When it comes to pic distribution, Miramax’s Rick Sands laid down Ground Rules 101: “You need to know the whole marketplace.”

And then to market the film, said Tom Ortenberg of Lions Gate, you round up your “attractive stars, because they’re a crucial component to gaining awareness.”

The exceptions, said Intermedia’s Jere Hausfater, are those who “won’t travel or cooperate or do press. So we won’t use them.” In which case there’s always the director or producer.

Those and other ideas were brought to the fore Saturday at Variety‘s Strategies for Film Marketing & Distribution Conference, with Variety publisher and group vice president Charles Koones handling the heavy-hitters.

Handle with care

The panelists agreed that blockbusters basically need money thrown at them; smaller pictures need TLC — or “viral marketing,” said Nadia Bronson of Nadia Bronson Associates. “Use the festivals, use local festivals. Marketing is so holding hands. It’s very tough.”

Marian Koltai-Levine of Fine Line also touted the fest approach. “They’re the best environment and the press is predisposed to like a film; audiences are predisposed to like a film.”

“Berlin was crucial to ‘Monster’s Ball,’ ” saidOrtenberg. ‘We sent Halle (Berry) — and her winning best actress award (in Berlin) was a sizeable part of the Oscar equation.”

However, Sands was a bit of a fest-pooper by reminding all present about costs of private planes and parties, using phrases like “cost benefit analysis.”

Sands and Ortenberg claimed the key to success of foreign-lingo product “is the genius of the distributor.” Case study: “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” proving unrated Spanish-lingo pics can break through even in the U.S. (“We dealt with exhibitors case by case,” said IFC Film’s Bob Berney.)

More general agreement came on the pitfalls of the $20 million-$40 million movie. Hausfater called it “a difficult range, maybe lacking top-name stars,” while Myriad Pictures’ Kirk D’Amico “looks at each one on its own, but if the splits aren’t there, what do you do?”

The panel divided on digital films; D’Amico argued “the hurdle’s already been jumped,” but Sands felt the solution to lack of suitably equipped theaters is to “transfer films to 35mm.”

The Internet is still too diverse and untargeted to play a major marketing role, so newspaper ads are crucial, the panelists agreed.

And trailers are where it’s still at. “Shorter ones work best. I don’t want to see the whole film in a trailer and longer ones are harder to place,” said Bronson.

Berney: “The trailer is your most effective piece.”

In France, “you cannot advertise films on TV,” reminded Hausfater. “Trailers are crucial.”

There was general agreement, among the good-natured rivalry, on the value of good reviews for small films: “They help make your film bigger” (Ortenberg) and are “most important” (Sands). On the bigger films, Sands finds “they mean nothing, zero. If we like a movie, we buy it. And if you’re really smart, you’ll show it to us early.” As Hausfater said, “If you have a good movie, people will go see it.”

As for sequels, if the first movie makes money, most of the marketing is already done. “The public tells you. Keep going till it’s over,” said Sands.

Does this mean we should look out for “Y Tu Mama Tambien Dos?”