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Hollywood prays for another ‘Devil’

With movie ads nixed, fest helps fill void

With France getting ready for a jam-packed fall film season, masses of media attention at the Deauville Film Fest will help U.S. pics screening there get a promo head start.

A mix of American prestige titles, long-awaited Gallic pics and a few leftover blockbusters like “The Bourne Ultimatum” are all fighting for screen space from September through November. Local productions like “99 Francs” and “L’Auberge rouge” are expected to provide tough competition for English-language films.

But Deauville appearances by Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Matt Damon should go a long way toward building momentum for studio releases.

“Deauville attracts a more discerning filmgoer,” says Duncan Clark, exec VP of Universal Pictures Intl. “It’s a great gathering point in terms of a French release.”

UPI is using the fest as a launchpad for comedy “Knocked Up.” Pic’s stars Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl aren’t well known in Europe, but will hit Deauville with writer-director Judd Apatow, who has been a nonstop press machine since well before the U.S. opening. UPI thinks the cheeky laffer could have a shot at being this year’s “The Devil Wears Prada” — the unlikely pic that charmed Euro auds.

Despite the U.S. success of “Knocked Up,” approaching $150 million domestically, American comedy abroad is never a sure thing. Clark says the company laid out a “bullish advertising spend” and made sure dubbed and subtitled versions were available for early press and word of mouth screenings.

“It’s quite an experience when you see how it plays in different dubs and different cultural contexts,” Clark says. “The reactions have been brilliant.”

Apatow has been traveling everywhere from Australia to Edinburgh as well as doing phoners from L.A. to prep for the European release. Universal tends to expect that kind of promotional commitment from its talent: “We look to our filmmakers to help generate the appropriate profile,” Clark says.

The talent push is important since French movies have a built-in advantage during the crowded season. With no film advertising whatsoever allowed on television, Gallic talent makes the rounds of TV talkshows with clips from their films in hand, making it even more important for Yank talent to make the trek overseas. “When we do get them on the road, it can be an enormous advantage,” Clark says.

And the benefit extends beyond the borders of France. “Deauville has been attracting a lot more international press over the years,” Clark says.

Warners agrees, using the fest not just as a platform to preview French releases but an opportunity to bring in press from neighboring countries. “We’ve always used it more for a panregional event. You need the actors there to be able to get into pieces that break later on, when the films are released,” international marketing prexy Sue Kroll says.

Universal’s other Deauville entry, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” hardly needs any more media attention — it’s certain to be a worldwide blockbuster like its predecessors. Damon and director Paul Greengrass will stop by Deauville in advance of the Sept. 12 French bow, although pic will have already opened in major territories including the U.K., Australia and Spain. Still, with Italy and Japan opening even later, publicity barrage couldn’t hurt.

Getting the press to pay attention to Pitt, who stars in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” should be no problem, although scheduling the star is another story. Fortunately, “Jesse James,” which opens Oct. 10 in France, is also playing the Venice Film Fest.

“It’s very efficient,” Kroll says. “Otherwise with his shooting schedule it would be impossible. Ultimately, it benefits both fests.”

While Venice gets more international press from as far as Asia and Australia, “Deauville is a great follow-up,” she says. In Deauville, Warners also has Iraq-themed pic “In the Valley of Elah” with Tommy Lee Jones and Charlize Theron, opening Oct. 31 in France.

The Oct. 31 weekend provides tough competition indeed for U.S. pics. “It’s a very strong weekend that kicks off the fall season,” says Warners’ Veronika Kwan-Rubinek. “There’s also the Woody Allen film and five French films” skedded for that All Saints Day weekend,” she says.

Another possible breakout comedy is “The Heartbreak Kid” from the Farrelly brothers, who have something of a reputation in France. Paramount Pictures Intl. exec. VP of marketing Jon Anderson says the Deauville slot is perfect timing for European campaign launches, with a French release for the Ben Stiller laffer set for Oct. 17.

“This type of romantic comedy, which also has physical humor, always crosses borders,” Anderson says.

He’s also looking forward to the release of Deauville entry “Stardust,” which he says has “a great European sensibility” and the potential to do better abroad than in the U.S. “It harks back to ‘The Princess Bride,’ ” he says. “It catches people off guard. We’re excited about this film for international.”

Healthy overseas results for “The Devil Wears Prada” proved there’s an opportunity in the marketplace to reach female audiences, he says. “Stardust,” starring Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer, has romantic appeal for women but should interest men, too, Anderson hopes.

While day-and-date releases have become the norm for virtually all tentpole titles, Anderson says there are several advantages with slower rollouts for smaller pics: “You can take advantage of information from releases in the U.S. — it gives you more time to work on the campaign and learn from the release.”

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