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Still, the studio is placing its trust in Shadyac, whose movies (Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar and Patch Adams) don’t please snot-nosed critics but satisfy lame-ass audiences. Now, even the long-standing relationship between the director and Universal is frayed. That became evident a few weeks ago when he blew up at a studio marketing meeting, bitch-slapped executives, fired his own marketing consultants Buffy Shutt and Kathy Jones, and generally created mayhem. “He was completely out of control,” one insider told me. Said another: “He was abusive, aggressive and obnoxious.”
Even though the director calmed down later and apologized, even though he always gets nervous before his movies open, Shadyac was unusually maniacal because he thought Universal wasn’t buying enough TV time. “I’m not seeing any ads, and I don’t know why,” he said to the assembled group of about 30. “I’m only hearing about all the other summer movies, and nothing about mine.” Since his blowup, Shadyac is looking right on the money, and Universal is looking wrong.
Warner’s Harry Potter commercials were already on the air in May, even though it doesn’t open until July 11. But not Evan Almighty. Though TV ads started popping up recently on Nickelodeon and networks, the studio was also marketing the pic in nontraditional ways, such as 50-city screenings aimed at church groups and religious leaders. Also, movies like Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3, which opened on the same day in markets around the world, garnered humongous global marketing budgets, whereas Evan Almighty spent the usual $50 million for a domestic-only release. Shadyac wanted the marketing for his $210 million pic to increase accordingly, to at least $80 mil.
The studio balked. “The problem is, Tom wants people seeing TV ads for Evan Almighty on the equivalent of the Super Bowl every five minutes. But we’re not just going to throw money away because Tom wants to become part of the big summer-blockbuster culture,” a studio insider told me. Get real. That’s exactly how it’s done.
Whose fault this is, Universal’s or GE’s, is debatable. “It’s no secret that GE is looking for ways to cut costs, and one of the places those people look first is movie marketing,” a Uni source explained. “The parent company keeps asking, ‘Why do we have to buy so much network time? And why so early? And why can’t we buy it just a week before?’ ”
Presently, box-office gurus anticipate a $50 million opening weekend (though Uni is talking an understated $40 mil) but then expect attendance to fall off sharply. That’s because of competing films like Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille, which opens June 29 and is garnering great reviews, and DreamWorks/Paramount’s Transformers, which opens July 3 and is tracking gigantic. That means Evan Almighty may need a miracle to get to movie heaven. Otherwise, it’s straight to hell.
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