summer for its bawdy hit “Scary Movie,” said execs were still evaluating the FTC report Monday and could not comment.

When “Scary Movie” was released this summer, Miramax co-topper Bob Weinstein raved to the New York Times about the pic’s tracking. He mentioned the film’s appeal to young teens, even though the film was rated R.

He cited key percentages indicating whether the movie was a viewer’s “first choice.” “For males under 14, we’re 24%; for females in that age group, we’re 29,” Weinstein was quoted as saying. “For the same two categories, ‘Perfect Storm’ was 9 and 9. For all teenagers, ‘Patriot’ was 9. ‘Perfect Storm’ was 5. We’re 34.”

Parental consent

While the FTC could take such comments as proof that Hollywood is targeting inappropriate audiences, the fact is that many young people are able to see R-rated films — often because parents willingly bring young teens and even toddlers to such pics.

Ganis emphasized Hollywood’s sense of responsibility. His Out of the Blue Prods. created last year’s Rob Schneider laffer, “Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo.” Ganis was quick to point out that Disney recut “Deuce” five times in an attempt to secure a PG-13 rating.

Despite the bid for PG-13, Ganis said, the picture received an R rating. “And we were fine with that,” he said. (The pic went on to gross a strong $65.5 million domestically.) “But it’s important to stress that the ratings process, the warning process and the self-governing method are all sound. It may be parents and kids are too familiar with the implementation process, and it needs some bells and whistles.”

After the R tag, Ganis said, “the whole ad campaign had to change in order to avoid advertising to kids who’d never be old enough to see the movie.

“Those station-by-station, network-by-network restrictions are solid, and cannot be cracked. In the end, it’s up to us to do the right thing as business people, artists and, finally, as parents.”

(Dade Hayes contributed to this report.)

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