Strategies on a shoestring

Tailor-made campaigns for a trio of Lions Gate pix hit the B.O. bullseye

Money’s not an issue for Lions Gate’s marketing group, because it’s not an option.

Where studios can draw on big budgets to promote films they believe in, the indie’s execs are forced to rely on creativity. Over the past year, they’ve proved that it can be done with three very different titles: “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “Saw” and “Crash.” All three have seen boffo results, far exceeding expectations.

The marketing team tailored individual approaches for each pic. For “Diary,” based on Tyler Perry’s play of the same name, the marketers created three key art images and staggered the release of each one-sheet.

“We launched the campaign early with the ‘Orchid’ poster, which was a sort of ‘Lady Sings the Blues.’ It could touch Tyler’s core audience, the older African-American women, and let them know it’s a very special movie and we take it seriously,” says Tim Palen, Lions Gate Films’ executive VP of worldwide theatrical marketing.

“Later we followed up with the image of Kimberly Elise with the other characters sort of woven between her hair, which was our attempt to speak to Tyler’s broader audience, the millions of people who see his plays every year. These are his characters and they know them and hopefully they want to see them on the bigscreen.

“Then, closer to release, we harnessed Madea, the drag character, to be our spokesmodel and remind people that this is fun. The process of reminding his core that this is fun also served to broaden the audience in general.

“This three-prong is becoming a standard for us. I also think it’s becoming a bit of a trend in the industry. You’ll see multiple images represent a campaign because you have a short window to cover a lot of territory and speak to a lot of people, especially when you have movies like these that reach diverse groups of people.”

With gruesome thriller “Saw,” Lions Gate created a hub site ( specifically for the worldwide rollout (via Lions Gate Films Intl.). The site puts visitors in predicaments found in the movie, asking them what they would do. The type across the screen asks, “How fucked up is that?”

“It really took off. The fans found it and it became sort of viral,” says Palen. “It served to let people know that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill exploitation movie. This movie delivers blood and gristle. There’s a huge market for that.”

At a screening for “Saw” in Las Vegas, an audience member didn’t rate the movie “excellent” but still said he would definitely recommend it. When asked why, he responded, “Because the shit is the shit.” It became a “fight song” for the marketing team, according to Palen.

So in addition to the hub site, Lions Gate created some gory posters and serviced those to comicbook and horror conventions, and comicbook stores. “There were people on eBay selling them for crazy amounts of money,” says Palen. “Then we did a mainstream campaign that was still hard-edged. We knew the way that people embraced the movie we could sell it to both, but we first had to let the core know ‘the shit was the shit.’ ”

Although its Internet spending pales in comparison with that of the major studios, Lions Gate has few peers in making the tech work for it.

“Our goal is not to drive traffic to our site, and that’s really changed in the business since ‘Blair Witch,’ ” says John Hegeman, prexy of worldwide marketing at Lions Gate Entertainment (who, under the same title at Artisan, won acclaim for the company’s use of the Internet in marketing “the Blair Witch Project”).

“We look to build relationships with the genre sites out there — for ‘Saw’ it’s the horror sites, for ‘Diary’ the more faith-based sites. It’s easy to find sites and areas online that are your target audience. Then we try to create promotions with the groups, and get the material to those places that already exist and where it is going to be appreciated.”

For “Crash,” which Lions Gate acquired at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2004, the distrib launched an early and aggressive screening program. Based on the buzz generated, the marketing team focused on keeping the film alive in the minds of those who’d seen and heard about the movie.

“We created a visual campaign we called ‘Moments,’ ” says Palen. “We just reminded those people of the moments in the film that touched them. The main image was Michael Pena holding his daughter in his arms, which we used in theaters. For the outdoor, we used Matt Dillon embracing the woman (Thandie Newton) he pulled from the burning car, after the most emotional scene in the movie. We echoed that everywhere.”

Lions Gate’s marketing team is hesitant to share future marketing ideas, for proprietary reasons and because strategies vary film to film. One tidbit they will allow is that they may be enlisting the help of the fine arts community for upcoming thriller “Hard Candy.”

“We showed the film to a prominent fine artist who has a show and gallery in Beverly Hills and we’re thinking of giving her a budget and letting her mind loose to create images for the movie,” says Palen. “Whatever we can do to help spread the message in a respectable way.”

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