SHOOT OUT: ‘3:10 to Yuma’ vs. Lionsgate?

As has been mentioned plenty of other places I am sure, the marketing for Lionsgate’s 3:10 to Yuma is a bit odd, considering it doesn’t reflect the film in any way shape or form. The first two posters didn’t even feature the film’s two major stars as we got the backside of Ben Foster in poster 1 and then the gay cowboy strut in poster 2. It wasn’t until late in the game that we got poster 3 featuring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, but even then the poster was generic and quite shitty. Well, there may be a reason for all of this as Kim Masters at Slate is reporting that “key talent on the film fears that Lionsgate may have shot itself in the foot by releasing [the film in September].”

Lionsgate has confidence in the film that has already garnered an 88% rating from the critics at RottenTomatoes and intends to play it up as the first Oscar contender of 2007. However, reviews won’t make this film a hit, it depends on word of mouth and marketing, the second of which is what apparently has the Russell Crowe camp, as well as director James Mangold (Walk the Line) and his producer-spouse, Cathy Konrad, up in arms reports Masters.

Apparently “Crowe did not want to muddy the waters by opening 3:10 to Yuma too close to American Gangster‘s release on Nov. 2.” Crowe’s camp is said to have wanted the film to be moved to 2008, at which time he would be more cooperative in promoting the film if Lionsgate agreed, but they obviously didn’t.

3:10 to Yuma was originally set to be released in October, but being that close to Universal’s American Gangster didn’t appeal to the smaller distributer as they knew competing Crowe ads would not work too well and that Uni would far outspend the smaller Lion.

Lionsgate’s primary concern however didn’t appear to be American Gangster as Masters points out it was a focus on coming out before another Western, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford starring Brad Pitt, which releases on September 21 and it already receiving good word of mouth.

So, what about those posters I mentioned? Well, the move from October to the first week in September meant the marketing team had to rush. Masters says that Crowe was given an unusually small selection of photos to approve for the poster and rejected all of them (one of our sources says he thought they made him look fat). But those on his side say the studio didn’t offer enough choices and Crowe was merely exercising a routine movie-star prerogative. Finally, an acceptable option was proffered.

I can only assume this is the reason for the two Ben Foster posters early on that told us nothing about the film and actually appear to be promoting two separate films altogether, and with the third poster I can’t imagine anyone guessing what the film was about if they saw all three at once.

Director James Mangold was upset for other undisclosed reasons. “They’ve had a big-studio experience with Walk the Line—they know what it means to be included in the process,” said Slate‘s source inside the situation. “And Lionsgate isn’t used to dealing with filmmakers like that.” Lionsgate, says this person, is very comfortable drawing young men to Eli Roth movies, but not with bringing along a more mature movie like 3:10 to Yuma. Based on the success of Hostel: Part II I am not sure they even know how to promote a Roth movie, but that is besides the point. Ortenberg counters that the 3:10 to Yuma campaign “will go down as one of the best of the year.”

Best of the year eh? We’ll have to wait and see. Earlier this week I asked if Westerns could make a comeback and 3:10 to Yuma‘s box-office will certainly be a good indicator. You have to wonder if the day after Labor Day following the first week kids are back in school is really the best time to offer up a serious drama. The weekend hasn’t proved to be the best of times to release a film, but maybe Ortenberg and Lionsgate know something everyone else doesn’t.

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