Studios downsize pic preem plans

Security anxieties are putting a damper on the holiday season’s traditionally splashy pic premieres.

In fact, many studio execs wonder whether the age of the lavish “Pearl Harbor”-style event ended Sept. 11.

Since that day, many of the most high-profile New York preems have been canceled altogether while a large number of those that have moved forward are scaled-back micro-affairs.

Miramax has toned down some of its events, adjusting plans, according to publicity co-topper Dennis Higgins, “so that everything is done in good taste.” Still, the company will hold hard to its plan to host preems for “The Shipping News” and “Kate and Leopold.” But other studios, especially those headquartered in L.A., continue to scale back.

Universal and Miramax have canceled a Gotham “K-Pax” preem, while Warner Bros.’ highly anticipated “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” will screen at the Ziegfield on Nov. 11 without a party. New Line plans a small-scale preem for “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” on Dec. 13, perhaps turning it into a World Trade Center benefit.

Reluctance to fly

Jeff Hill of publicity firm Falco, which handles many of the city’s preems, says he has been trying to figure out a way to turn some of the preems into benefits. But, he said, the biggest obstacle for organizers of Gotham preems is that talent living in Los Angeles doesn’t want to head east.

Drew Barrymore recently elected not to travel to Gotham for the preem of Sony’s “Riding in Cars With Boys,” and Ben Stiller preferred to have one Los Angeles preem for Paramount’s “Zoolander.” Other preems nixed in Gotham were the scheduled Sept. 23 gala of Fox’s “Don’t Say a Word” and the Oct. 10 benefit for MGM’s “Bandits,” as well as a preem for Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tennenbaums,” which was moved to L.A. by Disney.

“We will have to get past these fears, and these threats will have to subside before any L.A.-based talent feels comfortable coming in,” said Hill, who notes the WTC attacks, anthrax and the war have all created an atmosphere of uncertainty.

Publicist Peggy Siegal acknowledged how fear has gripped the biz and how much ancillary businesses have been affected. Hotels, catering companies, florists, limousine services and security agencies have all lost income due to fewer and smaller preems.

“I think that the film industry is waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Siegal said. “The studios and premiere planners are being very conservative. They are not making a lot of noise socially, which doesn’t mean they are not supporting their films in terms of advertising dollars.”

Several instead of one

Siegal notes that instead of coordinating one big preem for a pic, which could attract a lot of attention, the recent trend has been to host several smaller events.

“We are doing smaller things,” she said. “We have four to six small screenings, with 100 to 150 people invited per night. You invite industry people, the media elite, columnists, photographers. You’re still getting coverage for a film, but it’s spread out over a month rather than a night.”

Out west, it’s the same idea.

Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven” was originally set to preem with Rat Pack-style fanfare at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. But the studio has scrapped those plans, moving the launch to L.A. Details of the screening and party have yet to be finalized.

Warners has also downsized the preem for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The pic was slated to unspool Nov. 4 in London’s Leicester Square with a gala celebration to follow. The event, still set for London, has been trimmed to a screening plus a dinner for the cast.

New Line’s “Lord of the Rings,” meanwhile, is still skedded for a glitzy world premiere in London Dec. 10 at the Odeon Theater in Leicester Square. The screening will be followed by a party at the Docklands near the Tower of London.

And while scaling back may save the studios a buck or two, the downsizing might make it more difficult for high-stakes year-end releases to get an early Oscar foothold.

The backtracking this holiday season is a far cry from the all-out promo pushes of recent times. Last November, Universal created a winter wonderland for the “Grinch” preem, replete with green-carpet snowball fights. A few months later, Disney’s “Pearl Harbor” launch in Hawaii set a new standard for hype and hoopla.

This year, though, studios are trying to be sensitive to worrying world events — and they certainly stand to save money at the same time.

As Universal exec veep Terry Curtin put it, “That money would often be better spent in media, where you can target the right audience with the right message.”

Fox’s “From Hell” and U’s “K-Pax” are two recent examples of a growing trend: Both were front-loaded events, featuring red-carpet arrivals and screenings but just intimate dinners.

(Dana Harris contributed to this report.)

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