Slate expectations

For its initial releases, Paramount Pictures International is putting an emphasis on culturally specific marketing strategies.

At first glance, Paramount Vantage's Oscar hopeful "Babel" might seem like a daunting film to market to international audiences: The central conceit of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's gripping drama, after all, is that humanity is paralyzed by an inability to communicate and that our limited worldviews are responsible for much of the suffering on Earth. Try summarizing that complex notion with a simple tagline or pithy catchphrase that will reach moviegoers in multiple territories.

Fortunately, Paramount Pictures International executive vp international marketing Jon Anderson has found that international audiences have a particular fondness for thoughtful, intellectually challenging subject matter. "There is definitely an indie (mindset) abroad -- not necessarily for American independents alone, but for independent films in general," he says.

In Europe, in particular, Anderson says, "There is interest and passion for serious films and a great deal of attention paid to movies that have something to say," and "Babel's" solid boxoffice in such key territories as Mexico and Spain only underscores his point. "It says something about audiences' willingness to invest time in serious subjects, but also about the basic qualities of this and other great films."

A 26-year veteran of international distribution and an Australian native, Anderson is responsible for getting the word out about the films that comprise PPI's extensive upcoming slate, which includes movies from all the brands under the Paramount umbrella: DreamWorks, Paramount Vantage, MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies.

Given the increasing importance of international receipts to a given film's boxoffice, Anderson says he and his team are involved in pre-release decisions very early on in order to try to maximize a movie's worldwide appeal. "International is part of the greenlight process," he says. "We are brought in very early on materials -- unlike the way it used to be, when international offices were out there doing their own thing.

"We are looking at global opportunities rather than domestic and international," he continues. "Our involvement is to complete the process. It's no news that international can sometimes significantly outweigh the domestic boxoffice."

Following is an early look at some key titles PPI is set to release in the coming months, and in some instances, Anderson's insights into the company's marketing strategy.

Babel (Paramount Vantage)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's gripping drama interweaves the stories of four families in different parts of the world.

Bee Movie (DreamWorks Animation)
On paper, it's a Jerry Seinfeld movie, but a story about a bee suing the human race for having harvested all the world's available honey is "a great concept as well," Anderson says. In markets where Seinfeld has not developed a strong enough following, "the focus of the materials will be on that concept rather than celebrity-driven," Anderson says. "We'll concentrate on its story line, the amazing look of the animation and the humor in the story." In dubbing all animated films, finding the right local voice talent is crucial. "Sometimes, celebrity voices are chosen for the value that they can bring to the publicity process," he says. "At other times it is more about finding the right voice that sets up the emotion for the film in a foreign language and gets the story out to people. It is a very involved process that requires sensitive handling to make sure that you are matching character and voice in the same way as if you were watching in English." For "Bee Movie," the goal is to find a celebrity that "hopefully at a local level will do the same great job as Jerry Seinfeld would do for an American audience."

Black Snake Moan (Paramount Vantage)
Reaching out to critics and a cross section of media will help "find champions" for Craig Brewer's dramatic love story about two lost Southern souls, the director's follow-up to 2005's "Hustle & Flow." Anderson believes in the performances of Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci. "She has a great following, especially with the so-called indie set," he says. Given its specialized feel, the main responsibility will be "getting the film out to right audience."

Blades of Glory
(DreamWorks)
This high-concept movie about two rival ice skaters played by Will Ferrell and Jon Heder boasts "broad comedy, plenty of visual gags" and should be successful in the U.S. But abroad? "It is a genre that doesn't always work," Anderson admits, "but that only means that we've got to work even harder. There is a lot of money being invested internationally, and you never know when these movies are finally going to break through. Putting the effort in and being rewarded is an exciting part of this business."

Charlotte's Web (Paramount)
Given the target audience of director Gary Winick's big-screen adaptation of E.B. White's beloved children's book, timing meant everything. To take advantage of the summer break starting Down Under, the film opened in Australia ahead of its late-December berth in the U.S. "There is business to be made from group bookings, schools and the like prior to the kids breaking up," Anderson says. "Most of the rest of the world, including Europe, will be heading out for the February midterm break."

Disturbia (DreamWorks)
Shia LaBeouf is under house arrest and suspects that his next-door neighbor is a killer. Think "cat-and-mouse game," Anderson says, and "a modern take on (1954's Alfred Hitchcock classic) 'Rear Window,' completely updated." The plan is to sell director D.J. Caruso's film overseas as more of a thriller than a horror movie, Anderson says, adding that one of the taglines being "bandied about" is "Every killer lives next door to someone."

Dreamgirls (Paramount/DreamWorks)
All release dates internationally will be behind the U.S. in order to take advantage of anticipated award nominations and possible wins. Anderson says that potential Golden Globes, Oscars and BAFTA Awards exposure will give Bill Condon's lauded musical adaptation "added profile in markets outside the U.S." and hopes all the additional attention will "really set the stage for people."

Freedom Writers (Paramount)
Richard LaGravenese directs two-time Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank in this film, based on the true story of inner-city high school teacher Erin Gruwell. "The key is to focus on how this teacher found a way in, how she communicated with her at-risk students, giving focus in their lives," Anderson says. Internationally, "we are taking it away from their stories to concentrate on what this woman was able to achieve." Co-star Patrick Dempsey's star power will be "valuable" in territories where his hit ABC series "Grey's Anatomy" is airing successfully, while Swank's performance gives "Writers" an "amazing credibility that throws attention to the subject matter," he says.

Hot Rod (Paramount)
This action comedy stars NBC's "Saturday Night Live" cast member Andy Samberg as a daredevil on a moped.

Into the Wild
(Paramount Vantage)
Sean Penn directs this adaptation of Jon Krakauer's novel about a young man (Emile Hirsch) who retreats into the Alaskan wilderness. Anderson calls the film an "enormously satisfying" project that will require "special handling and care on a local level." To him, "really developing the movie" includes "hand-picking" the right kind and number of cinemas, "getting the critics" into early screenings and "building an audience from the ground up."

The Kite Runner (DreamWorks)
"If you haven't read this book" by Khaled Hosseini, Anderson urges, "go ahead and buy it. I swear, you won't be able to put it down." He also is "really excited" that David Benioff's adaptation is directed by Marc Forster. The story of friendship and redemption in Afghanistan has "great potential because it has found its way into many different countries. The book is going to be the leading thrust in all of our marketing activities," he says.

A Mighty Heart (Paramount Vantage)
Talk about a pedigree. This real-life drama is based on the memoir "A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life & Death of My Husband Danny Pearl" by Mariane Pearl and is co-produced by Brad Pitt, directed by Michael Winterbottom and stars Angelina Jolie and Dan Futterman (the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of 2005's "Capote"). Despite the serious overtones of a story about a journalist killed in the line of work, "any film with Angelina Jolie in it gives you a head start in terms of marketing," Anderson says. "She is an Academy Award-winning actress with a high profile in terms of getting attention for this true-life story. She is credible and respected for both her acting talents and her caring about the environment and the world. She is a true ambassador."

Norbit
(DreamWorks)
"Eddie Murphy -- and in multiple roles," Anderson says of the film's appeal; it's a formula that worked in 1996's "The Nutty Professor" and 2000's "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps." Given his "fantastic" performance in "Dreamgirls," however, PPI's marketer foresees "another level to this very funny laugh-out-loud comedy" directed by Brian Robbins. There is "warranted talk about him receiving a supporting actor nomination (for 'Dreamgirls')," and with "Shrek the Third" likely to break records, "this will be a great year for Eddie Murphy," Anderson says. "Talk about being in the media eye."

Reno 911!: Miami (Paramount)
This broad comedy based on the cult TV series on Comedy Central will be sold like a "Police Academy" movie. "Everybody will understand the concept very quickly," Anderson anticipates.

Shooter (Paramount)
When a plot to kill the president is uncovered, expert marksman Mark Wahlberg is called out of retirement to stop the assassination in this film, based on the novel "Point of Impact" by Stephen Hunter, who also adapted the screenplay. Thanks to the direction of Antoine Fuqua and a "good, solid cast," "Shooter" should be "a really big hit for us," Anderson says. "Conspiracy thrillers are very popular now." With films like those in Universal's "Bourne" franchise, he says, there has been a move in recent years to "take the action thriller into a much more realistic setting. A well-plotted story gives adults something to get their teeth into. It's not just car chases for the sake of car chases."

Shrek the Third (DreamWorks Animation)
"Most of us here worked on the (2001's) 'Shrek,'" Anderson says. "It is very gratifying to look back at all the work that was done to establish the franchise. (DreamWorks Animation CEO) Jeffrey Katzenberg takes a great deal of care in making these films, and I just know this will be a big event for us." New characters include Young Arthur and Merlin, but "it's really about people trusting us that they're once again in for a good time," Anderson says.

Stardust (Paramount)
Director Matthew Vaughn helms this all-star adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy adventure, featuring Claire Danes, Robert De Niro, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais, Sienna Miller, Peter O'Toole and Michelle Pfeiffer. While the book will be an important component of the marketing campaign, Anderson points out how this "gentle fantasy with a strong romance provides something different."

Transformers (Paramount/DreamWorks)
Anderson calls this film, directed by Michael Bay and executive produced by Steven Spielberg, a "major tentpole movie."

Untitled Farrelly Brothers Project (DreamWorks)
There's something about Ben Stiller. "We can't underestimate his international standing as one of the biggest comedy stars," Anderson says -- especially after such hits as 2000's "Meet the Parents" and 2004's "Meet the Fockers" and "his superb vocal work" on 2005's "Madagascar." Stiller's latest vehicle is sure "to be one of the big comedy hits," Anderson says. The story follows a man who finds the real girl of his dreams while on his honeymoon.

Year of the Dog (Paramount Vantage)
Mike White wrote and directed this story about a secretary played by Molly Shannon whose life changes after her dog dies. Additional cast includes Laura Dern, Regina King, John C. Reilly and Peter Sarsgaard, and Anderson expects the film to be a "quirky, offbeat movie."


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