In the small Ohio farm TOWN where Laura Kim grew up in one of two Korean families, there was no movie theater. Nor was Kim any kind of a film nut. But when she gave up premed soon after arriving at Boston University in 1986, she fell into a Warner Bros. internship on campus, then moved to Los Angeles, where she landed a job in the publicity department at Disney. “I had no other job skills other than painting houses,” Kim tells me over a shared plate of French fries at Cafe du Village in Larchmont. “I had no bearings, and didn’t know where I was.” That all changed when Mark Pogachefsky lured a willing Kim to his independent film-publicity company, where, in 11 years of very hard work and relative tranquillity (working for Pogachefsky, she says, was “a lot of show tunes but no drama”), she became the thinking critic’s go-to girl for quality cinema ranging from The Sweet Hereafter to In the Bedroom to Mulholland Drive. One of her favorite publicity campaigns was for Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book, which she got to open in museums and cinematheques as well as art-house theaters. At Warner Independent Pictures, where she oversees marketing and publicity, Kim feels more responsible for a film’s success or failure. Her easiest campaign last year was March of the Penguins, which pretty much sold itself (except that “penguins can’t do interviews”); her hardest was the worthy but medicinal Good Night, and Good Luck; her most crisis-laden was the Palestinian film Paradise Now, which was plagued with visa problems for its two young stars.
Preternaturally modest and self-effacing — she has to run out to her car to check the title of the new book, I Wake Up Screening: What to Do Once You’ve Made That Movie, that she co-authored with critic John Anderson — Kim is that rare publicist whose comfort zone is behind the scenes. “My personality is not that of a cold caller,” she says. She’s honest and direct and entirely bullshit-free, and she’s learned the hard way how to “say no quickly and easily” to unreasonable demands, which she says come more often from journalists and personal publicists than from overindulged movie stars. When one publicist reeled off a list of ludicrously specific breakfast items for her client at the Sundance Film Festival, Kim had to hare off to Albertsons and fry up the client’s meal. “He comes in and he eats,” she says. “And then the publicist goes, ‘Where’s mine?’ ” Which was only marginally more obnoxious than the Hollywood Reporter journalist who unblushingly tried it on with that hoary old Hollywood chestnut, “Do you know who I am?”