Universal applauds Damon's big help with big 'Bourne' opening

Jun. 19, 2002
By Martin A. Grove, Hollywood Reporter
"Bourne" business: In a summer bursting with success stories, one of the most interesting is Universal's $27.1 million launch of "The Bourne Identity."
Directed by Doug Liman and starring Matt Damon, "Bourne" is an original rather than a sequel or franchise installment and its roots are in a 1980 novel, not a contemporary comic book. Its success reflects well not only on the filmmakers and Universal's production team, but also on the studio's marketing department which launched it to 35% more business than anticipated.
Produced by Liman, Patrick Crowley and Richard N. Gladstein, "Bourne's" screenplay by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron is based on the novel by Robert Ludlum. The espionage thriller was executive produced by Frank Marshall and Ludlum and also stars Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen, Brian Cox and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
"From the very beginning we had sort of set $20 million as a target," Universal marketing president Adam Fogelson told me. "We thought it was an achievable target, but it wasn't going to necessarily be obvious or easy. The marketplace was incredibly competitive. But we set that as the target for this film and as we got close to (last) Friday we believed there was every possibility that we might surpass it. But the joy late Friday night and into Saturday morning at seeing by just how much we had surpassed it was quite wonderful."
What helped drive "Bourne's" successful kick-off? "First of all, I have believed for a long time -- and as this campaign continued to unfold and as we got closer and closer to the release of the movie I became more and more convinced of this fact -- that there is a true adoration for Matt Damon. I think that the public really wants him to be an absolute full-fledged movie star and that this role just looked and smelled to everybody from the minute they started seeing material like the kind of thing that a large number of people really desperately wanted Matt to do. I think it felt like a perfect fit for that actor at this time. So one of the things we did throughout the campaign was to make sure we were presenting Matt in the best possible light. He does a ton of that work all by himself.
"He was in the midst of doing a play in London and having a very busy schedule. He was as generous and accommodating with his time as anyone has ever been. He worked so hard, I just can't begin to praise him enough for the amount of time and energy he put into helping us. And the truth is, every time Matt makes an appearance somewhere, every time he's on camera, every time he's in front of a group of people, you can't help but like him. He has all of the trappings in the best possible way of a movie star and yet is so kind and so warm and so human. I just think that everything about Matt as both a person and an actor was substantially responsible for getting us where we got to. It's a credit to production (at Universal) for having seen that and having given him the opportunity to do it. It's a credit to Doug Liman and the filmmakers for having gotten such an amazing performance and created such an interesting film."
The specifics of Damon's involvement in promoting "Bourne" are truly impressive. "Just to give you a sense of the incredible work Matt did on behalf of (the film) here are the highlights -- and this was just what he did at the time of release," Universal marketing co-president Eddie Eagan pointed out. "Matt was on stage performing his play on Thursday, May 30 in London. He finished his performance at 11 p.m. (beginning a hiatus of about two weeks from the play), got on a plane to L.A. and began a nonstop press tour which started at our press junket at 9 a.m. Friday, May 31.
"From L.A. he went to Chicago where he delighted fans that night at a Q&A following a screening and then did a full day of local press in Chicago getting on a plane that night to San Francisco where he conducted a Q&A at their local screening. The next day he did back-to-back interviews in San Fran, then got on a plane to L.A. to make the NBA finals game, participating in an online chat courtside as well as numerous interviews backstage." The following day, Eagan added, "He went to (appear with Jay) Leno and attended the World Premiere. The next morning he went to Dallas with Frank Marshall for a local benefit screening continuing on to Boise, Idaho, with Frank for a benefit screening there (while) always doing interviews with the local press, signing hundreds of autographs and posing for a multitude of photos with local fans. "He then went to his hometown, Boston, where he did interviews with local press in Fenway Park and (threw) the first pitch at the Red Sox game June 10. That same night he did Q&A's at two screenings -- one to benefit a charity that is near and dear to his mother (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) and one with local fans." From Boston Damon traveled to Philadelphia where, Eagan said, he did, "another Q&A with fans and another non-stop day of interviews. He then went to New York starting early on 'Good Morning America' and 'CBS This Morning' and then to MTV's 'TRL,' radio interviews with KROQ and HOT 97 and finishing the day with David Letterman. He left New York to (go to) London at 9 p.m. and was on stage in London for a matinee performance at 4 p.m. the next day followed by an evening performance that night. He repeated this (theater schedule) on Saturday. As numbers came in signaling a hit opening weekend, Matt was on stage doing a matinee and then that evening the final performance of his play. Sunday, June 16 was the first day Matt had off since starting this expedition on May 30. No studio could ask for a better partner." Focusing on the film's marketing, Fogelson noted, "There are certainly examples of times when marketing has pulled one over on people. I know that. I've lived through it. This isn't one of those. Take a look at the reviews of our movies over the recent past. I mean, consistently we make movies that the critics and audiences respond to. We didn't lie or cheat or manipulate this movie. We simply worked really hard to make sure that the essential compelling elements that were contained in this film were presented in an appealing way to the largest possible audience and I think we did it."
Talking Sunday morning to Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco about "Bourne's" strong opening, which also benefited from having the perfect release date and a very wide break at 2,638 theaters, she observed, "Aside from the fact that the production team really came through, I give a lot of credit to Adam Fogelson and his marketing team. In the last two weeks they were able to take this genre film and separate it from the usual spy thrillers by making it look fresh and young and hip."
"I think if there is credit to be given to the campaign," Fogelson said when we spoke Monday morning, "it was for understanding and embracing that this movie was cool and this movie was fresh and this movie was different. And this campaign went out of its way not to sort of homogenize 'The Bourne Identity' into another big epic studio special effects spy movie. We didn't try to make it look more like the other films that had come before it. The film is not those things. The film doesn't have special effects of an epic nature. This film is cool because that's the kind of film that Doug Liman made that was within the material that Ludlum had originally created. It's in Matt and Franka's performance.
"So what we did was work very hard to maintain the tone that was in the film and not sort of fool people into believing this was some hundred-million dollar special effects bells-and-whistles kind of movie. This was a cool movie about a cool character in hand-to-hand combat in various scenes including that (chase) scene with the car that were fresh and different. Instead of trying to fast-cut around things and use super high-tech graphics to make you feel like this was a hundred-million dollar summer movie, we simply embraced what was so wonderful about the film. I think we were very true to that throughout the campaign."
Prior to the film's release some media observers questioned "Bourne's" boxoffice potential based on tensions on the set during production. Given those negative articles, I was somewhat surprised to find when I had an early look at "Bourne" in May that I liked it and thought it was very well-made. I was already a fan of Liman's work, having enjoyed his first feature "Swingers," which he talked about here when it opened in 1996.
"(Regarding) the negative things that were written about the complications in production," Fogelson said, "they were written by people who primarily hadn't seen what this finished product was. Obviously, the studio believed in the film. We moved it to the most competitive time of year imaginable. Doug is absolutely an individual. He comes from the independent world and part of the genius of the work is that he is not part of the machine. Occasionally, not being part of the machine means not knowing perfectly how to play the publicity game at the earliest stages. But Doug's job was to direct a great movie and we have a great movie and it has a unique fresh look. So all of the reasons why we wanted to work with Doug came out in the final product. And for a long time, we knew that final product was great, which is why we chose to put it in an incredibly competitive summer and make sure we aggressively supported it. And that's why we can sit here today and smile about the results."
Asked who the film's target audience was, Fogelson replied, "I think at the end of the day it was a very broad 18 to 49 target. I think that as we got closer and closer to release, it became clear that there was a younger audience responding to the material. But the strength of 'Scooby-Doo' was undeniable and we couldn't go any more aggressively after a somewhat younger audience because we just knew that 'Scooby' was going to be swallowing up a substantial portion of that audience. But we felt that the movie could absolutely work 18 and over.
"We knew the movie had broad appeal, both male and female, which was proven out in the exits. I think Matt is a real man's man in terms of being a hero that a guy can identify with. The fight scenes and the action scenes were all things that men would appreciate. But every woman I know who saw a trailer or TV spot or poster for this movie commented on how incredibly charming and sexy Matt was. And I think that that came across equally. It was clear that while we had an exciting action packed cool movie, it was not an aggressively violent film. It was PG-13. So I think that it became a great choice for a lot of people. If there was any compromise to be made between a husband and wife, a boyfriend and girlfriend or whatever, I think this movie provided enough for everybody (so) that it became a really great choice for a large number of people to make."
In terms of the overall marketing campaign for "Bourne," Fogelson said, "I don't think there were any particular special tricks in this case, but I think all of the things were applied here that we've learned and all the experiences we've had over the last bunch of years taking movies that didn't necessarily on the surface seem to be overt obvious hits and making them work. We had a trailer that people responded to and we gave that trailer enough time to play. I think that was fantastic and I think that all the materials that (creative advertising director) Keri Chamberlaine worked on really effectively communicated the movie that we were doing.
"And I go back to Matt (to say) that it is very rare, incredibly refreshing and outrageously helpful to have a star of Matt Damon's character agree to work as long and as hard and as deep as he did. He was everywhere we asked him to be (and) with an honest, charming, wonderfully approachable attitude. He was spectacular in presenting himself and the movie. If I were going to point to one sort of unique aspect of this campaign it would be the fact that Matt Damon was extraordinary in the lengths he went to and the way in which he promoted this film. It is a dream to have someone of that stature in the midst of as busy schedule -- it's not like Matt was sort of hanging out (at the time) -- fully, completely and warmly commit to making this a great process."
In a summer as crowded and competitive as this one is with high-profile product coming in every weekend, how do movie marketers get their pictures to stand out from the clutter? "I think that if you're creating generic product, it's harder," Fogelson observed. "But I think that if you're creating product that is fresh and unique and distinct, it becomes less complicated. We have been comfortable over the last bunch of summers not only to release tent pole giant summer franchise films that everyone kind of looked at a year in advance on the calendar and said, 'Ooo, pay attention to that. It's going to be huge,' but production has continued to provide us with immensely satisfying and fresh, different, unique fare. And frequently it has exceeded expectations in terms of the quality of the film. We've seen that happen. When we first saw a test screening of 'American Pie,' when we first saw a screening of 'Bring It On,' when we first saw a screening of 'The Fast and the Furious,' these were movies that no one would have pointed to in advance and said, 'Ooo, watch out. That clearly is going to be giant.' But they were movies that in terms of the stories they were telling, the way they were cast, the way they were shot, the way they were executed that we looked at and fully believed that we could make them stand out as distinct in a summer that's filled with the typical bells and whistles (event movies). When we get that, we're not afraid to put it out there and give it a chance not only to succeed, but to succeed in a very big way."