By Benjamin Svetkey
December 19, 2010 at 04:53 PM EST

Image Credit: Ken ReganHere’s the dilemma. You’re the head of a studio. You’ve got a movie in the can, ready to ship to theaters, starring and directed by one of the most revered women in Hollywood. Unfortunately, it also stars one of the most reviled men in Hollywood. What do you do? Do you hold off releasing the film until the male star’s PR problems blow over (around the time Avatar 8 hits theaters)? Do you try to use the controversy over the star’s angry telephone demeanor as part of your marketing strategy (“Don’t’ be a ‘f—ing pig in heat’ — go see this movie!”). Or do you cut your losses and quietly release the picture directly to on-demand?

If you’re Summit Entertainment, and the movie in question is The Beaver, Jodie Foster’s new comedy in which Mel Gibson plays a man who can only communicate with the world via a hand puppet, then what you do is pick March 23 as your release date and stop answering your phones. Nobody at Summit will comment on why the studio chose the date they did — we’re guessing it has something to do with Spring break — or on any other aspect of this movie’s marketing plans. Fortunately, though, there are others who will. “The first thing I’d do is change the title,” suggests one veteran marketing executive. “Maybe make it The Passion of the Christ: Part 2. But The Beaver — that has a different meaning in some quarters.” The second thing the exec would do: “Show people how great the movie is. If the movie is great, the audience will forgive the controversy over Mel Gibson. They may not like Mel Gibson, but if the movie is great, they’ll go see it anyway.” In other words, Summit should start screening the film, although maybe not to journalists. “The only thing the media is going to focus on is the scandal,” the exec says. “There’s no way to win with the media on this one. You have to go directly to the audience.”

What do you think PopWatchers? What would you do with The Beaver if you were running Summit? Release it March 23? Hold off till a future date? Bury it in Griffith Park and never speak of it again?

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