Joel Wayne has found a way to deal with the age-old rift between studio execs and the creative community. He hangs out on both sides of the fence.
“I work for Warner Bros. and I have an affinity for people here at the studio,” Wayne says. “But my heart belongs to the creative community. That’s what sets me apart.”
Connecting equally with directors, stars and studio bosses has helped Wayne enjoy a successful 22-year stint at Warners, where he serves as exec veep of creative advertising. High points include his campaigns for “Batman,” “The Fugitive,” “Lethal Weapon” and “The Bodyguard.”
In recognition of that estimable run from “Altered States” to the upcoming “A.I.,” he will be honored at this week’s ShoWest as the inaugural recipient of the Achievement in Motion Picture Advertising Award.
Born in Manhattan, Wayne displayed talent as an artist early. By 16, he already was working as a freelance animator. Drawn to the dynamic visuals found in the ad world, he joined Grey Advertising as an underling, setting type and assisting artists.
After just two years, his skills earned him a promotion to creative director, a post he retained for 17 years and during which he won dozens of Clio Awards for campaigns plugging a range of products.
In 1979, he was offered an opportunity to bring his adman’s aesthetic to Hollywood.
“They wanted a Madison Avenue sensibility because movies had become by that time increasingly TV-driven and the use of market research was also more and more common,” Wayne recalls.
A lifelong movie buff, Wayne enthusiastically made the transition. His early training in art and advertising enabled him to offer something different to the frequently conservative major studio film-selling game.
The first sign of that approach was his work on 1981’s “Chariots of Fire.” The original trailer features the now-classic slow-motion footage of runners running along the beach, but instead of narration, Wayne showcased the music composed by Vangelis.
“Today,” Wayne cracks, “that trailer would be, ‘The heartwarming story of champions who beat the odds.’ But we went with just the music. And it worked.”
“Chariots” went on to win a picture Oscar.
The key to developing such unique strategies, Wayne avers, is to meet with a director early in the process.
“As soon as a movie is greenlit, I will ask whoever’s in charge, ‘What gets you excited about this material? What turns you on?”
On “A.I.,” for example, Wayne strategized with Steven Spielberg with such alacrity that the director had approved a one-sheet and teaser trailer just two weeks after shooting began.
Plenty of media accounts portray directors or stars as meddling too much with the marketing process. Helmers such as Michael Mann and Paul Thomas Anderson have become known for having final say on all marketing materials, many of which they design themselves.
Far from disliking such hands-on helmers, the loquacious Wayne actually prefers dealing with people whose passion for the material equals his own.
“Sometimes you yell back and forth,” he shrugs. “But in the end I am always rooting for the movie to succeed. That’s how I’ve bonded with so many directors.”
A successful ad campaign, Wayne notes, must share the style and point of view of the film itself.
“I can’t cheat a movie. People are too smart for that,” Wayne says. “You can’t tell the whole story in the trailer. You can’t sell a genre picture as the greatest movie ever. If I do that and someone goes in and doesn’t enjoy it, that’s going to be one bitter audience member. But if I just level with them and find a way to get them to the movie theater, then I’ve done my job.