John singleton’s Four Brothers should have premiered in L.A. It’s a big-budget shoot-’em-up set in Detroit directed by the man who put South Central on the map. And yet, on August 9, celebrity reporters and paparazzi found themselves in the Us Weekly version of Groundhog Day, standing for the third time in two weeks in sweltering heat behind metal barriers outside the unglamorous Clearview Chelsea Cinemas on 23rd Street, to cajole a quote out of Mark Wahlberg (who’s so L.A. he inspired Entourage).
Mann’s Chinese Theatre isn’t feeling the pinch yet, but Manhattan is increasingly becoming Premiere Town. “There are definitely more premieres here than there used to be,” says Ur-flack Bobby Zarem. “I used to have to fly out to L.A. for openings, and now that’s almost nil,” concurs Johnnie Planco, co-founder of Parseghian-Planco (which manages Lauren Bacall and Daniel Day-Lewis). “It’s happened slowly, kind of like losing hair, but it’s an average of two or three a week when it used to be once a month.” And this with premieres for Prime, The Producers, Rent, Walk the Line, and King Kong still to come.
In one bout of mid-July red-carpet mania, seven films opened in New York over nine days: The Island, Pretty Things, Happy Endings, Wedding Crashers, In Her Shoes, Bad News Bears, and Last Days. But why New York, why now? “Because New York’s the center of the universe, don’t you know?” says Singleton, who chose the city for his Hustle & Flow premiere this summer, too. “Here you can hit print, TV, and radio all at once. I’m a businessman, and that’s really important.”
Traditionally, New York would get a premiere only if it made sense because of a city tie-in or local talent. Take The Interpreter. “It was about the U.N. And where is the U.N.?” says Hollace Davids, senior VP of special projects for Universal Pictures. “That’s, like, a ‘duh’ sort of thing.” With Bloomberg’s helpful film office and the new state tax breaks for film production, more movies are being shot in New York, so “you would be more likely to have more premieres in New York,” says Davids.
But the real reason is that New York’s the home base for the burgeoning, always-hungry celeb-photo press, guaranteeing coverage. And publicists have defined premieres down. “A premiere used to be 1,100 people at the Ziegfeld,” says screening queen Peggy Siegal. “Paramount Classics did a screening for Asylum for 75 people and called it a premiere! If you hang the bacon, the press will come. The joke is that I don’t think you have to show the movie. If you say ‘red carpet,’ they’ll come, they’ll take the pictures, they’ll ask the same questions, and they’ll go home.”