How Paramount Plans to Break 'Star Trek's' International Curse
Footage debuting abroad, fancy junkets and Earth Hour stunts highlight the studio's push to reposition the franchise overseas: "We've tried to get away from the Trekkiness," says one exec.
This story first appeared in the April 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In early December, J.J. Abrams and Chris Pine flew to Japan to reveal a nine-minute trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness, an unusual move given the concept of Trekkies is mostly a U.S. phenomenon. More recently, producer Bryan Burk traveled to 11 countries -- including Brazil, Russia and Australia -- to share 25 minutes of footage with exhibitors and media. It's all part of Paramount's mammoth campaign to remove the stigma that has cursed the Star Trek franchise in many corners of the globe, where the television show and 11 previous movies -- not to mention science fiction in general -- never have been popular.
Abrams' 2009 Star Trek successfully revived the franchise in North America, where it took in a sizable $257.7 million. Yet it topped out at only $128 million overseas, where most Hollywood blockbusters now do the majority of their business. The studio did tailor its 2009 campaign by region (in Mexico and Russia, for instance, it was pitched as a disaster pic), but that wasn't enough, so Paramount upped the international marketing budget in an effort to jump-start foreign grosses this time around. "That's our No. 1 initiative," says Paramount chief marketing officer Josh Greenstein.
The studio is borrowing a page from Warner Bros., which overcame similar challenges with Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy (the Caped Crusader wasn't historically a great traveler) by crafting a huge overseas campaign. "We were able to turn the property into an event instead of a superhero movie," says WB's international distribution chief Veronika Kwan Vandenberg. The studio made its biggest push with 2012's The Dark Knight Rises, which became the first Batman movie to earn more overseas than domestically ($632.9 million vs. $448.1 million). Warners plans to repeat the strategy with June's Man of Steel, which features a British star (Henry Cavill) and the globally known Superman brand.
In eventizing Into Darkness, Paramount and Abrams also invited foreign press and exhibitors to L.A. last winter for a special press day. And in a March 23 stunt in the U.K., Paramount beamed the Delta symbol into the sky to signal that Earth Hour -- during which tens of millions of residents turned their lights off -- was over. A week before its May 17 launch in North America, Into Darkness will debut in several foreign markets, including the U.K. and Germany, in a further bid to build international buzz.
Paramount is playing up Benedict Cumberbatch's villainous character in many foreign markets where a bad-guy-vs.-good-guy storyline resonates best. And the studio is promoting the fact that much of Into Darkness takes place on Earth -- not in space. "In many places, we did extensive research to find out what we should showcase," explains president of international distribution Anthony Marcoly. "Overseas, we've tried to get away from the Trekkiness of it all."