‘Big Year’ pushes for the birds

Studio partners up with National Audubon Society

Hollywood loves a good environmental cause. But until now, environmental organizations have found little opportunity to return the favor.

As Fox readies the release of its bird-watching themed pic “The Big Year,” the studio has enlisted an unlikely partner in its marketing efforts: The National Audubon Society is teaming with the studio to spread the word about the Steve Martin/Jack Black/Owen Wilson starrer, which bows Oct. 14.

The partnership marks the first large-scale cross-promotion between an eco-minded group and a major on a wide release.

“When we heard that Fox was going to make the movie, we thought, ‘Wow, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’ ” recalls Audubon prexy David Yarnold. “The last time Hollywood made a movie about birds was ‘Birdman of Alcatraz,’ and it was in black and white. There hasn’t been a movie that accurately showed the community of people who get together around birds in several decades.”

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Based on Mark Obmascik’s 2004 tome “The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession,” the film’s subject matter seemed a perfect fit for the 106-year-old environmental org. When Fox reached out to Audubon during preproduction to secure use of the nonprofit’s brand and logo, Yarnold began thinking of an even more expansive relationship.

“Our pitch to Fox was we’d love to help you,” explains Yarnold, a former editor at the San Jose Mercury News. “We can reach 4 million to 5 million people (among) our members, our magazine readers and people who come to our (400) chapters and educational centers.”

Yarnold figures that more moviegoers translates into greater interest in bird watching and conservation efforts in the same way that the Summer Olympics spurs enrollment in gymnastics classes across the country.

In fact, Audubon has sunk six figures into the Fox marketing effort — which includes media kits, private screenings in 20 cities and a massive social media effort that launches Oct. 10 — in a push to attract the 48 million birders in America, as estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This movie helps show the new face of birding,” says Yarnold of the pic that revolves around three men who compete to spot the greatest number of birds in the span of a year. “Any (bird enthusiast) could go to this movie and think that they’re watching themselves. How cool is that?”

For its part, Fox said through a spokesperson that it finds Audubon’s efforts “very gratifying,” though the studio declined to elaborate on a campaign still in progress.

Suffice to say, however, both studio and nonprofit hope the film takes flight.