Will Miramax's 'Chicago' roadmap be studied?

“Give ‘em the old razzle-dazzle,” goes the song from “Chicago,” and it’s a fitting mantra for the way Miramax marketed the movie musical to the tune of $170 million, the highest-grossing movie in the mini-studio’s history.

One key element to the film’s success was its 2002 Golden Globe wins, including best picture (musical/comedy), a strategic positioning for promoting the film’s visibility.

“I think the Golden Globes really helped,” says Miramax exec VP of publicity Cynthia Swartz. “Clearly they helped the film’s box office, and winning any award increases a film’s profile in the Oscar race.”

In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer that a sexy spectacle about girls, guns, gin and all that jazz would wow critics and audiences alike. But the film — based on the cult 1975 Bob Fosse legit tuner — was deemed too cynical in its day and, despite a successful Broadway concert revival that’s still playing, there were no assurances that a period movie musical, populated with irredeemable characters, would strike it big.

” ‘Moulin Rouge’ blazed trails for us,” says Rick Sands, chief operating officer of Miramax. “But they had Baz Lurhmann, they had more modern songs. We had a period musical. We rose to the occasion with very careful marketing and a very specific release pattern.”

Initially, based on marketing research, the audience for “Chicago” was fairly limited to females over 25. And, says Sands, it took a concerted effort to get a wider, younger audience base; that effort included exploiting the film’s diverse marketing elements.

“We had to put over that it was a cool movie,” he says. “We very carefully chose the release strategy, the theaters we wanted to show it in, the expansion of the market, the campaign to be as true to the movie, but making it cool. So it ended up playing to everyone.”

“The first trailer they sent out really downplayed the singing and dancing and played up the sex, sin and attitude of the movie, and these great-looking stars,” recalls Susan Wloszczyna, a film reporter for USA Today, who wrote about the film’s meteoric rise in a series of articles. “The period flapper costumes looked more like lingerie from Victoria’s Secret. And they cast Queen Latifah, Mya and Taye Diggs, giving it some street cred.”

With eight nominations and three wins — for actor Richard Gere, supporting actress Catherine Zeta-Jones and picture (musical/comedy) — “Chicago” dominated the Golden Globes telecast.

Over the years, Miramax has been celebrated and criticized for the aggressive awards marketing campaigns. In the case of “Chicago,” the film’s storyline is as much about salesmanship as it is about sex and sizzle — making it a perfect fit for the studio.

“Miramax knows how to play the media and so did the people in the movie,” says Wloszczyna. ” I think the irony of that didn’t escape too many people.”

Over the years, Miramax has been celebrated and criticized for the aggressive awards marketing campaigns. In the case of “Chicago,” the film’s storyline is as much about salesmanship as it is about sex and sizzle — making it a perfect fit for the studio.

“Miramax knows how to play the media, and so did the people in the movie,” says Wloszczyna. “I think the irony of that didn’t escape too many people.”

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