F/x & trailer hitches

Marketing machines gear up before pix are finished

HOLLYWOOD — Given the $150 million-plus production and marketing costs of summer tentpoles, it’s no surprise that studios are desperate to start hyping their films as early as possible.

But f/x wizards are often fine-tuning CGI sometime days before a pic’s release — meaning the costly and groundbreaking f/x shots usually aren’t available come teaser time.

For example, more than a year before “The Hulk’s” June 20 opening, Universal Pictures and Marvel Entertainment wanted to start the marketing machine.

But the angry green meanie wasn’t ready yet. Techies at Industrial Light & Magic were still trying to finalize the Hulk’s CGI look.

The teaser that finally ran featured star Eric Bana and an exploding house in a scene that was shot separately and isn’t in the final film. The f/x work wasn’t even handled by ILM, but another facility.

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The same is true for several of this summer’s other players.

Last year, the first teaser the Warner Bros.-distribbed “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” only had the film’s logo to entice auds; Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” also boasted a logo and one brief f/x shot, a stomping skeleton leg.

Few of next summer’s anticipated biggies — including U’s “Van Helsing,” Fox’s “I, Robot” and “Day after Tomorrow,” Warners’ “Harry Potter” and “Catwoman” and Col’s “Spider-Man 2” — have yet to release a logo to theaters.

Thus far, filmgoers have seen teaser trailers for just one summer pic for 2004: “The Punisher,” Artisan’s adaptation of a lesser-known Marvel comic, starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta.

“You want to have that one money shot or two money shots that will entice people to put a film on their calendar,” says Sony marketing chief Geoffrey Ammer.

Given a tight production schedule for “X2,” Fox assembled the first trailer, with CGI footage of a jet navigating a swarm of tornadoes, in November, while the film was shooting in Vancouver. It also created the biggest theater standee — in the shape of the “X-2” logo — ever to come from the studio.

“It’s hairy,” says Fox co-prexy of marketing Tony Sella. “I don’t believe you can start too early. But once we start, we don’t like to take the pedal off the gas.”

It’s routine at studios for the marketing department to break down the script on big movies and work with f/x facilities to move up the production schedule on sequences that might lend themselves to trailers.

“It’s incumbent on the director and the advertising guy to sit down and determine early on what images they need so that the production can start working on scenes early enough,” says Joel Wayne, exec veepee of creative advertising for Warner Bros. Pictures.

But with sequels, the urgency isn’t quite as intense. Sony hasn’t yet released an image of “Spider-Man 2,” which began production in New York in April. The first trailer isn’t timed to hit until November, to capitalize on the crop of holiday movies.

Says Ammer, “If I were trying to sell the franchise for the first time, you’d probably see something now.”