Building a better buzz

Marketing mavens spin gold from autumn unspoolings

It’s as elusive as it is desirable: buzz — that mysterious alchemy that cooks up around certain pics during a festival and has every buyer and journo in town begging to get into a screening.

According to Fortisssimo topper Wouter Barendrecht, it takes at least two fests to stir up people’s expectations in more obscure pics such as “Taxidermia” or “Shortbus.” “You can’t create buzz within three days of a festival,” he says. “You have to gradually release stills and marketing material.”

“Talky, vivid and innovative publicity materials are key,” adds Chris Paton, topper at London-based praisery DDA. “The ‘Taxidermia’ press kit really got people talking because it had a photograph of a slab of raw meat on the cover and the kit itself was wrapped in a polystyrene tray and cellophane.”

But there are limits. As much as you want to trigger the interest of the fast-breaking press, hitting people over the head with the marketing hammer will have heads throbbing rather than buzzing.

“People want that feeling that they’ve stumbled across a hidden treasure,” says Teuton helmer Tom Tykwer, who “just couldn’t believe it” when his breakthrough pic “Run Lola Run” had U.S. buyers fighting to get into its second Toronto screening.

“It all fell perfectly into place,” Tykwer remembers. “The movie had been in competition in Venice, and our first Toronto screening was very early during that festival. Most U.S. buyers had not arrived yet, and when they did they had the feeling they had missed something important.”

The question of “when” is all-important. But “where” is another buzz conundrum. “Telluride is as good as a prelude to Toronto because a lot of influential decisionmakers go there,” Barendrecht says. “So if they like your movie, you have a head start for Toronto.”

Summit topper Patrick Wachsberger believes Toronto is the place to be: “Because of its geography, buzz travels quickly in Toronto. Plus you’ve got every U.S. acquisition executive and a lot of U.S. press attending. ”

Venice, according to some observers, tends to spark less enthusiasm. “The effect of Venice is semiprestigious,” Wachsberger argues. “I don’t believe it has a huge impact except for Italy as a territory.”

Since Venice unspools at end of summer, execs and journos alike tend to treat it in a more leisurely manner. While some might perceive that as a weakness, others believe it’s the fest’s strength: Venice is more about creating awareness than getting bucks for your bang.

“Venice gave ‘Brokeback Mountain’ artistic authority and put a damper on the salacious curiosity because of the gay sex,” Paton explains. “The film already had a lot of heat, but it wasn’t the right kind of heat.”

A different spin

Sometimes taking a pic to a fest is not about creating buzz; it’s about giving the buzz a different spin. “There was a lot of negative buzz in the U.S. on ‘Marie Antoinette,’ ” says a marketing exec. “But having it in competition in Cannes gave the movie artistic clout. At least people talked about it and took it seriously.”

A big publicity bash, like the Cannes fete for “Marie Antoinette,” can easily cost $1 million. Is it worth it?

“The tampering of buzz is orchestrated,” says Liz Miller, a publicist for London-based praisery Premier. “You don’t want people to feel saturated by the time the film is released.”

There are those pundits who don’t believe in buzz and view buzzy A-list fests with suspicion.

“If you have a big, anticipated movie at an A-list festival like Cannes, it can be a slaughterhouse. Look at what happened to Luc Besson with ‘Big Blue,’ ” Wachsberger says.

Miller adds: “Festivals can be like shark pools. If you already have distribution in place, why expose yourself when you have a film with inbuilt anticipation such as star power or because it’s the adaptation of a bestseller?”

A few marketers believe the only reason to take a film to a festival is when it presents a clear distribution benefit. “That’s why smaller festivals like Deauville or Edinburgh are excellent, because they’re great launchpads for local territories,” says Glen Basner, international prexy at the Weinstein Co., which is screening “Clerks II” at Edinburgh.

When this pro takes a film to a fest, he never relies on luck. “You want the right kind of press in order to get the right response,” Basner explains. “And we aggressively go after journalists to get them into our screenings.”

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