Will Scandal Boost Allen's Latest Film? : Marketing: Real-life events surrounding the director have shaped TriStar's campaign to sell 'Husbands and Wives.'

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TriStar Pictures wouldn't dare promote Woody Allen's "Husbands and Wives" in such a crass fashion, but real-life events surrounding the director have shaped the studio's marketing campaign.

Production executives have already admitted to releasing the film on Sept. 18, five days earlier than originally scheduled, to take advantage of the publicity--sordid and otherwise--tied to the director's romantic entanglements over the 21-year-old adopted daughter of his now-ex lover and co-star Mia Farrow.

It then was revealed that TriStar would open the movie on 800 screens, far more than for any of Allen's previous films. The director has consistently had a strong critical following with such films as "Annie Hall," which won the best picture Oscar in 1977, but commercially his movies have always first played in limited release before being booked into more theaters if they proved popular.

Although TriStar would not reveal how much it was spending to release and promote "Husbands and Wives," one marketing executive who previously worked on Allen's movies said he estimates the current marketing campaign to cost upward of $6 million, three times as much spent on any of the director's movies for Orion Pictures, his previous "home."

TriStar Chairman Mike Medavoy says that unlike Orion, which he headed before the company fell into bankruptcy, TriStar, a division of Sony Pictures Entertainment, can more easily afford to take such financial risks.

To look at the print advertisements for "Husbands and Wives," those who've followed the spare, highly stylized posters drawn for other Allen films over the years will notice that quotes from film critics are used. Allen, said to be exacting about every aspect of his movies, never before allowed quotes to clutter up a film's logo in advertisements, but now apparently has gone along with the studio's wish to use them.

As such, TriStar used "generic, upbeat" quotes to entice more mainstream moviegoers who may not have been converted to the director's iconoclastic, New York-centric view of modern life, Medavoy said.

"Fiercely funny! A groundbreaking film," says Peter Travers of Rolling Stone. "'Husbands and Wives' is a brilliant movie--funny and inspired," says Brook Hersey of Glamour magazine. "Edgy and hilarious," says David Ansen of Newsweek.

Many of the country's lead reviewers have yet to weigh in, although Allen is considered a critic's favorite, led by the consistently laudatory Vincent Canby of the New York Times.

As one industry analyst said: "It's a different era for Woody Allen."

The official version from Medavoy is that the company's decision not to release the picture first in selected theaters in key cities like L.A., New York and Chicago before opening it wider was based upon his belief that it is Allen's most accessible film to date and worthy of a major launch.

Besides, Medavoy added: "(His) has become a worldwide story. It made no sense to platform it. You do that when you want to build awareness." And awareness was something that wasn't in short supply, he added.

During Medavoy's decade-long tenure at Orion, Allen made 11 films including his biggest commercial success, "Hannah and Her Sisters," which won him a best screenplay Oscar, and several others done as an homage to his idol Ingmar Bergman that barely caused a ripple at the box office, notably "September" and "Another Woman."

Allen and Medavoy's longstanding relationship aside, some industry analysts say that TriStar would be foolish not to exploit the potential that mass audiences might find the filmmaker's cinematic version of a married couple's breakup as titillating as the domestic war currently being waged in full public view between him and Farrow.

They also say the strategy could backfire. Already, there have also been reports that trailers for "Husbands and Wives" has been booed in theaters in Los Angeles and New York, though TriStar said the picture has tested well in such cities as Dallas, not considered to be Allen territory.

Is Medavoy (and TriStar) nervous?

"Well, I'm nervous about every picture we open. I was nervous about 'Terminator 2,' I was nervous about 'Hook'--and it's gone on to gross $300 million worldwide."

The question yet to be answered is whether scandal will propel "Husbands and Wives" at the box office or stifle it.

A Hollywood executive said: "People who are fascinated (in Allen's personal problems) will go Friday night. After that, the movie has to stand on its own."

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