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HOW TO PITCH A MOVIE…AND MORE

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin April 23, 2013 at 2:26PM

It’s long been a joke in Hollywood that the only way to sell a movie is to compare it to a previous hit. But what’s a joke to some people is a tutorial for others.
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A revealing trade ad for "Shane’"s run at Radio City Music Hall’s “great panoramic screen”
A revealing trade ad for "Shane’"s run at Radio City Music Hall’s “great panoramic screen”

It’s long been a joke in Hollywood that the only way to sell a movie is to compare it to a previous hit. But what’s a joke to some people is a tutorial for others. Last week I received a pair of press releases that took this concept to a new level. The first was for Detention of the Dead, “a teenage horror-comedy about a group of oddball high school students who find themselves trapped in detention with their classmates having turned into a horde of Zombies.” Here’s the punchline: “Think The Breakfast Club meets Shaun of the Dead.”

But wait, there’s more: the very same day, another e-mail touted a more promising-sounding historical picture set in 1889 China called Empire of Silver, which its publicist describes as “Wall Street meets Hamlet meets The Godfather.”

Here’s a trade ad for low-budget Lippert Pictures touting its newest film, available in both wide and standard-screen versions.
Here’s a trade ad for low-budget Lippert Pictures touting its newest film, available in both wide and standard-screen versions.

I couldn’t make this stuff up. Does it help draw attention to a smaller movie that doesn’t have star-power or established filmmakers behind it? Perhaps. Does it lend any credibility to said film? I’m not so sure…but it does make for colorful reading in a sea of press releases.

Other, more welcome e-mails have involved blog posts worth passing along to you. Bob Furmanek at the 3-D Film Archive has been conducting unprecedented research about Hollywood’s transition to widescreen in the 1950s and his latest article at 3dfilmarchive.com is essential reading. Everything Bob says is supported by trade-magazine articles and advertisements from the period—not anecdotal evidence or anyone’s faulty memory. The online furor over the imminent release of George Stevens’ Shane on Blu-ray in the 1:66 ratio should be examined in this context. (Even Criterion decided to release On the Waterfront in three separate formats this year, acknowledging the fact that Columbia, like other major studios, had to contend with some theaters insisting on showing everything “wide” when that was all the rage.)

Frank Thompson continues to conduct interviews with filmmakers and film historians as part of his podcast, The Commentary Track. Recent subjects include William Wellman, Jr., Joe Dante, Harrison Engle, Anthony Slide, L.Q. Jones, Joseph McBride, Rudy Behlmer, and Glenn Frankel, author of the excellent new book The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, which I’ll be reviewing here shortly. You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or simply log onto Frank’s site HERE and clicking on “podcasts.”

Animation guru Richard Williams recently participated in a 25th anniversary celebration of Who Framed Roger Rabbit at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but he’s available at your fingertips 24/7 with a new mobile app version of his indispensable book The Animator’s Survival Kit. It’s available at iTunes, where you can even download a sample for free.

A scene from Buster Keaton’s wonderfully funny "Our Hospitality"
A scene from Buster Keaton’s wonderfully funny "Our Hospitality"

Finally, the coming of spring brings with it keen anticipation for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s annual Silent Film Gala, held at UCLA’s beautiful Royce Hall on Saturday, June 8 at 7pm. This year’s selection is Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality (1923), with Timothy Brock conducting Carl Davis’ original score and the world premiere of an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon recently acquired and restored by the Walt Disney Company. Hungry Hobos (1928) will be accompanied by a brand-new score composed by six-time Emmy Award winner Mark Watters. To learn more about this always-delightful evening, click HERE or call 213-622-7001, extension 3.

This article is related to: Journal