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Top pic praisers score beyond entertainment section

The biggest ace a film publicity campaign can draw is landing press outside the entertainment pages.

And last year, Fox played its cards to perfection, putting its bad-weather-themed f/x film, “The Day After Tomorrow,” in the middle of the election-year debate on global warming.

Prior to the film’s Memorial Day release, the Bush White House had quietly ordered NASA scientists not to speak to media outlets seeking comment as to the film’s plausibility.

Far from ducking controversy, Fox turned the White House strategy on its head, and put its movie in the national news cycle in the process.

When former Vice President Al Gore asked to use the film’s trailer during his speeches on global warming, Fox not only accommodated that request, it scheduled a special screening for him. Within days, not only was Gore touting “The Day After Tomorrow” as the film the Bush White House didn’t want Americans to see, liberal activist group MoveOn was passing out pamphlets on climate change outside theaters.

USA Today soon ran a headline screaming, ” ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ heats up political debate.”

“It became newsworthy, as we knew it would be,” says

Jeffrey Godsick, Fox executive VP of marketing.

But the Fox publicity team didn’t stop at the local news. Weathermen from Fox TV affiliates and O&Os were brought to an ice house for a screening of the film. They were also given clips from “The Day After Tomorrow” to use during their reports.

All of this, of course, had an impact at the box office. The film grossed nearly $86 million during its first weekend of release.

Not surprisingly, “The Day After Tomorrow” was one of the six feature films nominated this year by Hollywood union publicists for the Maxwell Weinberg Showmanship Award.

Repped through the Intl. Cinematographers Guild after a merger three years ago, the praisers also nominated publicity campaigns for Paramount’s “Mean Girls,” Disney/Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” Warner’s “The Polar Express,” Universal’s “Ray” and Sony’s “Spider-Man 2.” Winners will be announced at the 42nd annual Publicists Awards luncheon Feb. 22 at the Beverly Hilton.

The award honors publicists who devise memorable campaigns that elevate their films beyond the entertainment section.

“The goal was to get beyond entertainment coverage but also to create as close to 100% awareness as you can, says publicists guild board member Henri Bollinger, who also handles the org’s PR.

Dogged perseverance counts too.

Faced with middling early box office results, an unfavorable comparison to “The Incredibles” and an onslaught of negative reviews, the Warner Bros. publicity team didn’t shut down the engines on “The Polar Express.”

Warner publicists continued to screen the film even after its premiere, choosing family-oriented places like military bases.

A 3-D version of the film was opened in select Imax theaters, where the CGI pic’s innovative motion-capture technology captured more press.

And just as Fox had used liberal activist groups to its advantage for “The Day After Tomorrow,” Warner turned to religious conservatism, touting the faith-affirming themes of the G-rated “Polar Express” to church leaders and even screening it for them in some cases.

The result was that rare movie with legs. After taking in $30 million during its Nov. 10 premiere week, “The Polar Express” built momentum through the holidays. It had grossed more than $160 million through January.

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