Title of Smith comedy causing controversy

The Weinstein Co. is betting big on Kevin Smith‘s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” putting a hefty $30 million P&A spend behind the R-rated comedy. But that “Porno” bit in the title is causing some headaches.

While Harvey Weinstein might have expected the Seth Rogen-Elizabeth Banks comedy to run into some trouble with the MPAA ratings board, Smith, who admits the pic “does push the edge of the envelope,” successfully appealed its initial NC-17 rating to win an R.

“It’s a hard R,” says Smith. “It’s a mix of raunch and sentimentality.”

But persuading TV stations and newspapers to run ads for a title containing “Make a Porno” has been a challenge. The MPAA did not approve suggestive ad materials; local TV stations in San Francisco and Chicago and Fox NFL refused to air spots with the full title.

TWC hopes viewers will still recognize “Zack and Miri,” says marketing head Gary Faber.

“It’s a controversy we didn’t want,” says Weinstein.

Fifteen to 20 newspapers rejected ads for the pic, while Boston and Philadelphia ran them without “Make a Porno.” Salt Lake City’s Larry H. Miller megaplex, which played “Tropic Thunder” and “Sex Drive,” warned in advance that it would not book the movie — “on moral grounds,” says Faber.

Final newspaper print ads deploy routine headshots of a smiling Rogen and Banks with the usual critics’ blurbs. As the movie was well-reviewed out of the Toronto Fest and is tracking well with auds 17-35, the distrib is banking on word-of-mouth to push the pic after its opening, which is expected to be in the $13 million-$16 million range.

“We always thought we had a wide-release Seth Rogen movie,” says TWC distrib head Steve Bunnell, who thinks the residual glow of Rogen comedies from the Judd Apatow factory, such as “Knocked Up,” “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express,” will push the pic’s auds beyond Smith’s core fan base.

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