The film business might not be based in New York, but this summer the premiere business is.
The majority of major preems have already, or will, take place in Gotham this summer: “Madagascar” in May; “Bewitched,” “War of the Worlds,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and “Dark Water” in June; “Fantastic Four,” “The Island” and “Wedding Crashers” in July.
“This is the biggest year I’ve ever seen for premieres in New York,” said L.A.-based event planner Jeffrey Best. “But at least we’ve still got the award-season events out here.”
A few mega-films have a slew of openings (“The Lord of the Rings” had more premieres than it had elves). But studio belt-tightening means that usually the premiere is either in L.A. or New York — not both.
If a New York-preeming film has another red carpet event in Los Angeles, as there was Monday for “War of the Worlds” this is usually labeled a “special screening,” which doesn’t trigger the premiere contract clause whereby talent and family have to be flown in.
“Everything is cyclical,” said Universal special projects senior veep Hollace David. “And this year it just made sense to premiere a lot of movies in New York.”
Publicists at various studios say there are usually three reasons for premiering in Gotham.
- The talent either lives or works in Manhattan. “Bewitched” director Nora Ephron lives there and star Nicole Kidman is on location with “Fur.”
- It’s where the film is set, which is essentially the case with “War of the Worlds” and “Fantastic Four,” which will be the first preem ever held on Liberty Island.
- If European-based actors are available for a short window, New York is logistically easier than L.A. “The Island” is set on the West Coast, but that factor is trumped by the fact that stars Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are both working in the U.K. The shorter flight to New York was better for their scheduling.
Event organizers say each coast has its advantages: L.A. has more large theaters while New York has more large, party-suitable venues. Hold a premiere in L.A. and travel costs are reduced, since most talent and execs are there; launch in New York and it’s easier getting stars around the morning talkshow circuit.
Easier street closure
On the upside for L.A., it’s easier to arrange the red-carpet setup, which usually involves a street closure. In New York, “It’s World War III if you want to close a lane,” one planner said.
At the Tribeca Film Festival’s opening-night of “The Interpreter” in April, the combined power of everyone from Robert De Niro on down couldn’t close 54th Street facing the Ziegfeld Theater. Organizers settled for one lane.
And the 1,162-seat Ziegfeld is pretty much the only location for a single-screen house in Manhattan. (The single-screen Beekman, with only 510 seats, closed last Sunday.) The alternatives are multiplexes (which studios avoid because of cross traffic from other auditoriums); or setting up your own screen, which is what Sony did when it premiered “Hitch” on Ellis Island in February.
Studio planners say there might be more use soon of the Skirball Center’s 850-seat theater at NYU, and the Museum of Natural History’s 926-seat LeFrak Theater, which Fox used last summer for “The Day After Tomorrow.”
One studio exec pointed out one advantage of a New York preem: “There can be sameness to doing premieres in L.A. You see the same 500 people over and over.”
Gotham’s fresh faces
However, those familiar L.A. faces are at least famous. In New York, there’s a paucity of big-name celebrity guests: “Today” show weatherman Al Roker is greeted by the press as though he’s Leonardo DiCaprio.
On the other hand, instead of having the usual agents and managers who populate L.A. preems, in New York there’s a chance to invite the editors of weekly magazines (and their corporate bosses), which keeps relationships warm and — some publicists think — results in additional photo coverage.
On the all-important subject of costs, it’s agreed that New York prices are higher, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the premiere tab is more.
“You just spend the money differently,” one studio planner said. “I don’t have a bigger budget. I spend more on food and drink in New York, but I don’t have as big a decor and entertainment package. And I’m usually going into an existing venue rather than creating something from scratch in a parking lot.”
Consider party costs at two museums on opposite coasts: NYC’s MoMA rents for $50,000; L.A.’s Hammer goes for $25,000. Arts lovers may say you get what you pay for, but these costs are just for space, not the quality of art inside.
Gotham’s turn on the premiere cycle won’t end with the summer, either: “King Kong” — likely to be a gargantuan bow — will preem this December in Manhattan.