Focus Features is Confident in Milk's Marketing Strategy
by Alex Billington
October 29, 2008
There's a very interesting skirmish developing around Gus Van Sant's Milk this week. First things first, I caught this fantastic film in Beverly Hills yesterday and loved it. It's due out in theaters in a few weeks, but there apparently isn't a lot of buzz yet. Subsequently, Hollywood Reporter wrote an article claiming that Focus Features, the distributor for the film, was hiding it in order to avoid political backlash, considering it's about the story of the first openly gay man elected to major public office in America. In response, Focus Feature's CEO James Schamus wrote a letter (which was published on indieWIRE) criticizing them for writing an article that didn't have its facts straight and put an unnecessary negative spin on the buzz.
Schamus starts out his letter clearly identify the the mistakes that Hollywood Reporter made. "The author's thesis is simple: because the film was not, like Brokeback Mountain, screened at festivals, Focus is somehow hiding the film and is thus avoiding openly presenting its political content. That's a pretty serious charge, especially made by a reporter who did not call us to get his facts, so to speak, straight." He goes on to meticulously outline their marketing plan, which fully kicked off with a premiere in San Francisco yesterday night and was hinged entirely on the fact that Van Sant didn't even finish the film until recently. "I expect that more thorough journalism on our Milk campaign will be published in THR soon."
I can easily say with complete conviction that I fully support Mr. Schamus. This film is phenomenal and there's no reason to nitpick its marketing or absence from major film festivals - and that goes for any film out there. For example, I was told by a Fox rep that Baz Luhrmann isn't even done editing Australia yet, which is why that film has no early buzz either, even though it's set to open on the same day as Milk. In fact, I'm not even sure why there was even a reason to be so worried about the buzz for Milk to begin with when it's still about a month away from opening. Starting from this point forward, I'm certain it'll gain an impressive amount of buzz from word-of-mouth screenings and journalists like myself.
This just seems like another typical down-and-dirty Hollywood story. I love what I do and I try not to complain about seeing certain films or missing certain press opportunities. To me, this just seems like a classic case of Hollywood Reporter's writer Steven Zeitchik attempting to uncover nonexistent dirty details behind Milk's marketing because he expected to have seen it by now. The fact that I just saw Milk yesterday and ended up loving it may be another reason why I'm supportive of Schamus and looking to build positive buzz for the film as well. I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen next, although Eugene Hernandez over at indieWIRE is attempting to get a full update on Focus' distribution plans for the film.
I'm actually very interested in seeing how the buzz for this film develops surrounding the election. Everyone has been saying that the US could change drastically after the results of the election next week. Additionally, there is controversial anti-gay state proposition on the ballot in California (Proposition 8) that coincidentally mirrors the one that Harvey Milk fought against back in 1970s. Although I'm not allowed to officially review Milk for a while, I'll still be doing everything I can to support and promote a film that not only was cinematically wonderful, but also politically very powerful and important. And if there's any worthwhile updates on this Hollywood Reporter / Focus Features scuffle, I'll be sure to mention them.