Searchlight zeroes in on emotion

Marketing exec digs deep with film campaigns

In the same way that Fox Searchlight “owned” the color yellow with 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” this summer it owned, well, summer, thanks to Marc Webb’s bittersweet love story, “500 Days of Summer.” The ad campaign, spearheaded by Fox Searchlight’s executive VP of marketing, Stephanie Allen, took one of lead Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s lines, “It’s official, I’m in love with Summer,” and ran with it across all media.

“It was the perfect line. It’s really inclusive,” Allen notes. “Who’s not in love with summer?” Still, the former copywriter doesn’t take such an irresistible hook for granted: “Marketingwise, that’s a gift.”

For Allen, who has been with Fox Searchlight since 2000 and has also tried her hand at screenwriting and acting, the key to any campaign lies in tapping into the emotional core of a movie — be it “Sideways” or “Slumdog Millionaire” — and making sure its identity carries through. Overall, she says, it’s important to find the universal truth in every film. But conveying that truth, she adds, is sometimes “really hard to do in 30 seconds or a poster.”

Every project starts with deep conversations between the Fox Searchlight team and the filmmakers. Then Allen does some creative matchmaking to help bring each vision to life.

The Robert Neubecker pen-and-ink illustration that introduced “Sideways” to moviegoers came together when Allen spotted Neubecker’s work on a magazine cover and thought his funny, unassuming style reflected the film’s quirky spirit.

For a complex, grand-scale movie like “Slumdog Millionaire,” the goal was to convey the emotions of the story and the exuberance of Danny Boyle’s filmmaking. The trailer, cut by go-to indie house Mark Woollen & Associates (which won an award for another Fox Searchlight film, “The Wrestler”), blends the strong color palette of Mumbai with powerful music, including a song by the Icelandic group Sigur Ros that doesn’t appear in the film at all.

“Slumdog’s” Oscar sweep brought a whole new level of attention to Fox Searchlight. But Allen, who has toggled back and forth between her native New York and Los Angeles since the 1970s, says she and her team will keep it real and on a budget. “We have to get in there with a scalpel and find the nerve centers because we can’t just cast a big wide net for millions and millions of dollars,” she says. “I think we still feel like we are the little engine that could.”

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