Industry Report: Marketing
Marketing Case-Studies – Persepolis
by Sandy Mandelberger
14/04/2008 - North American Marketing Campaign for Persepolis
Persepolis [trailer, film focus] has been one of the major critical successes on the arthouse circuit this past season. The animation format has made it a draw for young people and family viewing, while the film’s French-language origins (and voices by such iconic French superstars as Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux) have also attracted the traditional arthouse crowd.
The film already had an established American co-producer in place at the time of production. The Kennedy/Marshall Company, headed by Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy, have produced such blockbusters as The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Bourne Supremacy, Munich, Sea Bisquit and The Sixth Sense. The company has broadened its production slate with international co-productions, including this year’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly [trailer] (directed by Julian Schnabel), and has several European co-productions on tap for the coming year, including Suite Française, an adaptation of Irene Nemirowsky’s best-selling novel about life during the French Occupation, and Django, a biopic on the life of the legendary French Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, with an original screenplay by Janus Cercone.
Persepolis had its world premiere at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, where it came to the attention of the twin heads of Sony Pictures Classics, a specialty film division of Sony Pictures that has been active for the past twenty years in the release of Europe, international and American independent films. The company, co-headed by Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, have been the driving force behind such celebrated European films as Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988), Danzon (1991), Howard’s End (1992), Indochine (1992), Orlando (1993), La belle époque (1994), Farinelli (1995), Nil By Mouth (1997), Ma vie en rose (1997), Run Lola Run (1998), All About My Mother (1999), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Va Savoir (2001), Talk To Her (2002), Goodbye Lenin! (2003), Monsieur Ibrahim (2003), Layer Cake (2004), Angel-A (2005), Volver (2006) and The Lives Of Others (2006). The company is currently releasing such important European films as Molière [trailer], The Counterfeiters [trailer], And When Did You Last See Your Father? [trailer], Brick Lane [trailer] and Youth Without Youth [trailer].
Sony Pictures Classics had prior experience in handling an animated film from France. In 2003, they released The Triplettes de Belleville [trailer] by Sylvain Chomet. The film opened in November 2003 and had a theatrical run of over six months, grossing more than $7 Million in the United States. Ironically, that film only grossed $3 Million in all of Europe, including France, so the United States box office was more than double. The film was nominated for two Oscars, for Best Animated Feature and Best Song (Belleville Rendez-Vous), winning neither. However, it was the first time that a non-English language film was nominated in the Best Animation category, which had traditionally been dominated by such companies as Disney and Pixar.
The release of The Triplettes Of Belleville belies the strategy that Sony Pictures Classics takes with almost all of its films. They utilize what is called a “platform release”, opening in just a few cinemas in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, to generate positive critical response and “word of mouth”. Their strategy is to keep the films on screens for as long as possible, giving the audiences the chance to discover them. Therefore, their advertising budgets are relatively small and tend to be cooperative ads (advertising several of their films at the same time). Budgets are adjusted accordingly, with the idea that keeping the film in at least one theater per city will eventually be worth the costs and will allow the film to build its awareness, amidst a dizzying schedule of Hollywood and international releases every week.
The North American launch of Persepolis was at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2007. The Festival has become the major launching pad for releases for the season, building critical awareness that leads into the awards season that begins in October/November. The film also had a prominent premiere at the New York Film Festival in early October, a boutique festival that only shows 25 films in total. Its inclusion and embrace by New York film critics set up the film’s eventual theatrical release two months later.
Persepolis opened on 21 December 2007 on seven screens. This was a risky strategy, since the Hollywood studios release their biggest titles for awards consideration in the busy Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s period at the end of the calendar year. However, the end of the year release made good marketing sense, because it dovetailed with the announcement of various film critics awards and the selection of Persepolis as the official French entry in the Academy Award race. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Foreign Language Film, as well as winning prizes from the Los Angeles and New York critics associations and the National Review. When the Oscar nominations were announced in the middle of January, the film was passed over in the Best Foreign Film category but did secure a place in the Best Animation category.
Building on the end-of-year critics nods and the Oscar nomination, Sony Pictures Classics expanded the release to 58 theaters in late January and kept building the number of theaters in the run-up to the Oscar ceremonies in late February. In its 9th week of release in late February 2008, the film was playing on over 500 screens in the US and Canada, already having grossed almost $4 million since its late December opening. When it lost out to Ratatouille for Best Animated Film, the film cut back on its release to 75 theaters for most of March and down to 30 theaters the first week of April. To date, the film has grossed nearly $5 Million in theatrical dollars.
But this is not the end of the story. Sensing that the film had broader appeal beyond the standard foreign-language film audience, Sony Pictures Classics is releasing an English-language version of the film on 11 April on 100 screens nationwide. The English-language version features the voices of Chiara Mastroianni as Marjane; Sean Penn as Marjane's father; Catherine Deneuve as Marjane's mother; Gena Rowlands as Marjane's grandmother; Iggy Pop as Uncle Anouche; and Amethyste Frezignac as young Marjane. It was recorded under the direction of co-directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud as the French-language version of the film was being completed.
The outcome is far from certain that this English-language version will succeed, since the film has already tapped most of its core audience (those interested in French films). However, by positioning the film in non-arthouse multiplexes, the film may indeed have another life in its English-language incarnation. If Sony Pictures Classics can keep the film on screens for another 2 or 3 months in total, it may indeed gross double what it has already, inching up to the $10 Million mark, which would be a major success. It remains to be seen which version will eventually be sold to television and to the home video/dvd market. Probably the company will follow a dual strategy of releasing the original version for European film aficionados and the English language version for a broader audience. By following this strategy, the distributor has revitalized the box office chances for a film that has been one of the most successful European films of the season.
Persepolis’s French producers gave us an Interview about their own marketing strategy.