Miramax Films, known for its aggressive Oscar campaigns, isn't just taking out the usual ads in Variety to promote its contender for this year's best picture it's running a half-hour infomercial.
Miramax is paying to air a 30-minute trailer for "Cider House Rules" in Los Angeles, along with 19 other major U.S. markets.
The art-house film distributor began using this marketing strategy five years ago with "The English Patient," which ended up winning the Oscar for best picture. It also used the tactic successfully last year with "Shakespeare in Love," a surprise victor over DreamWorks SKG's "Saving Private Ryan" for best picture.
Miramax started airing the infomercial for "Cider House Rules" last December at a time when the film, based on John Irving's coming-of-age novel set in New England, was considered a long shot for a nomination. Among the cable systems presenting the spot are Adelphia, Media One and Century Communications, all of which reach members of the Motion Picture Academy.
"It's a great way to reach academy voters," said Steven Dworman, publisher of trade newsletter Infomercial Marketing Report. "It has been effective in the past, and it remains a very effective marketing means to get to academy members."
A former studio marketing executive said Miramax's strategy is yet another example of how the boutique uses every marketing ploy in the book to promote its films to academy voters.
"They cover more bases than anybody else," he said. "They use KFWB radio very effectively, because it reaches so many academy members. They blanket the market, and it has paid off in the past. Look, it works, and the others should follow suit."
Miramax's competitors have used half-hour programs in the past to market their films. Typically, entertainment cable networks like E! or MTV will run these shows free of charge to the studio to fill gaps in their schedule but only during off hours when few people are watching.
Miramax officials say they're the only ones actually buying time on cable systems to run the spots, which gives them more control over what time the show will air and its frequency.
None of Miramax's rivals would comment on their Oscar marketing campaigns, although a spokesman for Warner Bros. said his studio was considering a show about the making of "The Green Mile" that could be used as an Oscar infomercial.
Miramax's infomercial features interviews with the "Cider House Rules" cast and production team, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.
Miramax begins work on these infomercials at the start of a film's production, and they are carefully planned in advance. The programs are created principally for Miramax's higher-budgeted releases, and usually are not done for low-budget films that are picked up for distribution.
Star interviews aside, the thrust of infomercial is how hard the film was to make. Dworman said this emphasis is aimed especially at academy voters who appreciate the complexities of making a movie and would take such an effort into consideration.
"This only works with serious films," he said, "and it is very effective."
Mark Gill, the head of Miramax's Los Angeles office, said the cost of the infomercial was around $45,000, which is a fraction of the cost of a 30-second commercial in prime time.
He declined to reveal how much the studio is paying to air the infomercials, but it probably isn't much; the spot is mostly aired on public-access channels, and Gill says the studio pays as little as $500 per airing. However, the "Cider House" infomercial will also appear on KCOP-TV Channel 13 and KCAL-TV Channel 9 in Los Angeles, and on several cable networks such as Bravo and MTV.
Although the infomercial is appearing in the top 20 TV markets around the country to help boost the sale of tickets, the emphasis is on Los Angeles and New York two cities with the highest concentration of movie academy members.
The best picture nomination for "Cider House" is already paying dividends at the box office. Gill anticipates that the film, which stars Michael Caine, will take in more than double the $22 million it had made at the time the Oscar nominations were announced on Feb. 15.
The Academy Awards show is held March 26.
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