A Most Successful Voyage

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Titanic Sinks.

That was the headline that haunted the imagination of Blaise Noto, ASC’85, before the release of the movie Titanic. Noto, executive vice president for worldwide publicity with Paramount Pictures, which handled the film’s marketingwas on campus in March to speak to a class at Annenberg in the school’s ongoing alumni career-day series. Unlike its namesake, the movie, of course, has stayed afloat beautifully, becoming a huge financial success and dominating this year’s Academy Awards. 
   But few would have predicted such a successful voyage. Noto recalled the potential for “high drama” involved in a film that combined financing from two movie studios, a high-profile director, a huge budget, and (at the time) “no-bankable stars.” The movie’s travails had become widely known, especially after it was postponed from a planned Summer 1997 release to December — which, as it turned out, was very much for the best. 
   While Titanic might have gotten lost in the rush of summer blockbusters, a winter release, besides offering less competition, also played into the decision to emphasize romance rather than action in marketing the film. Titanic’s ad campaign, Noto said, portrayed it  as “a love story for females — without losing males,” who, coming along more or less willingly, would then be attracted by the special effects. The other focus was to avoid references to disaster in ad images — no shots of the cinematic ship sinking were made available to the media before release, for example. 
   Noto said that a campaign “becomes a dance” between film marketers seeking to shape coverage and the media seeking access to stars — one that is performed, more and more, on an international stage. Marketers must have an “increasingly global strategy for movies,” he said, noting that Titanic’s domestic box office take of $500 million was less than half of the $1.2 billion it had earned worldwide at the time. 
   After his talk, Noto took questions from the class. The final one was whether there was anything he would have done differently, so that the movie might have made “even more money.”

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