Menke speaks about ‘juggling’ film industry

Jodi Mace

Success in the Hollywood film industry requires “juggling films in production, films in release and everything in between,” said Iowa State alumnus and senior publicist for Paramount Pictures Tim Menke.

Menke spoke to a crowd of about 75 people Friday in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union. He described the challenges that a publicity department faces and the keys to promoting a film.

Menke said he faces significant obstacles when designing promotional campaigns, including the one for his latest movie, “Election.”

“In an industry that is cluttered with high school movies, we didn’t want to portray ‘Election’ as the typical high school movie, even though it was filmed in a high school environment,” he said.

In order to dispel the high school stigma, Menke said the publicity team had to work hard to convince the press that they should cover the film.

“We issued press releases nationwide before the film even began,” he said.

Setting up goals is key to targeting the broadcast and print media, Menke said.

“You have to be careful what types of television appearances and magazines or newspapers the stars or directors are featured in,” he said. “You want to make sure you are targeting the desired audience.”

Menke, who pursued a political career and worked at the Iowa secretary of state’s office for three years before moving to California, said Hollywood is a lot like politics.

“When we booked Matthew [Broderick] on the David Letterman show, we knew that the Conan O’Brien show could not go first,” he said. “There is a lot of competition to get the stars on the shows, and nobody wants to play second fiddle.”

Menke said actors are not obligated to do any publicity for their pictures; however, they are “under a lot of pressure to perform their best if they want another job with Paramount.”

Publicizing a movie is a collaborative effort, Menke said.

“Advertising, promotions and publicity are the three departments that work together to promote a film,” he said. “Each of these areas must interact for a film to be successful.”

Menke said that it also is important to have an honest relationship with the media. He mentioned a situation in which his department had a problem with an “Entertainment Tonight” segment that focused more on actress Reese Witherspoon’s relationship than her role in “Election.”

“Hollywood eats up gossip on the stars,” he said. “If there is a big contrast between the star’s actions in real life and the character that they play, they love it.”

Despite these challenges, Menke said he enjoys his job. One of the best parts, he said, is knowing the stars before they become famous.

“Leonardo DiCaprio was an actor who no one knew when he starred in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,'” he said.

Menke was part of the publicity machine for “Titanic,” which boosted DiCaprio to international stardom. He said it was not easy to promote “Titanic,” which currently is the biggest grossing movie of all time.

“There was a lot of press resistance because it was such a high-cost film, and many people didn’t think that Hollywood should be going in that direction,” he said.

Menke said “Titanic” originally was scheduled to open in July but was moved to December, which allowed for more publicity and screenings for the press.

“Once people began watching it, they appreciated it for its value,” he said.

Menke’s speech was sponsored by the Student Union Board, the Institute on National Affairs, the Marketing Club and the Public Relations Society of America.