Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Body Slam for Robocop

I have worked with a number of 'characters' in my career... Spiderman, Darth Vader, The Chipmunks...even PacMan.

But putting together a national promotion for RoboCop was one of the more unique experiences in my life.

In the late 80's and early 90's professional wrestling had become dominant in sports entertainment. Working with Jan Keane and her team at Orion Pictures, we created the ultimate RoboCop tie-in promotion.

It was the perfect movie promotion. We wanted access to their vast cable audience, and they wanted a movie star who could get in the ring!

It took months of discussion, negotiations and meetings in Los Angeles and Atlanta. Turner owned World Championship Wrestling with huge wrestling stars like Nature Boy Rick Flair, Sting, Lex Luger, Sid Vicious and The Undertaker.

Finally we agreed on a venue and started to put the promotion together. It would be one of their biggest live and PPV (Pay Per View) events of 1990- Capitol Combat!

First, we needed to get the RoboCop costume and the stuntman willing to do the job, since we all knew that Peter Weller was never going to do this. So we hired one of the stuntmen from the film and got one of the actual 'costumes' from filming. They had a number of suits built, but we couldn't use the close-up suit because they didn't 'walk' and the arm movements were limited.

We went to Atlanta to tape the TV spots and meet the Turner and WCW executives. They gave us a tour of their wrestling school, and we met Sting. No, not the singer...the wrestler.

Talk about first impressions...what do you say to a guy with a full face of make-up, bright blonde hair in spikes who is wearing black spandex tights? Try it sometime...small talk with a professional wrestler ain't easy unless you're a fan.

A few short weeks later it was on to Washington D.C., and the surreal world of live professional wrestling. The Turner and Orion press departments had done a great job of building excitement for the appearance of RoboCop in the 'squared circle'. The stadium was sold out, and the PPV orders were breaking records.

We arrived the day before for rehearsals. That's right, rehearsals. Each wrestler has a storyline to follow, and they work out their movements in the ring in detail. They had signals, the ref's help and it's all staged for the cameras and the audience for maximum entertainment. It was like watching a rehearsal for a Soap Opera, but with lots more makeup and supplements (wink and a nod).

The wrestlers arrived by limo in designer suits and diamonds. They certainly didn't look like Wall Street bankers, but it was all business. We worked on the storyline, and how RoboCop would enter the show. Not all of them liked the idea, but the hardest part was getting the stuntman to be able to climb into the ring wearing the costume.

Another difficult problem was his size. RoboCop in a theatre is 30 feet tall, in real life he's 5'8". Against a 6'6 wrestler he doesn't look that menacing. Some quick thinking and a few blocks of dry ice solved that problem...and we made sure that nobody got too close.

I had never been in a stadium that was that loud. It was like standing next to a jet engine at full throtle..the entire night. The fans were unbelievable. It was fully choreographed frenzy the likes of which I had never seen. The matches were amazing to watch. And they roar from the crowd just added to the excitement.

When Robo walked down the gauntlet to the ring, the wrestlers scattered in all directions and everyone went absolutely crazy.

It was perfect.

PS. The smoking rules in theatres were different then, and the distribution team at Orion put out a special 'no smoking' policy trailer for theatres months before the release. If you missed it then, enjoy it now.

The Rocky Screening

I loved working in Television. It wasn't until 1976 that the thought of working in the movie business even crossed my mind.

But it did one night at a special screening for a new movie called Rocky.

Rogers and Cowan was the #1 PR firm in Hollywood and was led by the founders Henry Rogers and Warren Cowan. Henry brought clients like Ford to Hollywood, while Warren and his team represented every major Hollywood star. Tom Wilhite worked in their TV department and we had worked on a couple of projects together. They always had stars to book, and we always needed stars to appear on shows.

I called Tom on a regular basis to book KidsWorld, which was a kid's version of 60 minutes. Each week, a star was interviewed by a 12-15 year old kid. The show ran for almost 7 years, and it was great fun.

One day Tom called me to pitch a new young actor named Sylvester Stallone. And he pitched hard...but he was unknown and we needed recognized names. He told me about this new movie, and the next day I got an envelope with the name ROCKY emblazoned across the back.

I had never been to an 'Academy Screening' before. It was at the new theatre on Wilshire. Tom was at the door and the theatre was packed. I took my seat and waited for the film to start.

120 minutes later, over 1,000 people were standing up, yelling and applauding wildly. I had never seen a reaction to a movie like that before...and haven't seen one since. It was amazing. They didn't want it to stop.

The audience made their way down to the lobby of the theatre and that's when I started to notice the people around me. They were movie folks. And unlike the TV people I was used to, these men and women were different. But in a good way. There was this subtle elegance and self assurance that just filled the air while they were waiting for the movie makers to come down the grand staircase.

And then the lobby erupted even louder than before. It was a movie coronation, and Sylvester Stallone was the new king. That night he had become a movie star in front of my eyes.

I knew I was witnessing something special, and I stood there watching the spectacle and celebration around me. That was the moment that I knew that this was where I wanted to be.

A footnote. I never booked Sylvester Stallone for Kids World, and years later worked at MGM on Rocky V...but to this day I have never met Sylvester Stallone.