COLUMN ONE : Wayne Takes on Europe : When ‘Wayne’s World’ enters the Old World, how do you translate ‘babe alert’ and ‘hurl’? Successfully, it turns out, with help from mock dictionaries, young comics and 250,000 pizza boxes.
Party on! Or, as they say here in France, Megateuf!
The movie version of “Wayne’s World,” playing off its success on television’s “Saturday Night Live,” has been a huge hit at home in the United States. But months ago, when Paramount Pictures executives and their international marketing specialists pondered how to take the film overseas, they knew they faced problems.
Few films in history have been more idiomatically American than this comedy about two weird (in France they say Zarb!) heavy metal freaks who run a public-access cable television program from the basement of a home in Aurora, Ill. In Europe, public-access cable TV is nonexistent; basements are used to store wine.
The problem, in short, was how to sell “Wayne’s World” in the Old World.
Hy Smith, a senior executive with United International Pictures, the London-based consortium that handles international marketing for Paramount, put his finger on the main challenge, saying: “What this movie is really about is teen-agers having their own language. The key is language.”
Having pinpointed the problem, the film’s promoters attacked it country by country:
* In Britain, which in May became the first European country to premiere the movie, an advertising campaign was launched to introduce the “Wayne’s World” lexicon to the English audience with 200,000 little, mock dictionaries. A special, live “Wayne’s World” program, featuring the movie’s stars, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, was broadcast on English MTV.
* In Germany, the marketeers hired the staff of the country’s most popular teen-age magazine to translate the film into hip Deutsch. Tia Carrere, the actress-singer who played Wayne’s love interest in the movie, made a three-city concert tour before the film opened.
* In France, considered the most difficult country to crack, promoters hired a sensationally popular team of young comics to find French equivalents to expressions such as Babe alert! Party on! and Not!
The comics, Alain Chabat and Dominique Farrugia, known professionally as Les Nuls, used a backward-speak suburban Paris street argot called verlan to do the job.
The film has not opened yet in France. But elsewhere in Europe it has been an unexpected success, already grossing $33 million by the first week of September. That is about three times what the film cost to make and more than what “Batman Returns” or “Lethal Weapon III” brought in for an equivalent period.
In the United States, where it opened in February, the film has so far grossed $120 million and was cited as the main reason Paramount earned $28.3 million for the first quarter ending April 30. Earlier this month, only two weeks after the film’s release as a video, it jumped to the top of the Billboard video rental chart.
The big numbers have silenced film executives who initially criticized Paramount Pictures Chairman Brandon Tartikoff, former chief of NBC Entertainment Group, for mixing media by attempting to translate the “Wayne’s World” television success to the movies.
But not only did “Wayne’s World” successfully spin off “Saturday Night Live” to the big screen, another television outlet, MTV, was one of the main vehicles used to promote it.
To complete the cycle, the television show “Saturday Night Live” is being aired for the first time in Britain, all because of the cinema success of its offspring, “Wayne’s World.” The polygamous media marriage of movies, music and television had never been more successfully consummated.
But the most pleasant surprise for the American film industry has been the international performance of “Wayne’s World.” Paramount spokesman Harry Anderson observed: “It has done as well internationally as we hoped initially it would do domestically.”
Although American films dominate the world market, comedies and youth films traditionally have not done well overseas. “Teen-age revelry films generally hit a wall when they come to Europe,” Smith said.
In addition, because of the private, teen language employed by the “Wayne’s World” characters, the film’s promoters had the extra challenge of giving an intensive international Berlitz course in 10 languages for Western Europe’s 330 million people. Glossaries and pocket-sized dictionaries were printed in major European languages, including German, French, Italian and Spanish.
“We’d never attempted anything this language-specific before,” said Paramount Motion Picture Group President Barry London, who made the decision to take the film to Europe.
After watching the success of “Wayne’s World” among American teens, London said he was convinced that the “universality in its hipness and youth appeal could translate into foreign territories.”
The decision was made to start with the English-speaking countries of Britain and Australia.
When United International Pictures pollsters first began tracking the British market in February, they recorded virtually no recognition of “Wayne’s World” or any of its characters among the teen and young adult public they wanted to attract.
After a 12-week mixed media campaign, ranging from the distribution in Scotland of 250,000 “Wayne’s World” boxes for pizza deliveries to magazine word-game contests awarding free trips to New York to view a performance of “Saturday Night Live,” the recognition level among the target audience had risen to a remarkable 82%, according to Smith.
Even more important, gushed Smith, “By opening day more than 72% of the under-25-year-olds we surveyed said they wanted to see the movie.”
The cultish language had become so pervasive in Britain that other advertisers began using it in their campaigns. A commercial for the British chain of Esso service stations, for example, aired a commercial depicting two long-haired customers rapping in “Wayne’s World” slang.
Realizing that British and American English is often quite different, advertising specialists in Britain printed passport translations of Wayne-speak. For example, the ubiquitous “Not!” was translated for the British public as: “I don’t think!” Similarly, “hurl,” Wayne-speak for vomit, was rendered into British English as “spew.”
Meanwhile, the Wayne-speak vulgarism about the unlikelihood of an event occurring (“And monkeys might fly out of my butt”) was doused with British politeness with this definition: “The chances of this happening are less than if primates were to soar from my posterior.” The German media campaigners also opted for a more polite version of this expression: “Und ehe ich mich versehe fliegen mir Affen aus dem Hintern. " (Roughly, “Before that happens, monkeys might fly out of my hind parts.”)
But perhaps more important than all of these efforts in building an international appeal was the hard-rock music featured in the film.
Partly thanks to MTV and other rock-video networks, rock music has become an international link language, the same in London and Lagos and Laramie. “Wayne’s World” throbs to the beat of 13 songs performed by groups such as Queen, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice Cooper, Eric Clapton and Rhino Bucket--most of them lesser known to teens in Europe than their American counterparts.
When “Wayne’s World” opened in London, 15 rock groups showed up at the theater and the post-screening party. Among the groups at the party was Kiss, arriving directly from a performance at Wembley Stadium. “I don’t think they even bothered to take a shower,” Smith said.
Chabat, 33, one of the French comedians who translated Wayne-speak into French, confirmed in an interview that he is a die-hard rock fan. “I love Aerosmith,” he confided in an interview at the Deauville American Film Festival, where the movie was being screened recently.
Chabat and partner Farrugia, 30, were already fans of “Saturday Night Live” and used it as a model for the creation of their zany television hit show “Les Nuls.”
The pair watched “Wayne’s World” 25 times looking for a way to translate it into French argot. Finally, they chose verlan , Parisian street slang in which speakers invert the order of a word to produce a code language. Verlan has origins in the 19th Century, when local hoods used it to mask their conversations from police. But over the years, it has been picked up as youth slang in the Paris suburbs and among teens in middle-class Parisian families.
As it applies to “Wayne’s World,” the verlan word for fete , or party, is teuf , or about what it sounds like backward. Chabat and Farrugia added mega for effect. Zarb , or weird in Wayne-speak, is just bizarre twisted around.
“The French kids needed a code of their own,” said Agnes Goldman, who is head of the marketing campaign in France. It would probably cause heart attacks in the halls of the Academie Francaise, protector of the French language from the scourges of foreign tongues. But Goldman predicts that both zarb and megateuf will soon become part of the general French vocabulary.
The verdict is still out on whether “Wayne’s World” will make it in France, where critics tend to intellectualize even the most trivial of comedy films.
But “Wayne’s World” received a positive reception at the Deauville festival, and there are hints that critics may have found an intellectual handle to justify accepting the movie.
Wayne and his sidekick, Garth, according to one French film expert, are at the cutting edge of a new “anti-golden-boy” trend in American cinema. According to this interpretation of “Wayne’s World,” no longer does America celebrate success and ruthless achievement. The new heroes are nerdy residents of the vast, crumbling American suburbs, heavy-metal-warped mall urchins such as Wayne and Garth.
Goldman, meanwhile, feels that “Wayne’s World” will succeed here in France for more simple reasons.
“I think it is a general societal phenomenon,” she said, noting, “I don’t think the young French kids are that much different from the young Americans.” Added Smith: “What we felt when we undertook this film is that teen-agers are teen-agers whether they are in Aurora, Paris, Rome or Osaka.”
Japan, in fact, will be the next “Wayne’s World” challenge, as the film opens there this fall.
A Complete Glossary . . . Not! To enter Wayne’s World, it helps to speak the language. Here’s a guide to how it translates around the world: WAYNE-SPEAK
BRITISH I don’t think Frankly remarkable My word she is attractive Unlikely, I believe The chances of this happening are less than if primates were to soar from my posterior We are not deserving
GERMAN Nicht, Nee, No Exzellent Schwing Tscha-ha, wirklich Und ehe ich mich versehe fliegen mir Affen aus dem Hintern Wir sind unwurdig
ITALIAN Per niente, Non e vero Geniale Sboing! Stronzate! Ma certo! Grandioso! Come le scimmie potrebbero volarmi fuori dal culo Non ne siamo degni