The Road less taken: Preems go alternative

Creative necessity makes venues in all shapes and sizes

Eschewing the klieg-lit movie palace and the standard red carpet treatment, studios are increasingly drawn to alternative screening venues to set themselves apart from the pack.

Sometimes they’re simply theaters that are off the beaten path — New Line screened the first “Lord of the Rings” at the Pacific Design Center, Fox Searchlight took “28 Days Later” to the John Anson Ford Ampitheater, and Columbia is hosting a screening of “Big Fish” at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image in conjunction with a Tim Burton retrospective.

And sometimes the venues are arguably more innovative than the films themselves.

Producer Joel Silver contacted longtime friend Frank Gehry to premiere “The Matrix Revolutions” at the new Disney Concert Hall on Oct. 27. “It’s the climax, the finale of this incredible series,” says Debbie Miller, senior vice president of publicity and promotions at Warner Bros. “And we didn’t want to go out in a way that had been done before.”

Showmanship

Among Warner Bros.’ other notable venues: McDill Air Force Base in Florida was used to unspool “Analyze That”; the historic Orpheum Theater downtown, usually closed except for special occasions, was used to screen Silver’s “Ghost Ship”; and 1993’s “Demolition Man” — also produced by Silver — was projected on the side of a Kentucky building later imploded.

“He’s definitely a showman,” Miller says of Silver.

At 20th Century Fox, exec VP of marketing Jeffrey Godsick has overseen his share of eclectic unspoolings, including the “X-Men” premiere at Ellis Island’s Immigration Hall, a “Swimfan” pool screening at UCLA and, reportedly, the world’s first pet premiere in Central Park for “Dr. Dolittle.”

“We had cats, dogs, monkeys, parrots and snakes,” says Godsick. “The buffet tables were 2½ feet off the ground.

Next up for Fox is the Nov. 9 world premiere of “Master and Commander,” which will screen outside at the Broadway Pier in San Diego harbor, with talent arriving in one of the film’s ships.

Godsick says these events are more than just wacky publicity stunts. If done right, they’re also key marketing tools in selling movies successfully.

The medium is the message

“It’s about creating something that helps drive your message,” he says. “Beyond national coverage, the ‘Dr. Dolittle’ premiere was covered by 150 local TV stations. They gave it up to two minutes of screen time, quadrupling the amount of promotion, instead of 20 seconds of walking down the red carpet in Westwood.”

After the ideas are hatched by studio marketing departments, it’s up to event coordinators to bring these DeMille-ian dreams to life. Pat Ryan of Party Planners West, for example, has done everything from hiring the caterers and bartenders to designing the projections to conceiving entire cities that can be put up and taken down in a couple of hours.

“We did New York at Christmas time for ‘Working Girl,’ flying in Rockettes,” she says. “We turned the flagpole at (UCLA’s) Royce Hall into the Washington Monument for the premiere of ‘Independence Day.’ “

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