King of comedy

Filmmaker Judd Apatow's comedic brand has fueled big boxoffice hits

Originally published June 13, 2008

Marketing execs know the gods are smiling down on them when a Judd Apatow film comes across their desks. Since 2004's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," he's had a hand in a nonstop stream of features, among them: 2006's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," 2007's "Superbad" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," Universal's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and Sony's "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" (which he co-wrote). Still on tap for 2008, from Sony, is "Step Brothers," the Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly re-pairing, and the stoner comedy "Pineapple Express," starring frequent Apatow castmember Seth Rogen.

"He brings an incredibly original voice," says Valerie Van Galder, Sony's president of domestic marketing. "In the marketing department, the most effective tool you can have is a terrifically playable movie. Anytime he puts his hands on anything, it's going to be better."

Apatow's frequent collaboration with movie marketers is being honored this year with The Hollywood Reporter Movie Marketing Key Art Awards' Visionary Award, given in recognition of a filmmaker who inspires movie marketers.

"He is very clear about a point of view," says Adam Fogelson, president of marketing and distribution at Universal. "But -- and this is a huge point -- he always understands that at the end of the day, our job is to figure out how best to sell the movies, and as long as we're having a real open dialogue, he's comfortable with us making whatever decisions we make."

"As a marketer, you couldn't ask for anything better," agrees Damon Wolf, CEO of Crew Creative. "Working on his movies is incredibly liberating creatively because of the product he provides us with."

Apatow spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his experience working with movie marketing departments, the reemergence of the "red-band" trailer and what works online.

The Hollywood Reporter: How's it feel to be named a "Visionary"?
Judd Apatow: I'm very excited. I have close relationships with all of the marketing people that I work with, so this is really fun for me.

THR: How much are you involved in the marketing of your films?
Apatow: I try to be as involved as possible. It took me a few years to get anyone to allow me into the dark rooms where these decisions are made. I think the instinct is that what the filmmakers do is different than the objectives of the marketing. But over time we've been allowed to collaborate and it's gone really well, and as a result it's now really fun and easy to do this work together. I've always felt that the people who are able to make the movies funny should have an understanding of how their characters work in different formats like commercials and trailers.

THR: How does the process work for you?
Apatow: It's different every time. Sometimes it's a little bit of a struggle to figure something out and other times they'll call you and say, "Come on in, we want to show you something," and you see something and it's perfect. I've had both experiences. At Universal I had absolutely nothing to do with (2005's) "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" poster other than when they showed me the concept, it seemed worth attempting. It was 100% them, and I thought, "Wow, they just made one of the great posters of all time."
On "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," it was a much longer, complicated process to figure out what we should do. And then they came up with the concept for these posters which said "I Hate Sarah Marshall," and then later the poster with (star) Jason (Segel), and that turned out to be a very inspired campaign. But it took months for us to settle on something. It was more complicated because it was about a guy who was miserable because his girlfriend broke up with him, and it was hard to get across the comedy of the movie while having a guy look really sad on the poster. And then they did a complete left turn and came up with this very inspired idea, which could not have worked better for that movie.

THR: What have you learned about marketing?
Apatow: I try to be aware of what the marketing people might need while I'm shooting the movie. When we were working on (2007's) "Knocked Up," I thought, "I better get some really good takes." Sometimes I can imagine what the trailers might be like while I'm shooting, and I'll get extra takes of certain lines or variations of certain lines because I know they are the moments that will explain the movie clearly in all of the marketing.

THR: We've seen a resurgence of the "red-band" trailer for adult audiences on some of your films. How did those come about?
Apatow: It's very hard to market R-rated movies because the audience never gets a taste of what the actual tone of the movie is. So I worked closely with (president of creative advertising) Josh Goldstine and (senior vp creative advertising) Loren Schwartz at Sony on a red-band for "Superbad." They did a fantastic job at it, and by having that out there people were able to get the joke style, which they couldn't see in the green-band trailers.
We've done it on a bunch of the other movies, but on certain movies it becomes essential because sometimes our premises are very simple and it's the joke style which is the reason why people would like the movie. If I can't get the joke tone across, I'm in trouble.

THR: Even before you got involved in FunnyOr, your films had a strong online demographic. What do you think works online?
Apatow: We're still figuring out what works online. To me it's usually pretty simple. I'm trying to make everything that people see which is connected to the movie be in the same style and as funny as the movie. Whether it's an online video or a commercial or a trailer or a poster, I want it all to be as good as the movie, and that's our only goal.

THR: You even made fun of viral marketing in one FunnyOrDie short.
Apatow: There is a lot of viral marketing, and it was fun to call it for what it was. The audience is very in tune with when you're trying to sell them something. And it's fun to just not hide it -- but goof on it. I don't think the audience minds if you're doing something that is viral marketing if it's entertaining. If it's entertaining and original, they don't care if it's connected to a movie -- they just don't want something mediocre. They don't want you to waste their time.

THR: Any advice for filmmakers becoming involved in the marketing of their movies?
Apatow: It's less intense if you start everything very early. A lot of times the filmmakers don't want to show the marketing people the movie because they don't think the movie is in good shape yet, and I've decided not to worry about that. So I will give the studio rough cuts of scenes before I'm done shooting the movie so they can begin their work. Sometimes I'm giving them the movie four months before they normally get it so they can begin cutting trailers and commercials. And as a result of me trusting them, they reciprocate by allowing me into their process early. And at the end of the day, we all just want materials that make the movie look as good as it is.
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