Real debaters spread the word

Unusual partners help Weinsteins build buzz

With its erudite showdowns and brainy banter, “The Great Debaters” may not be an easy candidate for the usual promo tie-ins. So the Weinstein Co. is looking to some unconventional partners to boost the pic’s geek buzz and $13 million-plus grosses.

Coupling with test prep service the Princeton Review, the National Urban Debate Leagues and other debate societies as well as the other NFL — the National Forensic League — the company is inviting pairs of debaters to upload a four-minute video on one of three topics to compete in a “Great Debaters” Video Debate Contest.

One topic, inspired by the film, asks debaters to argue whether or not universities should use affirmative action to encourage minorities to apply.

More mainstream partners include JetBlue and White Castle, which will pony up a year’s worth of burgers. But, not surprisingly, it was the pic’s more pensive partners who were especially eager to help.

“People started finding us,” says Pam Henning, TWC’s senior VP for global marketing. “The National Assn. of Urban Debate Leagues found us immediately when they heard about us going into production. They have a unique platform to get the word out about what they do. It’s not that often you have a commercial property that really is a platform for the essence of what these folks do.”

Estimates place the number of debaters in middle school to college age at around 200,000. Former debaters, another potential demo for the pic, number between 1.5 million and 2.5 million.

Famous former debaters in Hollywood are said to include Oprah Winfrey (a producer of the pic), Brad Pitt and Harry Connick Jr.