This Is Going to Be Big

How publicity really works in Hollywood.

  1. The view from the upper reaches of the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles is magnificent: all Beverly Hills glitters below. But on a clear day last year the three people in Room 1429—the public-relations consultant Bumble Ward, her associate Bebe Lerner, and their client John Stockwell, a novice movie director—were huddled around a coffee table finishing up a hurried lunch. Disney Studios had rented the floor for a press junket to promote Crazy/Beautiful, Stockwell's film about an interracial teen romance, and there was a short break between Stockwell's morning battery of five-minute television interviews with the international press and his afternoon round-tables—six twenty-minute sessions with groups of seven print journalists, who would toss rapid-fire questions at him and at the film's stars, Kirsten Dunst and Jay Hernandez. By stuffing the press and the talent together in a hotel for a weekend, a studio can market a film to every media outlet from the Dallas Morning News to and Brazil's Globo television, at the relatively modest cost of three or four hundred thousand dollars.

    Stockwell, a handsome, unshaved man of forty-one with a surfer's tan, was rolling his neck like a calf in a veal pen. "I keep hoping these journalists will go provocative and ask, 'How was your film neutered?' " he said. Crazy/Beautiful was planned as an R-rated feature, but then Disney executives decided that they wanted a more commercial PG-13 rating and made Stockwell cut thirty-five...