HOLLYWOOD -- The folks in the Columbia Pictures marketing department obviously know how to key the opening of a movie to an Earth-shattering news event. As the Soviet Union officially came to an end and Mikhail S. Gorbachev was cleaning out his office, Columbia was releasing Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky's "The Inner Circle."
Though the film is set in Stalin's Soviet Union in 1939, Columbia marketing executives wasted no time connecting the film's subject matter to what's happening in the former Soviet Union right now. "The whole concept of the marketing of this film was to take it out of entertainment and put it into news," says Paula Silver, Columbia's marketing president. "We wanted it to have social and historical relevance to today's headlines."
Most of the television ads for the film have been running during net work news programs, and the studio is running review quotes in their ads that reflect the newsworthiness of "The Inner Circle." For example, one quote featured prominently claims: "At last, we can see why communism was doomed." "Those kind of quotes make people see that this film has relevance because you can see where it all began," says Silver.
Director Konchalovsky is glad Columbia is capitalizing on the situation. "The studio has been constantly adjusting its campaign tied in to the events of the past several months," says Konchalovsky.
Although Konchalovsky refers to his film as "a love story," he admits that filmgoers might be more interested in the film's backdrop of Russian society. "People are more interested in seeing a film about life in Russia than a love story between Tom Hulce and Lolita Davidovich," he says.
While "The Inner Circle" seems to have a bit of good timing behind its release, other Russian-themed movies, most notably 1990's "The Russia House," with Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer, failed at the box office. "That movie didn't do well because it was about the Cold War and there was no more Cold War," says Columbia's Silver. "That was unfortunate timing."
In Hollywood, nothing much gets done the last few weeks of December. Ordinarily, if Christmas and New Year's fall on a Monday or Friday, executives take a three-day weekend. If the holidays fall on a Tuesday or Thursday, make it a four-day weekend. But as the holidays fell on a Wednesday this year, hey, there's no point in coming to work Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday. And that's for two weeks.
So, if they're not at the studio, where was everybody? It was pretty evenly divided between surf and snow. Disney Chairman Michael Eisner was in Aspen, Colo.; Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg opted for Oahu, Hawaii. While Columbia Pictures Chairman Mark Canton was catching rays on Maui, his boss, Sony Pictures Chairman Peter Guber, was skiing in Aspen.
And there were others in Hawaii: Paramount's Brandon Tartikoff, Warners' production executive Lucy Fisher, director Richard Donner, MCA Motion Picture Group Chairman Tom Pollock and MGM-Pathe Chairman Alan Ladd Jr.
Aspen, which has always been known as a hangout for Hollywood's movers and shakers during the holidays, was no different this season. A few of the people there were Barbra Streisand, Sylvester Stallone, Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith, "Top Gun" producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis.
When Carolco Pictures and New Line Cinema set up Seven Arts, low-budget distribution co-venture intended to finance and produce low-cost films, one of the company's first movies out of the box was the critically acclaimed "Rambling Rose," which at one time looked like it had a shot at several Oscar nominations.
But to snag Oscar nominations, a film needs more than great reviews. It needs a company behind it that will shell out big bucks for a splashy Oscar advertising campaign, which includes everything from ads in the Hollywood trade papers to mailing promotional items to academy members. That's something cash-poor Carolco, which last week faced mounting financial troubles and possible bankruptcy, can't do. Carolco recently announced that Seven Arts is up for review, and most industry observers speculate it will fold.
So where does this leave director Martha Coolidge's film, which stars Robert Duvall, Diane Ladd and Laura Dern in performances that film critics praised effusively?
"When we got the news about the division, we had to cut back considerably on our original plan, which would have been a lot of advertising," admits Brenda Mutchnick, Seven Arts' head of marketing. "Fortunately, we were able to salvage a little bit of everything so we could at least make a real presence."
One way studios like to make a real presence with their films during nominations time is with the use of numerous, colorful, elaborate ads in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, announcing in which categories they want their films considered. Studios take out anywhere from 14 to 20 trade ads, but Mutchnick says that with the budget-slashing at Carolco, she can afford only four pages of ads, hyping only the movie -- not best actor and actress, supporting actor and actress or director.
"Ordinarily, the cost of ads for individuals is picked up by a studio, but we just can't do it this year," says Mutchnick, who has been supplying artwork to those who want to buy their own ads.
Mutchnick believes the cutback on the "Rambling Rose" Oscar campaign might be a blessing in disguise. "There's a real problem with overkill that's almost an affront to the academy members," she says.
But another marketing executive disagreed: "It's all about how much money you spend before the nominations," he says. "It's just like political advertising. The more you can do to make your film visible to the academy members, the better."