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Marketing team hits summer home run

Chalk up success to years of experience

HOLLYWOOD — The art of marketing and distributing a film is a tricky budgetary and logistics juggling act. Film history is littered with critically acclaimed, strong-previewed product that opened and sank faster than a bankrupt dot-comer’s credit rating. So, odds are it’s not just luck that had Universal Pictures opening five No. 1 films in a row in 2000 and another four in a row in ’01.

“It’s not easy,” says Peter Adee, prexy of U marketing. “You have to maintain focus on each and every movie as it comes along.”

Case in point: this summer’s genuine surprise “The Fast and the Furious.” Originally skedded for a spring break opening in late March, Universal Pictures vice chairman (and former marketing chief) Marc Shmuger moved the release date to a June slot and the modestly budgeted actioner has grossed more than $138 million domestically .

“That’s moving a movie from a competitive neighborhood to a very competitive neighborhood,” says Adee. “It was a big risk.”

But it’s the kind of challenge prexy of distribution Nikki Rocco says her fellow execs crave as much as their morning grande Americano and biscotti.

“You’re dealing with a team with many, many years of experience,” says Rocco, a 34-year vet of the company. “As far as we’re concerned all our films are major hits. It’s up to us to do everything we can to make sure that happens.”

Which definitely occurred this spring when U released “The Mummy Returns” on a nonholiday presummer prom night weekend and ended up with one of the top grossers of the summer.

While production, marketing and distribution decisions are made in clearly demarcated divisions, company execs say that under the Stacey Snider-Ron Meyer regime in particular, teamwork has so far taken precedent over individual agendas. How long these strong bonds can be maintained is an open question.

But, says Shmuger: “We’ve all been in this business for a while. It’s extraordinarily rare to have everything working as well as it has been in the past few years. We know that things can’t always be this hot.”

And when it’s not, Shmuger predicts that the chances of management meltdown are very low.

“What’s been happening is a reflection of a way of working. What’s been built is a marketing group that’s strong in all areas. There’s a rigorous process at work, led by Stacey and Ron that maximizes the chances that we can get the best result possible for any given project in any given time frame.”

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