For the premiere of its new movie, "Meteor," American International Pictures went to a hole in the ground in Arizona.
There, on Oct. 12, at the bottom of a 570-foot-deep crater nearly a mile wide, a red carpet was spread out and a waiter in white tie serving Meteor beer imported from France to anyone brave enough to descend by helicopter.
The crater was created, scientists believe, when a meteor struck the earth at 33,000 miles per hour. But that impactwas scarcely greater than what AIP hoped to create with its $200,000 budget for a three-day promotion that brought two mayors, two astronauts and 16 movie staffers from as far away as Canada and Spain into contact with some 70 print and TV journalists.
The event began on Thursday, Oct. 11, with cocktails and dinner in Flagstaff; moved to the crater on Friday, and returned to Flagstaff that night for the premiere screening of the film (which opened in Washington Friday) about what happens when an enormous meteor strikes the United States. It concluded on Saturday when three of the film's stars -- Sean Connery, Natalie Wood and Martin Landau -- gave interviews.
All three were expected to appear at the crater party, but Connery was still en route from Spain, and Wood -- reportedly not fond of flying -- was coming by train from Los Angeles. Martin Landau, however, was there, posed on the crater's edge like a Rodin "Thinker" for the photographers.
But the press arrived en masse -- brought the 40 miles from Flagstaff by
Greyhound bus through the tumbleweed, prairie, mountains like blue shadows and signs offering "See Free A Wild Buffalo" -- sleepy in the early morning and complaining about insomia, headaches and nosebleeds from the 7,000-foot altitude.
Once at the crater, the somewhat overdressed crowd of journalists faced several possibilities. They could stare at the pit, as did one reporter from Texas who was moved to remark: "Chicken Little was right -- the sky did fall down." They could eat a buffet lunch -- including a cake with the U.S. NASA and Arizona flags depicted in the frosting. They could travel down into the crater for cold beer in one of two chartered helicopters. And they could listen to the astronauts.
The crater site, a national landmark with $1 million worth of tourist facilities erected on it, is leased to a company called Meteor Crater Enterprises, which donated its use to the movie group. MCE had decided to combine the movie premiere with the dedication of a new section of their buildings: the "Astronaut Hall of Fame."
So although AIP had offered to bring in some astronauts for the occasion, MCE underwrote the appearance of Capt. Ron Evans and Col. Stuart Roosa from the Apollo program, who gave speeches at the dedication ceremonies. Flagstaff Mayor Robert Moody was among those looking on as the tall, plump Evans described feeling weightless in his spaceship cabin and concluded by attesting that "I am damned proud to be an American."
By 2 p.m., the press was ready to return to "Little America" -- the Best Western Hotel fabled in Flagstaff for its important marble vanities and Art Noveau stained-glass windows -- for some free time before the screening, which took place in twin theaters. One screening was for the AIP staff and press; the other was for local townspeople.
It had been a costly day for AIP. The buffet lunch was $2,000 (excluding bar bill), according to caterer Rose Nackard; and the two helicopters operating from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. cost $590 a hour. However, that was modest in view of the total outlay: AIP had covered the costs of transportation, baggage, hotel (at about $50 a day), dining and bar charges for about three-fourths of the press corps and some 40 of their dependents and friends, according to Arkoff. the largest expenditure had been for plane tickets. Charter flights -- with first-class seats whenever possible -- cost $20,000 to $25,000, estimated Milton Moritz, AIP's senior vice president of advertising and publicity.
And there were other costs as well: Each guest was offered a "kit" of clothing including a cotton turtleneck shirt with the movie title on it, a hat, a quilted vinyl "Meteor" jacket, a coloring book, a poster and a high-school study guide. Some 2,500 copies of the study guide (with questions such as "Most meteors are the size of (a) a BB; (b) dust; (c) a basketball; (d) an automobile") have been marketed at $3 to $5 to high schools around the country, Moritz said. And, of course, there were books on the history of meteors and a novel based on the movie.
But Ronni Chasen, AIP's national publicity director, explained that the $17-million movie required the investment. "If a movie is a hit in the U.S.," she said, "it's likely to be all over the world. America has the most difficult audiences -- it's pace-setting."
Arkoff estimated the total promotion cost of "Meteor" at about $3 million, and summoned up the necessity for the evnt to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times: "We in the distribution end have to provide the razzle-dazzle these days," Arkoff said. "In the old days, the local theatrical exhibitor did most of that. Now he puts all his razzle-dazzle into the candy counter. So we got to get out and sell the public ourselves. This junket is part of that."