Roll out the red carpet

With film premieres costing up to $350,000, who benefits from throwing these lavish events? In a feature that first appeared in Encore, Lee Zachariah investigates.

In the film world, the instant signifier of opulence and glamour is the bit of material that the stars tread on to get from their limo to the theatre. In Australia, red carpet premieres remain the preferred way of turning a film into a big event, be it an Australian production filled with starry-eyed newcomers, or a big Hollywood blockbuster featuring a bewildered, jetlagged star midway through their layover. It looks like a lot of fun for the people who go, but the question must be asked: what purpose do they serve?

“The core purpose of hosting a premiere event is generating publicity for the film,” says Universal’s Suzanne Stretton-Brown. This year, Universal has brought Steve Carell to Australia for the premiere of Despicable Me 2 and will next week host Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright for the Australian premiere of The World’s End. “It’s about the celebration of a film release, particularly when the star has travelled from the other side of the globe to visit Australia. It also presents an important opportunity to showcase the film to tastemakers and business partners in the best possible setting,” says Stretton-Brown.

Although a film such as The World’s End is relatively low-key by Hollywood standards (not least of all because it was made in the UK), its internationally-recognised stars make it significantly bigger than most of its Australian counterparts like producer Rosemary Blight who saw great success with the 2012 film The Sapphires.

The decision on whether to throw a red carpet premiere for an Australian film, she says, is one she takes in conjunction with the distributor. “They are really expensive to do properly,” she says.

“You really need to analyse the value of having a premiere. Who’s going to be there, what cast, things like that.”

Last year The Sapphires premiered in both Sydney and Melbourne and doubled as the opening night of the Melbourne International Film Festival. The film effectively took over the Greater Union cinema complex screening in multiple cinemas at the same time.

Blight says: “You’re talking to an independent Australian producer here, so my experience is different to the experience of doing World War Z with Brad Pitt.”

Paramount’s recent premiere of World War Z saw star Brad Pitt and director Marc Forster in attendance, walking the carpet at Sydney’s The Star.

“Some red carpet arrivals can be quite simple,” says Jakki Temple, general manager of sales and marketing at The Star, “whilst others, such as World War Z, are quite unique.”

The event saw the entire event centre converted into a cinema equipped to show a 3D film.

The driveway at the front of the entertainment precinct was made into a red carpet area with ample room to host the multitude of Brad Pitt fans that lined the street.

Of course it comes as no surprise that film premieres are almost always held in either Sydney or Melbourne. In the case of the larger Hollywood premieres, it’s often a matter of space. The required massive theatres with large outdoor areas are generally only found in the bigger urban centres.

“It’s often dictated by how many cities the star is travelling to,” says Stretton-Brown. “It’s also about the ‘feel’ of the event, ie: whether we think it will draw a big crowd.”

In the case of Australian films, the location is often decided on where the majority of the cast and crew are primarily based. A Melbourne-shot film will, for obvious reasons, premiere in Melbourne. Films such as 2009’s Samson and Delilah tend to add remote locations to its roster, usually the locations where production took place. Following its initial premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival (mandated by the festival’s investment in the project), Samson and Delilah held a large event in Alice Springs prior to a screening at the Sydney Opera House.

The logistics of putting together such an event are massive. The Star has a checklist it consults when putting together an event which includes everything from closing roads with the local council to hiring security and booking suppliers to lay the carpet itself.

In Melbourne, the larger premieres are often held at Village’s Jam Factory or Hoyts’ Melbourne Central. Occasionally, the independent cinema The Astor Theatre in St Kilda will play host to them.

Last year the cinema hosted the Australian premiere of The Master, which featured director Paul Thomas Anderson. “The reason we had that over a different cinema is that it was a 70mm print,” says Tara Judah, the Astor’s programming and content assistant, “and we’re the only place that can run that. So that was a specialist case.”

“In a lot of circumstances we are the venue that hires out the theatre to a third party, which might be a publicity company or a distributor, or it might be the film-makers themselves who want to put on their own premiere screening,” adds Judah.

A flat hire rate can help keep costs down for local film-makers without a massive publicity budget. This is useful, as the costs of premieres vary wildly.

“How long is a piece of string?” says Stretton-Brown when asked for a ballpark figure. “They can cost anything from $30,000 to $350,000. It really depends on the location, the event and staging, after party or pre-party, satellite feeds, security requirements, council guidelines, dressing a venue, entertainment… the list goes on.”

“It’s very hard to do one of those parties for under $100,000,” says Blight.

The Star’s Jakki Temple is more optimistic about the lower end of these costs claiming an event can be put on with a budget “from $500 to the sky’s the limit.”

Kathleen Drumm, Screen Australia’s head of marketing says: “Premieres are usually paid for by distributors based on the media coverage they determine they’ll get as a result of the events. Some films benefit from a festival platform, like The Sapphires, which had its Australian premiere at MIFF mitigating the cost. Big premieres usually tie in with more commercial films. Smaller films may have premieres which double as cast and crew screenings, so costs can be shared.”

The costs of such events are often offset by sponsors. Distributors will, for instance, partner with an alcohol brand in exchange for a well-placed logo behind the photographed stars. Sometimes the sponsorship is cash, other times it’s in-kind, such as free drinks at the after party, or hotel accommodation for the stars.

And then there’s the task of putting together the guest list. Stretton-Brown says: “This is probably one of the more challenging aspects to an event. Generally we have ‘lists’ of partners and stakeholders we want to invite. We endeavour to extend invitations to ‘celebrities’ who we believe will enjoy the film and this hopefully results in publicity from the red carpet and positive buzz about the film among their influential circles.”

With such a massive amount being put up for what is essentially one big party, how do producers and distributors see a return? This is where it gets difficult. Attempting to quantify the exact value that a red carpet premiere holds is impossible when it’s merely one component of a larger marketing strategy.

“It’s very hard to measure,” says Blight. She points to the value of The Sapphires premiere in which Hopscotch invited business partners and VIPs in order to spread the word. “They got wrapped up in the ownership of the film. I can’t go ‘It was worth this’; all I can say is that the word of mouth from the event worked for the film.”

“Australian film premieres are really special,” says Universal’s Stretton-Brown. “Generally because you have so many of the film-makers and stakeholders present, there is a genuine feeling of support for the film. But just like the premieres for American films, they ultimately don’t impact the numbers.”

“As we enter the launch phase for a film, we track awareness and interest levels, and these numbers help us estimate our opening weekend box office,” adds Stretton-Brown. “Generally, a premiere is just one aspect of a strategic marketing campaign, and it is unlikely you will see a major spike in numbers as a result of one event. Certainly, the tour will contribute to a spike, but ultimately we don’t rely on premieres to convert interest. By the time the stars walk the red carpet, much of the work has been done.”

There’s a science to a good premiere, and it’s one that some distributors have down. “A distributor will say ‘I want to position it in a certain audience, and that’s why I’m doing the party’,” says Blight. “A red carpet event is expensive, it’s time consuming, and if you don’t have the right target audience there who are going to spread word of mouth to the audience that you want, then you’re wasting your time.”

“There’s probably better ways to spend your money,” she adds. “As much as we like a big party.”

Encore issue 22This story first appeared in the weekly edition of Encore available for iPad and Android tablets. Visit encore.com.au for a preview of the app or click below to download.


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