Banner has a lot riding on its first star-led family film

Relativity Media’s first attempt at a star-driven, family-targeted film hits this weekend in the Snow White pic “Mirror Mirror,” a major milestone in its journey to studiohood and a project that came with several challenges.

Chief among hurdles was distinguishing the pic from Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” which lands June 1.

Execs say they were never worried about competing with U’s fantasy-adventure take on the fairytale, as the two films couldn’t be more different. But communicating that to the audience for “Mirror Mirror” — primarily families with young girls — was no walk in the forest.

Relativity marketing prexy Terry Curtin has had her hands full the past several weeks, running parallel ad campaigns in an effort to reach the core family audience as well as a general aud. Curtin used the flurry of family titles released around Thanksgiving — “Happy Feet 2,” “The Muppets,” “Arthur Christmas,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” and “The Adventures of Tintin” — as an opportunity to build awareness for “Mirror Mirror.” Relativity also utilized strong female properties such as “New Year’s Eve” and “The Vow” to reach tween and teen girls.

“Female empowerment is a big message we’ve been working to get across, because you want to convey Snow’s arc of self-doubt before she finds the hero inside herself,” Curtin said. “You also want to show how the Queen is oppressing the kingdom, to explain why the dwarves are rising up to take back what’s theirs. ”

This week, Relativity has introduced energetic action spots that feature a CG beast and eye-popping mannequins.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” has also been slowly trickling out marketing materials, reflecting a darker and more sinister tone devoid of the humor that “Mirror Mirror” is showcasing. Despite some early jockeying for position regarding release dates, the only effect the competition had on “Mirror Mirror” was a compressed post-production schedule.

“Relativity and Universal have always known the two movies are very different and would be competing for a significantly different audience. That said, we thought there was a benefit to being first, as it was better for our film to be without another movie in close proximity,” said Relativity co-prexy Tucker Tooley. “There were other reasons too, but the last thing you want is market confusion when you’re trying to get an audience to come see your movie.”

Directed by Relativity’s “Immortals” helmer Tarsem Singh Dhandwar, the $85 million pic stars Lily Collins, Julia Roberts and Armie Hammer, as well as Nathan Lane and Sean Bean. Tooley acknowledged that Tarsem wasn’t the most obvious choice to direct the family-friend material.

“It’s certainly risky doing a movie with a director who doesn’t have a track record in that genre,” he said, “but we had a shorthand with Tarsem from ‘Immortals’ and felt strongly that his sensibilities were perfectly suited for this material.”

While Relativity producers scoured agencies to find Snow White, they needed a bankable actress to play the evil Queen. Though Relativity produced and distributed “Limitless” with Bradley Cooper and “Season of the Witch” with Nicolas Cage, “Mirror Mirror” is by far its biggest project where a major name is front-and-center.

“We wouldn’t have made this film without a big star like Julia in that role,” explained Tooley. “We thought it was a role someone could take on and shine in, and in a way they hadn’t in the past. Julia was excited about working with Tarsem and took the leap.”

As for Collins, Relativity was simply the beneficiary of good timing. “We looked high and low for Snow White. Lily came in early on, and we were immediately drawn to her, but she was unavailable. She was slotted to do another movie, but that fell through, and it didn’t take long to close a deal once we went back to her.”

Relativity also focused on reaching out to specific markets. That included working with marketing agency Terry Hines & Associates to reach Hispanic auds, an important demo for family films.

“We’re doing a number of Hispanic promotions, including our biggest Hispanic buy between Telemundo and Univision, which gets us placement during telenovelas and Latin daytime TV,” Tooley said.

Nationally syndicated Hispanic radio personality Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo has been doing promotional packages for Relativity, broadcasting interviews and holding contests. Relativity is also working with online agency Big Honcho Media, a major influence on parenting blogs.

Relativity also targeted young girls in much of its digital marketing, creating a dwarf-finding interactive game on the virtual environment PopTropica, which targets girls 6-11 and registers 5 million unique visitors a month. Relativity also created an app that allows users to dress Snow White in various Eiko Ishioka-designed costumes and give her new hairstyles.

As for the stars themselves, they’ve been making the rounds of morning shows and late-night talk shows. Roberts sat for a two-part interview on “Good Morning America” as well as a chat with Ellen DeGeneres, while Collins also did “GMA,” as well as chats with Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and Kelly Ripa. Despite his commitment to filming “The Lone Ranger,” Hammer has found the time to make the rounds, sitting down with Leno and DeGeneres. Co-star Bean did “The Talk,” while Lane did “The View.”

For its final marketing push, Relativity saved its seven best marketing tools: the dwarves, who provide most of the pic’s laughs.

“The dwarves are a linchpin for male audiences, so you’ll start seeing more of them,” Curtin said. “The physical comedy they bring isn’t just for kids; it works at every level.”

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