Razzle dazzle ’em

Cutting-edge parties set the tone for pix as competition heats up

During award season, generic parties just don’t cut it with the sophisticated showbiz partygoer. And the corporate entities that underwrite industry events require a measurable return on investment.

These factors make competition for cutting-edge event planners fierce — fetes usually are just one part fun and many parts branding and strategy.

The most experienced event planners aim for a signature event where attendees come away with a message or experience that adds to brand buzz.

Most Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences members will declare that parties and promotions don’t influence them, nor can they alter an onscreen performance. However, entertaining remains a large factor in Oscar season strategy.

Consider AMPAS’ numerous regs regarding publicity, promotion and receptions, spelled out by a committee with a hint of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Rules even specify the size and color of screening announcements that can be sent to Acad members.

Among party planners, there are some important basics.

Invitations

Known for his elaborate invites, Creative Intelligence prexy Marc Friedland advises clients to start with a unique invitation that gets people involved before the event, creating an integrated experience.

For Warner Bros.’ “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” benefit premiere, invites came packaged in a chocolate bar, just like Charlie’s golden ticket. “You want to keep the film experience going but not make the event about blatant product placement,” explains Friedland.

Décor

“Glitz and glamour are back with a nightclubbish feel to parties,” says Caravents’ Cara Kleinhaut.

The L.A.-based event planner brings in residential furniture to create conversation areas — everything from shag rugs to low tables with benches for inviting vignettes. Her signature look: cabanas complete with lounge bed, drapery and chandelier.

According to Kleinhaut, Moroccan is out, Indian is in.

Indeed, in September, HBO’s Billy Butchkavitz-designed post-Emmy fete demonstrated Indian style on a stunning scale, complete with imported tabletop mini temples and yards of deep, soft carpets.

Food

The wine country adventures of “Sideways” seamlessly dovetailed into its premiere featuring food and wine from the Hitching Post restaurant, one of the film’s notable locations. “The Skeleton Key’s” Louisiana locale translated into lavish Cajun and Creole buffets at its Universal back-lot premiere.

It’s rare to not be able to connect a film to what will be served at a postscreening reception. Event planner Gary Arabia of Global Cuisine says he often pre-screens a film or views storyboards in order to create an appropriate food and beverage tie-in.

Good news for foodies, Arabia sees the trend toward bolder flavors, textures and spices and Chino-Latino fusion. “It’s not just Mexican and Chinese; there’s a fusion of all Pacific Rim cuisines for broader flavors and colors,” he says.

Entertainment

“What can we do to keep the stars and execs at a premiere longer than 25 minutes?” is one key question Tony Schubert, prexy of Event Eleven, struggles with.

To that end, Schubert says it’s “all about the hook.” He opts for games, activities and entertainment that relate to the pic.

For the “Dukes of Hazzard” premiere, not only did Willie Nelson perform, but scantily clad dancers from Jessica Simpson’s musicvideo joined in. Everyone stayed.

Goodie bags

As events are considered a form of guerilla or viral market-

ing, party favors should be personalized and meaningfully extend brand identity. A bag of random giveaways dilutes an event’s purpose.

DreamWorks’ “Shrek 2” DVD party at Spago ended with a DVD giveaway of the film — ensuring brand buzz that’s to the point.

Sponsorship

The proliferation of corporate logos on red-carpet backdrops amply illustrates a trend toward event costs subsidized via licensing deals, tie-ins and corporate and media partnerships.

“Our specialty is putting the right partnerships in place so that market resources can join together,” says David Manning, co-managing partner of Livestyle Entertainment.

Venue

In Gotham, film events tend to be smaller, with 400-500 guests. Come winter, New York’s event planners lose their outdoor venues, notes Livestyle’s Manning. For L.A. events, where the mindset is “no walking,” locales for screening after-parties tend to be readily accessible — hence the popularity of parking lots. Caravents’ Kleinhaut says she uses a five-minute rule from car to drink in hand.

“When it comes to entertaining, it should really be about achievement,” explains Mark Urman, ThinkFilm’s head of distribution. With art and specialty films, it’s important not to confuse the issue.

“You have to make sure your underdog stays under. A film is not the dark horse if filet mignon is served at receptions,” the veteran marketer adds.

But when is a pic party a success? Warner Independent’s Laura Kim weighs in: “Having a film that people like is the best ingredient (for a successful party). When the audience responds to a film and everyone is happy to be there and share in it.”

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