''Brokeback Mountain's'' no-bull marketing scheme -- The gay cowboy love story isn't pulling any punches with its promotion

By Gregory Kirschling
October 07, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT
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In one of his first interviews about Brokeback Mountain, his new gay love story starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, director Ang Lee told EW months ago that he was looking forward to ”marketing it as what it is, not as something it’s not.” NBC Universal division Focus Features, which is releasing the film slowly beginning in three cities on Dec. 9, was apparently listening. Its trailer for the movie pulls no punches, showing an intense embrace between Ledger and Gyllenhaal (”I wish I knew how to quit you!” one cries). The poster positions the stars close together, with the tagline ”Love is a force of nature.” No Crying Game stunting here.

Given the cultural divide over gay rights, Focus’ head-on acknowledgment of the film’s content is a bracing surprise. The studio declined to comment on its strategy, mindful of the long road an early Oscar contender must travel. Other industry vets, however, applaud the move. ”The idea to sell the movie for what it is is brave and refreshing,” says one longtime Hollywood marketing executive. ”You want to think that marketing can sell a movie like this to the red states. But it’s not gonna happen.” Mark Urman, head of U.S. distribution for indie THINKFilm, is more optimistic about the film’s crossover potential. ”Even in the Hollywood mainstream, every once in a while a movie becomes marketable because it’s different,” says Urman. ”It needs to be good enough, and it needs to be confidently sold, and I think of all the films Hollywood is releasing in the fourth quarter, this film stands out.” He believes solid word-of-mouth, already strong after the film’s triumphant tour through the Telluride, Venice, and Toronto film festivals, will fill theaters. ”People will be saying a lot about this movie, but more than anything they’ll be saying it’s pretty darn good. That’s the way you sell anything.”

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