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FOX PUTS ‘THE MAN’S’ MONEY WHERE ITS FOOT IS

Times Staff Writer

A nun in Dallas jogs in one. A statue in San Antonio wears one. The San Diego Chicken jumps around in one. And a giant in Florida may win one.

One what? One red shoe.

20th Century Fox is lacing the country with mismatched sneakers--one red, one some other color--in an old-fashioned Hollywood effort to create awareness for a movie that might otherwise be buried in the busy midsummer movie market.

“The Man With One Red Shoe,” a spy spoof starring Tom Hanks and Lori Singer, will be released against stiff competition July 19, and if Fox’s antic marketing scheme works, a lot of people will be dying to see a movie they know nothing about.

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“We’re trying to give it a clear identity as a comedy,” says David Weitzner, president of marketing for Fox’s movie division. “When you have a comedy in the summertime, it doesn’t hurt to have a good time with it.”

Everyone’s been having a great time so far. Fox’s field people have been been putting mismatched shoes on mannequins in department-store windows nationwide. They’ve fitted afternoon newspaper carriers, TV talk-show hosts, even the Los Angeles Lakers’ Dancing Barry.

Red shoes are showing up all over Los Angeles. Tuesday, studio workmen installed a male mannequin in the Cadillac buried in the facade above the Hard Rock Cafe at Beverly Center--his feet protruding from an open door, with one red shoe.

Next week, billboards will appear on San Vicente and Sunset boulevards showing star Tom Hanks in athletic poses and wearing the same red shoe he wears in the movie, which is a remake of a 1972 French film, “The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe.” (In neither movie does the shoe have anything to do with the story.)

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A week later, the winner of Fox’s “biggest foot” contest will be flown to New York to be shod with custom-mismatched shoes by Hanks, who is there working on his next film (Steven Spielberg’s “The Money Pit”), then to Los Angeles where his record foot will leave an impression in a concrete slab on the studio lot.

(The leading contender is 7-foot, 320-pound Robert Lee Baker of Florida. His feet measure 20 inches from heel to toe, 21 inches when he puts his weight on them.)

Fox has sent out a press release on red shoelaces, shipped red sneakers to news people and TV personalities and is about to mail out a calendar that re-dresses historical figures from Cleopatra to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in red shoes.

All of this may be fun, but does it sell tickets?

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“Our job is to create an awareness and a want-to-see,” says Elizabeth Landon, vice president of Fox publicity. “We are powerless once people get into theaters . . . but we have to get them there.”

Fox is the only studio still depending heavily on offbeat field promotions. Most studios budget their time and money by the TV network clock, reasoning that they can reach more people with one 30-second commercial than Fox would if Big Foot himself stepped forward to claim his title.

“I don’t know whether it’s a fading art, or just on the back burner,” Weitzner says. “It’s what I grew up on in this business. It’s a staple of show business.”

Weitzner also sees it as a way to isolate a special movie for special handling.

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“Every film is different, and needs to be sold differently,” he says. “You can’t depend on a media buy every time out.”

Weitzner says the privately owned studio has the advantage of not having to please a parent company, whose marketing philosophies may be in conflict.

“It’s a great advantage to be at Fox,” he says. “The management credo here is that there are no rules: Let’s be different.”

Fox has had remarkable success with promotions for such films as “Porky’s” (remember the pig-outs?), “Revenge of the Nerds” (the Nerd Olympics) and “Bachelor Party” (capped by a wedding at the Astrodome). It’s also had some sizable failures: “Buckaroo Bonzai,” “Johnny Dangerously,” “Moving Violations.”

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“There are some movies where no matter what you do, it doesn’t help,” Landon acknowledges.

Worse, clever ideas often backfire.

Linda Goldenberg, who heads Fox’s field promotions, painfully recalls a screening she organized in Cincinnati a few years ago for “Oh, Heavenly Dog,” starring Chevy Chase and Benji. Goldenberg invited dog owners to bring their pets.

Most of the dogs who showed up had a good time, Goldenberg says, restless as they were. But at some point during the show, one old-timer dozed off and didn’t wake up. The story that a dog had died during a dogs’ screening was moved by one of the national wires.

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“It seemed like such a good idea at the time,” she says.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?: Producer Ed Pressman has a problem. He has this movie, a detective spoof directed by cult favorite Sam Raimi (“The Evil Dead”), starring Louise Lasser and Reed Birney and written by the hot brother team of Ethan and Joel Coen (“Blood Simple”), and it doesn’t have a title.

Or, rather, it has too many.

For months, exhibitors’ charts have listed the film as “XYZ Murders,” the name given it by the Coen brothers.

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It was shown and sold at the Cannes Film Festival--and later released in Europe--as “Crime Wave.” Embassy Pictures, which has distribution rights to the movie in the United States, wants to call it “Broken and Bloody Noses.”

Before the movie was shown in the recent Seattle Film Festival, it didn’t seem to matter what it was called. Pressman, who was executive producer of such films as “Das Boot” and “Conan the Barbarian,” says Embassy seemed content to sit on it.

Now, with Embassy being bought out by Coca-Cola and with the audience reaction at Seattle (it was one of the festival’s biggest hits), Pressman is optimistic that it will get a release after all. As for the title, he says he can live with any of the candidates, but wants it resolved.

Since the film was so well received in Seattle, maybe it should stick with the name used there: “An Untitled Movie.”

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FULL PRICE: “Sorry, no passes accepted for this engagement.”

The line is regularly found at the bottom of newspaper ads for major studio movies. It is there, say studio executives and film exhibitors, to keep seats open for paying customers.

Last Friday, it was also being used--at least, by box-office attendants at the UA Egyptian in Hollywood--to refuse discounts to senior citizens. Since the movie being shown was “Cocoon,” Ron Howard’s sci-fi fable about alien pods that rejuvenate old folks at a Florida nursing home, a lot of seniors apparently showed up for a look.

“The pass policy is set by the studio,” said a spokesperson for UA Communications, which operates the Egyptian and several other Southland theaters showing “Cocoon.” “We’re just honoring it.”

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Fox, the film’s distributor, demurs. “We put it (the no passes line) on all our movies for the first two weeks,” says Fox’s distribution chief Tom Sherak. “It’s not done to turn away senior citizens; it’s done to deter people with free passes. I don’t know too many managers who’d turn away senior citizens.”

The UA spokesperson said UA does not issue senior citizens cards, but does provide discounts for seniors when passes are not restricted.

General Cinema, showing “Cocoon” at the Avco Westwood and Sherman Oaks Cinema, has no senior citizens policy anywhere outside of Florida, says Vic Gatuso, at General Cinema’s Boston headquarters.

“We’ve had no recommendations from our regional people there (in Los Angeles) to incorporate this kind of policy,” he says. “We’d look into any suggestion on the subject.”

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Meanwhile, “Cocoon” is doing big business at full price. It opened to nearly $8 million worth of business in 1,140 theaters and pushed the summer’s biggest hit, “Rambo,” into second place.


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