Shopping Oscar-winning 'foreign' films to global economy


"La Vie en Rose" (2007)
When marketing a movie about French icon Edith Piaf to the French, you simply don't call it "La Vie en Rose." That was the title Picturehouse used for the film's North American release, with a deliberate attempt to evoke "Frenchness." But the French don't need reminding of Frenchness, which is one reason the biopic had the title "La Mome" in its native land.

" 'La Mome' (slang for 'the kid') is the nickname that everybody in France knows her by," says Picturehouse president Bob Berney. "But that obviously doesn't mean anything domestically."

If the film's evocation of Old France was a key element of the U.S. marketing campaign, it risked alienating local audiences, especially the youth market, says producer Alain Goldman. Targeting that group -- a very different segment than the older audience that goes to see foreign-language films in North America -- was at the heart of his thinking.

"The biggest challenge was to bring in the young audience," he says. "All the components of her life are ones that young people like in artists: no career plan, not doing things for money, having lots of love affairs, drinking. She was the first rock star, and that was an essential part of our campaign."

To get away from a fuddy-duddy image, Goldman made maximum use of actress Marion Cotillard and director Olivier Dahan, both then unknown in America but familiar to younger audiences in France.

Notes Goldman, "What we had to do was make young people understand that, if (Dahan and Cotillard) were interested in Edith Piaf, it was because she was a modern subject."

In the trailer, Goldman tried to further this impression of modernity, emphasizing "the incredible emotional journey -- but one that concentrates on her early years and does so not in a chronological, 'bio-picture' way, but by doing something more cool and modern."

Two French television specials -- one a look at Piaf's life, the other a show with hip singers tackling her songs -- added to the film's luster. Even more important was the film's poster, which Goldman calls "almost mystical, where you see her from the back, like someone who is preaching. That was done to attract a young audience."

The campaign worked. A year before Cotillard was even mentioned as an Oscar contender (she won best actress), Goldman says, "we opened with the biggest boxoffice in the country ($9 million in the opening weekend)."

"The Counterfeiters" (2007)
To launch a film like "The Counterfeiters" in Europe, producer Josef Aichholzer knew he had to get his Holocaust-themed movie into a major festival.

"Berlin is better for political subjects, and Cannes is better for special-director movies," he explains. "As soon as we got an invitation from Berlin, we accepted, because then you are one of only 15-20 films. It puts you in a very elevated position."

That elevated position almost backfired, however, when "Counterfeiters" -- the true story of a counterfeiting operation set up by Nazis inside a concentration camp -- divided the critics. Globally it was successful, but not with German critics, Aichholzer recalls. Those non-German critics would propel the film on a path that would eventually lead to an Oscar for best foreign-language film. But domestically, Aichholzer had to rely on other tools.

From the start, he realized it would be a mistake to present the picture as a Holocaust movie.

"We never thought to do a so-called 'concentration camp movie,' " he says. "It is a story without the killing of people, which is normal in concentration camp movies. We always said, 'This was Club Med in the camp.' "

He strove to go beyond the obvious crowd. "Our interest was not just to reach the art house audience -- it was also to reach well-educated audiences that are neither purely (devoted to) art house nor popcorn cinema," Aichholzer says.

To tap into that audience, Aichholzer made the most of the name recognition that came with the movie's star, Karl Markovics, and director Stefan Ruzowitzky, who had already had a success with 1998's "Die Siebtelbauern."

He also created a trailer that emphasized his con man hero's good life before his imprisonment and a commercial that would be placed on programs targeted at a broad audience.

For print advertising, "we focused on magazines outside the cinema audience and tried to contact institutions (with serious audiences), like those going to concerts."

Along the way, Aichholzer printed a special 50-page brochure about the film, targeted at teachers, and arranged seminars with a 91-year-old survivor of the camp in which the story took place, whose book about his experiences was republished to time with the movie's opening. He also collaborated with Austrian television on a special about the counterfeiting operation.

Despite all these efforts, the movie did not really take off at first.

"This touches on a problem we had in German-speaking countries that we didn't have internationally," Aichholzer says. "The other markets realized this is a strong story. But here, it is as if you are not allowed to tell a story like that."

In other words, a story about the concentration camps could not be told in a way that wasn't stark or forbidding.

The Oscar for best foreign picture changed everything. It proved the biggest boon to the marketing campaign, even within Germany and Austria. Now audiences that hadn't seen the movie realized they needed to do so.

"We reached 34,000 people (before the Oscar), and at this point we are close to 170,000," Aichholzer notes. "Now it is a success."