Disney hires new marketing guru for 'Pirates 4'
Valerie Van Galder will guide campaign for studio
Disney has taken the unusual step of hiring veteran consultant Valerie Van Galder to handle the marketing of the fourth movie in its flagship film franchise, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."
Considering its importance, the move is likely to be perceived in the industry, fairly or not, as a sign that Disney lacks full confidence in marketing chief M.T. Carney, a newcomer to the movie business. Disney has had a tough summer with live-action films, with two of its disappointments -- "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" -- produced by Jerry Bruckheimer.
"She came to the party late," Bruckheimer told THR. "I had two movies that got caught between two regimes, and the movies suffered."
Asked for comment, Disney issued a statement from Carney: "Val was one of the first people I met when I arrived, and in subsequent conversations, I've been impressed with her business savvy and diverse background. I'm thrilled she accepted my invitation to lend her talents on this important franchise. I'm committed to working with her and other innovative professionals as we continue to build out our world-class marketing organization."
The studio declined further comment.
The first two "Pirates" sequels were global blockbusters: 2006's "Dead Man's Chest" made $1.06 billion worldwide, and 2007's "At World's End" made $960 million. "Tides," which opens in May, is expected to do a billion with a marketing spend of north of $60 million.
Bruckheimer wanted an experienced hand to market his next film, and experience is in short supply in Disney's marketing department.
"I think it's a smart move on Disney's part," he said of hiring Van Galder. "She's a seasoned veteran, and she's very smart."
However, Bruckheimer has told associates that hiring Van Galder was Disney's idea.
After Disney CEO Robert Iger pushed out longtime studio chief Dick Cook a year ago, he replaced him with Rich Ross, a cable executive with no film experience, and Ross hired Carney to run marketing. Carney was a partner in Naked Communications and also had no film experience. Meanwhile, the studio purged many seasoned staffers.
Some sources close to the studio expressed sympathy about Carney's predicament.
"You're throwing her into an impossible situation," a former Disney executive said. "She not only doesn't know the job but doesn't know the jobs of the people below her. And worst of all, [Ross] gutted the place. ... She's been given an opportunity that is like 100 pounds of manure in a bag, and she's being told, 'You can do it because you know media.' "
Another source with close ties to the studio echoed that idea and said that hiring Van Galder wasn't necessarily a slap at Carney.
"I think it was, 'You don't have a team that's deep enough,' " the source said. "She understands that. She's not the one who undid the department."
Some observers have been especially critical of the marketing for "Sorcerer's Apprentice," which opened to $17.6 million in July. A source involved with the project said it was clear weeks before the film's bow that it was in trouble.
"You need a lot of experience to start off on the right foot and to be quick on your feet and change when things aren't going right," the insider said. "The studio doesn't have either of those things."
Bruckheimer held back from laying the blame directly on Carney.
"These campaigns are done eight months, a year in advance," he said. "It's hard to point the finger other than the fact that they lost the head of marketing and the head of the studio."
Sources were especially critical of Carney's role in crafting the tagline for "Sorcerer's Apprentice": "It's the coolest job ever."
"She was responsible for one of the hall-of-fame worst taglines ever for 'Sorcerer's Apprentice,' " the former Disney executive said. "She not only wrote it but insisted that it be in every piece of material. I've never seen a movie sell because it's about a job."
A source close to the production says director Jon Turteltaub argued to no avail that the tagline was the equivalent of selling a Harry Potter film by saying, "Harry Potter goes to the coolest school ever."
"No one wants to see a movie about a cool school, and no one wants to see a movie about a cool job -- especially if you're 11," the source said.
Turteltaub said he doesn't blame the tagline or any particular marketing decision for the movie's performance.
"They've owned up to anything that they know didn't go well," he told THR about the Disney marketing department. "It's a learning process on every movie. Who's to say whether it would have performed differently with a different marketing campaign? In hindsight, everybody gets very clever."
Carney did not try to pretend that the campaign was a success: After the movie opened, she sent Turteltaub an e-mail suggesting that he probably had a Scottish doll that he was sticking with pins (Carney is from Scotland).
"Sorcerer's Apprentice," which cost at least $160 million to produce, has generated about $175 million globally to date.
Another exec with ties to Disney said the jury isn't in yet on Carney.
"So far, she is bright and not political," the observer said. The tagline on "Sorcerer's Apprentice" "may not have helped the movie, but it wasn't its death knell."
Bruckheimer was circumspect.
"You never know," he said. "You don't know if it's the tagline. ... It's a delicate thing, how you release a film."
Borys Kit in Toronto contributed to this report.
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