The secret of premiere pulling power

Charities and celebrities alike get a lot out of the launch of new movies - and, sometimes, old ones - writes Graham Ball
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The Independent Online
It's the hottest ticket in town: a pounds 250 seat at a West End cinema to watch a film that most of the audience have already seen.

The Prince of Wales's attendance at the charity premiere of the 20-year- old revamped blockbuster, Star Wars, on 20 March promises to make it the movie launch of the year.

This is the peak season for film premieres, yet most of the best tickets, including the top of the range pounds 250-a-head packages, which include an invitation to the after-film party at Olympia, have already sold out. Some places in the cheapest pounds 40 seats and a few more in the pounds 75 price band are still available.

These prices, some of the highest ever in the West End, reflect the star quality of Prince Charles, who only attends screenings if his charity, The Prince's Trust, is a beneficiary. When Prince Charles rises from the special seat installed for him in the centre of the front row of the circle at the 2,000-seat Odeon Leicester Square next Thursday, his charity will expect to be pounds 175,000 better off.

The alliance of the charity business with showbusiness is a mutually beneficial exchange. An estimated nine out of 10 new films given the "premiere" treatment are now associated with a charitable cause.

"There is an unbelievable amount of money to be raised from film premieres," said Rona Martin, an events organiser for the Prince's Trust.

"We always tend to do well when the film is a blockbuster. These tickets have simply flown. Many of them are bought by companies who have latched on to the fact that an event like this is perfect for corporate entertaining," she said.

Not that the Trust is expecting to top its best-ever returns of more than pounds 250,000 that flowed into its coffers following the 1995 premiere of the James Bond epic Goldeneye.

"That was exceptional because so many computer firms paid to advertise in the official brochure; they all wanted to be associated with James Bond," said Ms Martin.

For the film-makers, however, celebrities matter more than sponsors. For the industry, premieres are essentially extended photo-opportunities and success is measured in tabloid column inches the following day.

But when it comes to star quality and attention grabbing, less is more. Film-makers employ dozens of public relations consultants who would give blood to ensure A-list celebrities attend their screenings and parties.

One PR explained: "The less a celebrity is seen out the more highly he or she is prized. For example, Jerry Hall is A-list while Marie Helvin, who goes to virtually everything these days, is B-list.

"Visiting American stars like Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise are of course A-list and so is Sean Connery, Neil Morrissey, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and John Cleese. Not forgetting Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant. The dress Liz wore to Four Weddings and a Funeral has passed into premiere legend.

"The B-list is made up of soap stars like Bianca and Tiffany from EastEnders but not Julie Goodyear, who remains A-list.

"Other B-list regulars include the Gladiators, Arsenal footballers, weather forecasters and sit-com actors," he said.

The Royal Family's presence is far more of an event than A-list celebrities. In the days before "the firm" was beset by divorce their film-going was quite a regular event. Now Prince Charles attends only about twice a year and Diana, Princess of Wales, has been to just one premiere in the past 18 months. Demand is outpacing supply.

Not that Star Wars will need the royal seal of approval. When George Lucas, the billionaire director and owner of the lucrative marketing rights to the film's spin-offs, shakes hands with Prince Charles in the Odeon's foyer the film's success will already be assured.

By adding just four-and-a-half minutes of new material to his original product at a cost of $15m (pounds 9.4m), Lucas has managed to recycle Star Wars back to the top of the American box office charts.

When it opened last month in 1,800 cinemas across America it took $36.2m, a record three-day gross - 10 times more than Evita and almost seven times more than Tom Cruise's new film Jerry Maguire.

It was more than enough to encourage 20th Century Fox to splash out a reputed pounds 250,000 on turning the Olympia exhibition hall into a huge Star Wars set complete with Imperial Stormtroopers, Darth Vader and the rest of the gang.

Charles will not be attending the party: he never does. Diana, on the other hand, was persuaded by Lord Attenborough to attend both the screening of his latest film In Love and War last month and the dinner at the Savoy afterwards. As a result the film's charity partner, The Red Cross, benefitted by pounds 150,000.

Notwithstanding a royal presence, the competition between rival film companies for bigger, better and more headline-grabbing premieres has grown over the past few years.

Robert Mitchell of Buena Vista International staged the premier of Disney's 101 Dalmations in the Royal Albert Hall.

"It took a good deal of organising and hard work to install all the equipment," said Mr Mitchell. "It was the first film to be premiered there since a Charlie Chaplin movie in 1927. It worked wonderfully well in the end and 4,000 guests helped raise money for three different charities."

For the cartoon Pocahontas Mr Mitchell's company hired the clipper Cutty Sark for the after-film party. For the premiere of Shine there was a dinner for 200 at the Royal College of Music.

"With The English Patient [premiered in London last week], we wanted to create a different atmosphere. We screened the film at the Curzon, probably London's most upmarket cinema, and held a pre-film drinks party at the Washington hotel.

"We did not want to distract attention from the film's Oscar-nominated stars Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. After the film we held a dinner for 400 in a private ballroom in Mayfair. We had a far more literary guest-list than usual with several Booker prize writers present and we were delighted with the press we received. The trick is to tailor the premiere, the charity, the venue to the film. I don't think we ever managed to find a charity for Pulp Fiction," said Robert Mitchell.

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