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December 16, 2005

‘Kong’ Promo Partners in Action with Jackson

By Gail Schiller

LOS ANGELES -- The critics aren't the only ones raving about Peter Jackson's "King Kong."

For the film's promotional partners, the movie represents a rare opportunity to have a director of Jackson's caliber creatively involved in their programs, for which they've awarded him their own thumbs up.

Universal Pictures co-president of marketing Eddie Egan said Jackson had "input and involvement on every aspect of the many global partnership campaigns in support of 'King Kong,' going far beyond the level of collaboration the studio has had with any other filmmaker on movie tie-ins."

Egan said that Jackson and his colleagues at Big Primate Pictures, Weta Workshop and Weta Digital helped create custom materials for the movie's promotional partners, such as customized shots of Kong for Toshiba's Japanese-market TV spots, illustrations of Kong and Ann (Naomi Watts) for Chase's King Kong Universal Entertainment MasterCard, illustrations of Kong for 18 million Kellogg's cereal boxes and collateral advertising for New York.

Volkswagen, which signed a pricey three-year global marketing alliance with NBC Universal in January, got the best treatment of all from the Oscar-winning director of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Jackson and his production and special effects companies produced Volkswagen's TV spot on the "Kong" set in Wellington, New Zealand. The commercial was directed by Carolynne Cunningham, one of the producers of "Kong" and its first assistant director.

"This spot utilized the existing Big Primate Pictures infrastructure and seamlessly produced live-action/greenscreen elements which were then integrated seamlessly into materials provided by Weta Digital -- some of them in the film, some not," Egan said. "Many key members of the 'King Kong' production crew participated in the live-action shoot and its various elements -- art direction, practical special effects, cinematography, etc."

For Volkswagen's print campaign, Weta created four custom images that depict the Volkswagen Touareg -- described in ads as an official member of the "King Kong" crew -- on the "Kong" set along with members of the film crew photographing scenes for the movie. Volkswagen said Jackson's companies also produced and directed a 10-1/2-minute segment on the making of the Volkswagen commercial that will be featured in special promotional DVDs of the film distributed by the automaker.

In another sign of Jackson's deep involvement with the film's promotional programs, he took part in a five-day "King Kong" global partner summit in February in Wellington that resulted in some of the partners making much larger commitments to promoting "Kong" for the theatrical and DVD windows, Egan said. During the summit, the partners were taken on a tour of Jackson's Weta Digital, Weta Workshop and Stone Street Studios as well as the "Kong" miniature stages and New York set. The advertisers also observed some shooting of the film, heard presentations on how the digital effects would be achieved and met with every major department head of the production. In addition, Jackson showed them rough footage from the film, including the climactic Empire State Building scene.

While it is unusual for directors -- especially those of Jackson's stature -- to be so heavily involved in creating and implementing marketing programs for a movie's promotional partners, it is nevertheless a trend that is on the rise, entertainment marketers said.

"Wedding Crashers" director David Dobkin shot Budweiser's TV tie-in spots; "Matrix Reloaded" directors Larry and Andy Wachowski wrote the commercial for promotional partner Heineken, which was directed by the film's assistant director, James McTeigue; and even Steven Spielberg gets deeply involved in the creative process of partners' promotional programs from the earliest stages, his spokesman said. For "War of the Worlds," Spielberg even appeared in some of Hitachi's ads along with the film's star, Tom Cruise.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter