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Hollywood Toning Down Ads and Froth During War

The invasion of Iraq has Hollywood executives scrambling to revise advertising campaigns to reflect wartime sensibilities, canceling movie premiere parties and debating whether to delay movies that they fear will be hard to sell to a war-obsessed public.

In a letter this week to people invited to attend Thursday's premiere of "Anger Management," starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler, the distributor, Columbia Pictures, said it would cancel the premiere party and the red carpet walked on by stars "in consideration of world events."

Last week, marketing executives at Warner Brothers decided to alter newspaper advertisements for "What a Girl Wants," to eliminate the peace sign that its star, Amanda Bynes, was flashing. And studio executives say they are finding it harder to promote movies on television talk shows and on news programs because those staples of the Hollywood marketing machine are concentrating so much on war coverage.

"I do not believe the moviegoing public is focused enough right now to pick up certain movies," said Robert Friedman, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures.

At Columbia, Geoffrey Ammer, president of worldwide marketing, said the studio canceled not only the red carpet walk and party for "Anger Management" in Los Angeles, but also the New York party and red carpet walk for "Basic," the thriller starring John Travolta, because those events seemed "inappropriate." Columbia, however, decided to continue with the premiere party for the coming "Daddy Day Care," starring Eddie Murphy, because it is a benefit.

There is also a practical reason for canceling the red carpet walk, Mr. Ammer said. "I don't think anyone would run this stuff," he said referring to the film of stars that television news programs often include in their entertainment coverage. In any case, "Anger Management," already has high visibility because of its megastar cast.

Canceling a premiere party can also save cost-conscious studios up to $1 million.

Paramount has so far been the only studio to delay the release of a film indefinitely, in this case "Against the Ropes," a movie about boxing starring Meg Ryan that was scheduled to open April 25. But executives at other studios said they were considering delaying films, too.

Not all television networks have become consumed by war coverage, at least not to the extent that some in the advertising and entertainment industries had anticipated. But Mr. Friedman said that in the last week, it had become more difficult to have stars booked on early morning talk shows or to get writers at newspapers and magazines interested in doing splashy feature profiles. Such interviews are a significant part of many studios' marketing campaigns. As a result, some executives predict that word-of-mouth will have a bigger impact than before on a movie's fortunes.

Another ploy is to promote a film by playing up a military angle. To curry interest in "The Core," a science-fiction fantasy starring the Academy Award winner, Hilary Swank, that has so far gotten a lukewarm reception from critics and moviegoers, for example, Paramount sent an e-mail message to journalists last week promoting the fact that the aircraft carrier Constellation, currently in the Persian Gulf, was "the biggest star in the history of Paramount Pictures' fleet of films."

The e-mail message read something like a military propaganda sheet, listing the size of the flight deck, how many people work in the aircraft, how much it weighed and how fast it traveled, but did little to elaborate on the movie's story. (In it, the core of the earth stops spinning and scientists have to plumb the center to save the world.) Why the military hype? "It was a way to get people interested in the story," said Mr. Friedman of Paramount.

But studios only want so much interest. In the original ad for "What a Girl Wants," a comedy in which Ms. Bynes plays an American girl in Britain, the star is standing between two British Royal Guards wearing a T-shirt with an American flag on it and making the peace sign, à la Susan Sarandon, who flashed the sign to photographers at the Academy Awards on March 23. In the last week, though, those ads have been altered, showing Ms. Bynes with her hands by her side, a studio spokeswoman said.

"Because of the high emotions under way, we decided to bring her hands down so there was no political statement," the spokeswoman said.

Another change to the ad is coming Friday, she said: the British guards will be gone - not to soften any political impact, but to make room for quotes from critics.

Posted on aef.com: April 4, 2003


Laura M. Holson, The New York Times. April 1, 2003

Copyright © 2003 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.