Studios try on foreign accents

As o'seas grosses rise, blurbs offer cultural edge

While the U.S. studios’ domestic marketing teams are frantically prepping their summer releases, their international counterparts are likewise engaged — but often they’re crafting a very different sell.

Given the growing value of the international marketplace, it’s become crucial that the majors and many indie distribs find the right campaigns to appeal to specific markets.

Take “Cinderella Man,” which BVI is releasing overseas, starting in Australia, Asia and Latin America in June/July; Universal is handling domestic.

“We’re toning down the over-the-top Americana” of the U.S. campaign, says BVI prexy Mark Zoradi of the Depression-era set Russell Crowe/Renee Zellweger starrer. “We’ll use a much different tone and pace.”

The pic’s boxing elements will be highlighted in Europe, but in markets like Japan the emphasis will be on the saga of an ordinary guy battling to protect his family.

Hitting the right cultural note is particularly important in Japan, the most lucrative market outside North America. The sell for Japan often accentuates pics’ emotional aspects in an effort to attract the prime moviegoing demo: young women.

For example, UIP’s Tokyo office created a trailer, poster and TV spot for “The Terminal” that centered on Tom Hanks’ character’s unfulfilled promise to his father to go to New York to get an autograph; director Steven Spielberg signed off on the campaign.

The payoff: The pic minted $39 million in Japan, more than half its U.S. gross and a hefty contribution to its $139 million overseas B.O.

BVI had an unusual problem when it was marketing “The Incredibles” in South Korea. The country won’t allow red in outdoor ads (because it denotes communism) or black (meaning death), according to BVI VP David Kornblum. So the distrib modified and subdued the colors in the ads.

BVI created several different campaigns for the Pixar toon, emphasizing the comedy in Europe, the action in most of Asia and the emotional family aspects in Japan.

All that work paid off, as “Incredibles” has racked up $370 million internationally, including $50 million in Japan.

“We take a unique approach to nearly every movie in Japan,” says Zoradi. That helps explain why “King Arthur” fetched $18.8 million in Japan out of its $149.2 million international total, and “The Village” made $15.3 million there of its $142.5 million abroad.

With “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” BVI’s campaign addresses the fact that the tome is well known in the U.K. and Australia, but there’s little awareness in most other markets.

Similarly, the marketing materials for Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” recognize that auds outside the U.K. and Oz aren’t as familiar with the property.

“We will introduce the characters and be a bit more linear (than domestic) in telling the story,” says WB Intl. marketing prexy Sue Kroll.

With “Batman Begins,” the challenge facing the studio is that the Batpic franchise traditionally hasn’t resonated as strongly overseas as at home. So the international campaigns will play up the title character as both a tragic and a romantic figure.

“We have a unique opportunity to reinvent the brand,” says Kroll, as well as to connect with folks who had dismissed prior “Batman” films as comicbook-inspired actioners.

Crafting campaigns for overseas isn’t just a matter of tweaking the domestic poster, trailer and TV spots; Kroll says: “We strategize and create campaigns from the beginning.”

Of course, no elements are changed unless the talent approves — and that isn’t always forthcoming. “We have more latitude on some films than others,” says UIP president/chief operating officer Andrew Cripps, referring to rare instances when the filmmakers or thesps reject any rejigs.

UIP is modifying the campaign for “War of the Worlds” in Japan to play up the emotional sell in trailers and TV spots. “We’re emphasizing the Tom Cruise character as an everyday man who is fighting to save his children,” Cripps says. “To be a significant success in Japan, a film needs to attract a large female audience, and our campaign is designed to attract that audience.”

Some indie distribs changed the campaign for “The Aviator” to overcome the fact that Howard Hughes is largely unknown abroad.

“Most distributors felt it necessary for the one-sheet to tell a little more of the story, whether it was through the imagery of a plane, Hollywood glamour or the female cast,” says Schuyler Ha of Initial Entertainment Group, which reps the pic internationally.

For “Million Dollar Baby,” which opened strongly March 11 in South Korea, the local distrib used a teaser poster showing Hilary Swank as a shadowy figure, reinforcing her character’s loneliness and determination. That was followed by the U.S. poster, then a final poster that conveyed more emotion and suspense.

“We needed to soften (Hilary’s) appearance, make her more accessible,” says Robert Burke, VP for worldwide marketing at co-financier Lakeshore Entertainment, who says a similar look will be used in Japan, where the pic launches in June.

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