In January 1982, Steve Ellman was, as he says, “called in from the bullpen” to put together and oversee a brand new department within Universal Pictures called Exhibitor Relations. It was groundbreaking concept for Universal and, indeed, for the industry as a whole; no other company had yet taken the initiative to create a group focused solely on nurturing the common interests – with the emphasis on showmanship – throughout all segments of its customer base, be they home office executives, operations or marketing personnel, film buyers, or theater managers.
Eight years into his tenure with Universal, Steve led the charge in convincing exhibitors that knowing how to intelligently market upcoming films to “captive” patrons was essentially to every theater manger’s handbook. “Make an effort to know your audience,” he told them. Steve emphasized that the promotion of a film begins on the first one-sheet is displayed in a lobby, or when the first trailer appears on screen. Before the formation of Universal Pictures Exhibitor Relations, no studio had made a formal effort to roll trailers in front of a film that catered to similar demo- or psychographics.
Steve, whose background prior to joining Universal in 1974 included advertising and publicity, was National Promotion Manager at the time. His duties included handling what are now called research screenings, and supervising grassroots and national promotions. Effective in unique marketing efforts, Steve once even persuaded Pontiac to provide (at no cost to Universal) 19 cars to be given away via radio promo tie ins for the 1980 sequel to Smokey in the Bandit.
Steve’s personal relationship within the ranks of Exhibition made him a choice candidate for leading the new department. It would take a considerable amount of time and effort to manage the millions of dollars in advertising and promotion materials Universal annually provided to theatres across the country.
The Job, Steve Recalls, involved constant interaction with Universal’s creative advertising and productions executives – and a lot of traveling: he attended all of the Exhibitor conventions and numerous theater manager meetings annually, preaching the mutual benefits of partnership and sensible theater marketing. “I was one part customer relations, one part sales promotion, one part industry enthusiast, and 100 percent schmoozer,” Steve says.
His effectiveness as a salesman and marketer came to light when, he recalls, the president of one theater circuit likened Steve to the famous brokerage firm E.F. Hutton: “When I talked,” he recalls, “they listened.” In 1986, Steve persuaded exhibitors to provide more than 500 theaters nationwide to screnn Steven Spielberg’s An American Tail on a Saturday morning – prior to its November opening for employees of Sears and McDonald’s.
Spielberg was one of many filmmakers with whom Steve had the pleasure of working with during his three-decades at Universal: the list also includes Kathy Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Dino De Laurentiis, John Landis, Joel Silver, Peter Jackson, and the late, legendary Jennings Lang. Steve also had the opportunity to work with such actors as Sissy Spacek, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Willie Nelson, Burt Reynolds, Roy Schneider, Tom Hanks, Kevin Costner, Eddie Murphy, and Hollywood icons Jack Lemmon and James Stewart.
Among his many contacts through the years, Steve is moved to speak of one in particular.”I feel honored to have known him,” he says of the late Media Mogul Lew Wasserman. “He was truly awe inspiring.”
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif., May 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Steve Ellman has been promoted to vice president, national exhibitor relations for Universal Pictures, announced Fred Mound, president of Universal Pictures Distribution. "It has been a pleasure to watch Steve Ellman's growth as an executive. We are eager to have him apply his talents in exhibitor relations to an even greater capacity," said Mound. In his new position, Ellman will report to senior vice president of distribution and marketing Nikki Rocco and serve as the studio's liaison with the exhibition community. He will oversee the placement of trailers and in-theater display materials and coordinate all promotional activities. Previously, Ellman was director of exhibitor relations for Universal Pictures, a position he held since 1982. He has risen through the company ranks, having first joined Universal's marketing department in 1974. Several years later he assumed a management position in co-op advertising, which he held till he was again promoted, this time to national promotions manager. Prior to joining Universal, Ellman was an account executive at several public relations firms and also served as a publicist for MGM and Embassy Pictures.
Mum's the word when it comes to previewing a certain horror sequel for the kiddies. Last week, Universal Studios pulled the trailer for The Mummy Returns from theaters screening its hit movie Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The decision to yank the preview came in response to some theater owners' complaints that the Mummy teaser was too intense for youngsters waiting to see the PG-rated antics of Jim Carrey as the hairy green meanie. The move also has its political benefits, coming in the wake of the Federal Trade Commission's recent criticism of Hollywood's targeting violent fare to children. The Mummy Returns trailer was initially shipped with some 4,200 Grinch prints to theaters. The special effects-laden, action-packed sneak peek showed glimpses of Brendan Fraser returning as the treasure seeker bedeviled by the scary effluence of ancient tombs. (Yes, the scary effluence was in full effect.) In a letter to exhibitors, Steve Ellman, Universal's vice president of exhibitor relations, notes that the studio expects The Mummy Returns to receive a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of American, so playing the trailer would not violate current guidelines. However, he also writes, "We feel we cannot ignore the concerns of the exhibitors who know their customers--our audience--better than anyone. We strongly request that you do not program this trailer with The Grinch." Universal publicity head Terry Curtin tells E! Online that all theaters owners contacted have agreed with Universal's judgment and have not shown the trailer before Grinch screenings. John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners, said Universal's decision was an example of self-regulation at work, and several of his constituents agreed. Brian Fridley, film buyer for R.L. Fridley Theaters in Des Moines, says The Grinch has been attracting "everyone from three to 103" and he believes The Mummy Returns trailer would have been "probably too scary for the younger kids."
Steve Ellman has worked on some Of Universal's biggest filmns in his 30 Year career including:
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurrasic Park, Meet the Fockers, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Jaws, Bruce Almighty, King, Kong, Back to the Future, The Fast and the Furious, The Mummy, The Bourne Supremacy, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and many more!
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