DreamWorks execs hope that the internet will help sell their movie

By Andrew Essex
Updated November 06, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

They couldn’t make a Moses Happy Meal. And Ten Commandments multivitamins seemed a hard idea to swallow. So when DreamWorks execs began the marketing campaign for their animated opus The Prince of Egypt, they knew they needed something sea-splitting. As a DreamWorks insider joked, ”The Bible is a tough sell.”

Clearly, promoting the greatest story ever told required a certain delicacy. Then, like a bush bursting into flames, the answer appeared. The studio would make…a website. Thou shalt not snicker.

On Oct. 30, DreamWorks unveiled http://www.prince-of-egypt.com, an electro-promotional undertaking that, among other bells and whistles, salutes the $60 million-plus film in five languages (English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish), includes the trailer and music from all three of the film’s tie-in albums, and offers hundreds of animated images, plus spiritual study guides. ”What we’ve done,” says Jason Yim, president and creative director of Media Revolution, the Santa Monica-based company that designed the site, ”is take this poor cousin of marketing and create an environment.” Media Revolution CEO Mark Levy adds that the site is a step closer to an ”interactive movie online. There’s motion, drama. And we’ve got hundreds of pictures, instead of, say, the usual five that Disney put on the Mulan site. It’s very emotional.”

Emotional involvement might be fine for computer geeks, but DreamWorks may need a lot more. Some industry insiders insist that the young studio is still too fragile to withstand a major failure. ”If this movie doesn’t work,” says one source, ”they could fold or wind up as a production company at some place like Universal.” Not so, says DreamWorks spokeswoman Terry Press: ”After Antz [having grossed $62 million, it’s well on its way to becoming the most successful non-Disney animated movie ever], Egypt‘s success is a lot less critical. It’s still an important film, but it’s ridiculous to think [the studio’s dead] if this one film doesn’t work.”

Still, no one denies that The Prince of Egypt is a tough sell. Complicating the marketing plan is DreamWorks’ oddly anti-Web history — the studio has never had its own site. It’s a strange irony for a company formed by men known for their imaginations. As DreamWorks marketing exec Mike Vollman recently told EW: ”We’ve chosen to do [websites] on a film-by-film basis. We came after the Internet revolution. If there’s some kind of technological change tomorrow, we might put [our own site] out there.”

Now, without that bodacious Burger King tie-in, DreamWorks has a lot riding on an untested medium. (The only other promotion is a $19.96 Wal-Mart gift package with two movie tickets, a book, and a CD sampler, available Nov. 24.) And unfortunately, experts remain skeptical that websites — no matter how godly — can promote a movie.

The figures bear this out. ”Websites generate 2 to 5 percent of box office take — at best,” estimates Peter Graves, president of PolyGram Films marketing. Adds a distribution exec at Paramount, ”You really don’t know if those 300 hits you’re getting are the same guy doing it 300 times.” With a site this expensive — Graves estimates a high six figures — that’s a lot of corn down the tubes. DreamWorks and Media Revolution won’t discuss cost.

The Prince of Egypt

  • Movie
  • PG
  • 99 minutes
  • Brenda Chapman
  • Steve Hickner
  • Simon Wells