Adman Goes Hollywood

Joel Hochberg always loved the movies; now he’s getting a chance to make his mark in Hollywood. On January 1 Hochberg, who stepped down earlier this month as president of the Chicago office of DDB Needham Worldwide, becomes president of marketing for Twentieth Century Fox, joining the swelling ranks of ad agency execs who have taken top management jobs at major film studios. Hochberg is the third Needhamite in recent years to jump from the ad business to a marketing post in Hollywood. Bob Levin, who worked with Hochberg in DDB Needham’s Chicago office, now heads Disney’s marketing department, while Si Kornblit, another DDB Needham alum, handles similar chores for Universal. Hochberg says the choice of agency execs with little or no hands-on film experience is part of a strategy prevalent in Hollywood these days; the idea is to bring a fresh perspective to marketing, an increasingly important part of the film business. With production on the rise to meet the demand for product in movie theaters and in the television, cable, and home VCR markets, studios are spending more and more money on marketing to create an identity for and awareness of their product. Hochberg will decide such matters as the target market for Fox films, the look and the media mix of the advertising that aims to re ach that target market, the ideal opening date, the publicity strategy, and the increasingly lucrative area of licensing tie-ins such as clothing and toys. Hochberg, who graduated from New York University’s film school, should have no trouble fitting into the Hollywood film world; he isn’t a cinema snob. He says he took the job only after getting some sense of the range of films Fox will release next year–some 25 in all, including a new comedy about toys with Robin Williams, David Mamet’s take on union honcho Jimmy Hoffa, and a prequel to the hugely popular Star Wars. I think Fox wants to make movies that are entertaining,” says Hochberg, adding, “not every movie released has pretensions to be a Citizen Kane.” Hochberg points to such recent successes as Ghost and Pretty Woman as examples of films that attracted large numbers of moviegoers without pandering to man’s basest impulses. Ghost could turn out to be the highest-grossing film of the year, in fact, with Pretty Woman close behind. “I was entertained by both of those movies,” says Hochberg, “for the two hours and the $7 investment I made in each of them.” Once he’s settled into his new office at Fox, Hochberg also will have a say in what movies are put into production in the months and years ahead, so his own taste in films undoubtedly will be factored into Fox’s future. So just what films, you may ask, does Hochberg consider his all-time favorites? Tops on his list is the masterpiece Citizen Kane, which Hochberg did a shot-by-shot analysis of for his master’s thesis. Second on the list is Singin’ in the Rain for the “sheer joyousness of it,” followed by It’s a Wonderful Life for its appealing schmaltziness.

Gene’s Blue: Movie Stars Resent His Power

Alas, all is not cheery on the movie front. If you happened to read a column penned by Gene Siskel in the November 4 Tribune Sunday Arts section, you discovered that life isn’t all fun and games for one of the nation’s highest-paid film critics. There is a certain amount of–oh dear–frustration in Gene’s job because he continues to interview the occasional movie star for the Tribune. In the column, Siskel complained about the difficulties he’s encountered talking to such luminaries as Warren Beatty and Mike Nichols because they object to his power over the fate of their work. “I wanted to show that I am frustrated in what I am trying to do,” said Siskel last week about the purpose of the column, adding “my editor at the Tribune felt I should write about it.” Could one conclude that the column was a not-too-subtle hint that Siskel, who after all hardly needs to endure these indignities for financial reasons, might forgo star interviews? “If the difficulties continue, I could come to that conclusion,” said Siskel, but for the moment he intends to carry on valiantly.

Summer Gamble: Will Ravinia Be Lucky With Luciano?

Evidently the Ravinia Festival didn’t ask for Ardis Krainik’s opinion before scheduling its 1991 season opener; the June 21 gala will feature a concert performance of Donizetti’s opera L’elisir d’amore starring the elusive superstar Luciano Pavarotti, with soprano Kathleen Battle and James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Krainik, general director of the Lyric Opera, banned Pavarotti from her stage in 1989, after the tenor failed to report for duty in Tosca, the company’s 35th season opener. It was, Krainik said, the last in a long list of Pavarotti no-shows. But Ravinia foresees no such problems with its upcoming concert. “This has been in the works for some time,” says a spokeswoman. “James Levine and Pavarotti are close; they have worked together a lot.” Ravinia is charging $500 for top tickets, which will include a preconcert dinner and a postconcert reception with the stars. Will Krainik attend to see if Pavarotti shows up? Mum was the word last week at Lyric Opera.

Russian Classic Closes in the Red

The Commons Theatre took it on the chin with their ambitious production of Maksim Gorky’s The Lower Depths. The show, with a cast of 17 and a budget of approximately $25,000, closed in the red two weeks early at the Theatre Building. Even rave reviews from the Sun-Times and New City critics failed to rouse enough interest among the theatergoing public. “We had enormous overhead,” says Commons managing director Ted Altschuler, “so for the good of the company we decided to close early.” Still, Altschuler says he is proud his company decided to buck a trend in the business by mounting The Lower Depths: “Risks aren’t popular with everyone fight now.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.