Saturday, October 18, 1997

Interview: "Risque Business"

Los Angeles Daily News, Written By Janet Weeks
October 19th, 1997

Promoting 'Boogie Nights' proves challenging

With "Boogie Nights," the marketing department at New Line Cinema faces a daunting challenge: selling mainstream America on the story of a teen-ager with a gift in his pocket so special it makes adult-film producers happy to see him.

It's a Boy-Meets-Pornographer tale woven with sex, nudity, drugs, violence and one very large prosthetic device -- not exactly the elements of a feel-good hit. No space aliens, no dinosaurs, no president in jeopardy. Featuring Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds and Julianne Moore, it also has no
"bankable" celebrities.

And to make New Line's job even, ahem, more difficult, a decision was made with the promotional campaign to downplay the film's sexual context. Indeed, the "P" word -- pornography -- has been all but banned from the studio's vocabulary.

"Our strategy is that this film is an important film to see and not a pornographic film," says Mitchell Goldman, New Line's president of marketing and distribution. "It's not about that. (Pornography) is only the backdrop. We're not playing that card."

In fact, the whole promotional campaign is aimed at doing two things: sparking pleasant memories of the pre-Gap, pre-yuppie, pre-Martha Stewart disco era; and positioning the film as a must-see pop-culture event.

There is nary a bump nor a grind in either the "Boogie Nights" poster or trailer. The poster is simply a star-shaped montage of faces, and one car.

The design, created with the help of director Paul Thomas Anderson, was arrived at after another poster design was rejected by the Motion Picture Association of America.

Goldman describes the original poster as "provocative. It was a close-up shot of a male torso in jeans with the fly unbuttoned, and sticking out was a camera lens. Maybe it would have set the wrong tone."

The current poster is meant to evoke nostalgia rather than provoke thoughts of sex. It is fashioned to resemble the sort of collages that youngsters made in the '70s out of snapshots of friends and images clipped from magazines. Goldman describes it as "sort of like a dorm-room bulletin board."

Why not put a sexy woman in lingerie on the poster? Goldman says New Line is trying to connect with the mainstream and hit the kind of $100 million pay dirt that Miramax found in "Pulp Fiction." And the mainstream may be turned off by attempts to peddle flesh over form.

"Sex sells when your budget is less than $15 million and when you're in a universe where you don't have so many films to compete with," he says. "Selling just sex is short-term and fleeting and not enough in these days of new movie economics."

The trailer is less obtuse than the poster. It shows a kiss, a pool party and Burt Reynolds' character -- adult-film director Jack Horner -- introducing himself as an "exotic pictures" producer. Like the poster, it serves up a huge dose of the past with shots of an eight-track player, platform shoes and Ditto shorts.

To sell "Boogie Nights" as a phenomenon that will be talked about by water-cooler crowds, New Line is playing up the movie's rave critical reviews. Goldman says the point is to start a buzz so positive that audiences feel they must see the film or miss out on an important cultural event.

"The picture needs to be a phenomenon," Goldman says. "People need to know before they go in that they're supposed to like it. The people in Omaha need to know it's a serious film. No one is going to rush to the theater to see a Mark Wahlberg or Burt Reynolds movie because they're in it. So what is the reason to see the movie? It's largely about the phenomenon."

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