×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sweet on swag

Anything goes in the world of freebies

Does anyone want my “National Treasure” board game?

Or my “Bewitched” broom wrapped in orange cellophane?

How about my “Ladykillers” waffle iron?

Journos worldwide have always been blanketed with swag — and on behalf of them all, keep it coming.

But in an era of corporate downsizing and self-imposed post-9/11 prudence, the recent flood of freebie items — cheap (thank you, MGM, for the “Walking Tall,” slab of wood), expensive, sensible or over-the-top — indicates the return of a liberal spending mood in Hollywood.

Not that it’s like days of old. In the Hedda Hopper/Louella Parsons era, swag was lavish. From jewelry to cars, their goodies, often sent directly to their homes, easily trumped the items shipped out today.

Then again, it isn’t hard to top a Bernie Mac “Mr. 3000” bobblehead.

As for the meaning of it all, the importance of booty can always be argued. A film’s B.O. or a show’s Nielsen rating has never been scientifically linked to T-shirts and baseball caps.

Hey — even with the waffle irons, “The Ladykillers” took in only $40 million domestically. (The promo wasn’t stingy, by the way: Cost of a waffle iron at cooking.com: $79.95.)

There’s so much more:

New Line fed everyone with frozen hamburgers to promote “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”

The Lion clogged arteries nationwide for its “Sleepover” promo: tongs, cooking oil and Twinkies.

And merci Mouse House, for sending over a balloon the size of the sun — on steroids — to promote the DVD of “Around the World in 80 Days.”

It didn’t even fit in the car.

But hey, it’s all about publicity, so “out of control” can often mean “out of this world” in terms of coverage. After all, an “I, Robot” shirt that had a working TV monitor on it got some love from the “Today” show last summer.

“The entire entertainment world is avalanched with items, so anything innovative can get something noticed early and often,” said Col TriStar’s senior veepee of media relations, Steve Elzer. “When every title is looking for something to distinguish itself, then a keepsake can mean added value.”

Fair enough, but how can anyone defend these unnecessarily costly giveaways:

Touchstone TV decided to wrap a single cassette of “The George Lopez Show” in a huge moving box that could have fit Lopez himself. All to promote the show’s shift to another day.

To promote the DVD for “Garfield: The Movie,” Fox sent out a postcard … in an overnight envelope.

Fox also sent out frozen bananas to promote “Arrested Development.” Tasty, but, um, things melt.

“A lot of this stuff is meaningless,” one exec said. “Good scripts make projects work, not crap.”

Don’t shoot the messenger

And the spending trend doesn’t begin and end with lovely gifts such as “Christmas With the Kranks” Advent calendars and Spike TV miniature water coolers.

The messenger has become a studio exec’s best friend, routinely being called for minor pickups like party invitations or long-lead cassette tapes.

As a favor, it’s most appreciated, but it’s adding to bottom lines everywhere … and anyone who needs a PBS tape of “This Old House” sent to them on a rushed schedule really needs to get out more.

The trend also contradicts what many studios said post-9/11, that the age of overspending was gone, to be replaced by more modest activity from studios and networks’ respective publicity departments.

“It’s back to crazy — and even beyond that level,” said Sue Procko, a publicist who handles all release items for indie DVD company Anchor Bay. “There’s no more discretion.” (Anchor Bay’s most recent swag gimme: official “Silk Stalking” TV series handcuffs. Beautiful.)

Indeed, the best items always get the most discussion, and that’s what everyone is banking on.

So where’s my “Kinsey” bobblehead?

More Film

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Make-Up and Hair Stylist Guild Applauds Academy's Stance on Airing Every Oscar Winner

    Rowdy boos were followed by triumphant cheers at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Hollywood union touched on a week of controversy over a reversed decision to hand out four Oscars during the show’s commercial breaks. Hair and makeup was one of the four categories that would [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • Berlin Film Festival 2019 Award Winners

    Berlin Film Festival 2019: Nadav Lapid's 'Synonyms' Wins Golden Bear

    Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s “Synonyms,” about a young Israeli man in Paris who has turned his back on his native country, won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale on Saturday. The Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to François Ozon’s French drama “By the Grace of God,” a fact-based account of the Catholic Church [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content