Dialogue: Par marketing maven Rich


Gerry Rich, Paramount Pictures' president of worldwide motion picture marketing, cut his teeth launching films at Columbia Pictures in late '80s. He has witnessed firsthand the evolution of the movie debut by working at Miramax, MGM and United Artists. Rich, who recently re-upped with the Melrose studio for three years, is riding high with the success of the studio's "Dreamgirls" and "Babel." The Hollywood Reporter film reporter Tatiana Siegel talked to Rich about the changing art of movie marketing.

THR: You are one of the few survivors from the previous regime at Paramount. How were you able to make the transition?

Rich: I was able to make the transition because I like to be part of something that is changing and evolving. It is really exciting as opposed to coming into an environment that is already set, and you are just carrying the torch. I embrace the changes and, hopefully, have contributed to changes. To see the fruits of all the change is really rewarding. It's an incredible opportunity to press the reset button -- and the studio has done that in a substantial way -- and to tear down any of the sacred cows and to help the studio evolve in the new world order and to create systems and methodologies that are original and fresh and progressive. The studio has endured a number of changes on many levels, and it's a great opportunity to build an infrastructure that works for us. Studios are rich in traditions, but they also tend to be a bit rigid in terms of the way they operate because they inherit things over the years. Here we've able to tear down a lot of walls and rebuild them in a way that makes a lot of sense. Change is always daunting, but it has had a positive impact on the folks who stayed and also the new folks who joined us over the past couple of years.

THR: "Dreamgirls" and "Babel" were the big winners at the Golden Globes. Did that provide some vindication for the studio?

Rich: It was a great night for Paramount, for DreamWorks, for Paramount Vantage. We are all in the same family, and it was great to succeed together. A lot of changes transpired over the years and culminated with (Monday) night, with this incredible celebration.

THR: Perhaps it's a nice predicament to find yourself in, but how do you pick a film to back for the best picture Oscar?

Rich: I don't think you have to pick a child. Each film has its own voice, and for us, they are both poised for year-end accolades, and we are rooting for both. Ultimately, it's up to (Academy) voters, and we hope that both films find their way onto the ballot.

THR: If both films are nominated for best picture, what will you do then?

Rich: DreamWorks and Paramount co-financed "Dreamgirls," and there is a separate marketing team led by Terry Press. Our group has worked collectively with her. Vantage is taking the lead with "Babel," and there is a sense that we are rooting for both films, and both films will get their due. Should we find ourselves fortunate enough to have both films on the ballot, they will each have their own plans that are truly indigenous to each film. This is not unusual. There have been studios that have had more than one film on the ballot. I was head of marketing at Miramax at a time when "Chicago" and "Gangs of New York" were both on the ballot. It's wonderful. It's a gift, not a problem ... an embarrassment of riches.

THR: How closely did you work with the filmmakers on these campaigns?

Rich: I worked very closely with the filmmakers on "Dreamgirls." Again, Terry has taken the lead, and I've worked closely with her group. What's exciting about the campaign is it continues to grow. It's not the type of film that opens and plays out. It's the type of film that builds momentum as it gets further in its run, and the audience continues to expand. We are reaching out to people who are fans of musicals, and, more importantly, we are reaching out to people who wouldn't normally see a musical. Through the course of the year, many of us work on films that are all about the opening week, and it tends to be more of a sprint that we get as much as we can on the opening weekend. This is the type of film that continues to grow and is much more of a marathon.

THR: Things have changed so much over the years in how films are marketed. What are some of the unique strategies you are using in the way you draw attention to your films, particularly with the younger demographic?

Rich: Now more than ever we are recognizing that the younger demographic multitasks on a daily basis, particularly the younger male audience. So we don't attempt to reach them through any broad-reach program. You can still reach a younger female audience through shows like "American Idol." As far as traditional viewing habits for younger males, that is much trickier than years ago because they are spending so much more time in other environments like online gaming, platform gaming, instant messaging, text messaging, cell phones, online. And we really need to go where the eyeballs are. It's a little more of a shotgun approach. Awareness is just part of the equation, but messaging and building a sense of urgency to see a movie on an opening weekend is actually more important.

THR: With "Mission: Impossible III," you found yourself in a situation where you had to market a movie amid all of the negative publicity surrounding star Tom Cruise. How do you deal with a campaign when your biggest asset becomes something of a liability?

Rich: More than anything, you try and keep the focus on the movie itself. We loved (director) J.J.'s (Abrams) film. Tom is a great marketer, and J.J. is a great visionary, and we are so lucky to have (Abrams) here. We just let the movie speak for itself, and we think it did. We are really proud of the movie J.J. made and can't wait to see what he does next and are thrilled that it will be here.