There will be no press junket, no premiere and, most importantly, no Oscar marketing campaign beyond trailers and posters for Steven Spielberg’s movie Munich, I have learned. This dicey decision to have no traditional publicity for the film before and after it opens December 23 is the director’s alone. He will not even be giving press or broadcast interviews. “The official strategy is for the movie to speak for itself,” an insider told me this week. “All they’re going to do is just show the movie to people. You have to be Steven Spielberg to get away with that.”
But competitors think that may also be because Spielberg may have snagged the cover of Time magazine, which no one will confirm.
For months now, Munich has been touted as the Oscar front-runner, even when no one had seen the film. The first invitation-only screenings of Munich will start after December 1. Executives for Universal, one of the producers/distributors of the film along with DreamWorks, are scheduled to see the completed movie November 30.
Even producer Kathleen Kennedy did not view the finished film, complete with John Williams score, until just a few days ago. A master of managing expectations, Kennedy came out of the film blown away by it, I’m told. “I’ve been making movies for 25 years and this could be his best,” she told a friend. That kind of praise has to be considered noteworthy since she produced Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Schindler’s List. (As the pal told me: “She wasn’t talking that way about War of the Worlds.”)
At the start of this year’s Oscar season, speculation centered on the tightness of Munich’s postproduction schedule because it began only on October 2. But the movie was finished scoring a week ago, a few days ahead of planning. As it is, Spielberg is telling friends that his only film that had a shorter postproduction period was Duel, and that was because it was a made-for-TV movie.
Last year, Mel Gibson announced that he wouldn’t engage in the usual Oscar marketing frenzy for his The Passion of the Christ, and it was overlooked at Academy Awards time even though it was a box-office blockbuster and artistic endeavor. The reason I suspected was that Oscar voters were uncomfortable with the zealotry of its subject matter. The chances of that happening to Spielberg’s Munich are slim to none this time around. Because of Spielberg’s involvement, I think Oscar voters are going to take on faith his view of this Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, the political minefield of the film’s subject matter — the tale of a secret Mossad hit squad ordered to assassinate the Palestinian terrorists who directly or even indirectly carried out the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich — will be the main issue at awards time. Specifically, it all comes down to how the movie portrays its principal characters: Will the Israelis be seen as too bloodthirsty? Will the Palestinians be seen as too stereotypical? Insiders say Spielberg and his screenwriter Tony Kushner worked hard to create multidimensional characters.
But, just in case, he has also assembled a team of pro advisers to confront the international protestations that are sure to occur.
The trio consists of Dennis Ross, a well-known U.S. diplomat who played a leading role in shaping Middle East policy in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations and is now The Washington Institute’s counselor and Ziegler distinguished fellow; Mike McCurry, President Clinton’s White House spokesman who is now a senior political strategist; and Allan Mayer, a crisis PR specialist with Los Angeles-based Sitrick And Company who has advised Spielberg for several years.
Spielberg has been deliberately vague as to the origin of the much-disputed facts conveyed in his movie. He has said it comes from multiple sources, and not just from Vengeance, the controversial book by George Jonas. (HBO adapted that book in 1986.) Both Palestinian terrorist Abu Daoud and Israel’s former Mossad spy chief Zvi Zamir have gone public with their anger about not being consulted beforehand by Spielberg about the film. During the summer, Spielberg issued this carefully worded statement to an Israeli paper, an Arab TV station and The New York Times: “Viewing Israel’s response to Munich through the eyes of the men who were sent to avenge that tragedy adds a human dimension to a horrific episode that we usually think about only in political or military terms. By experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic standoff we find ourselves in today.”
Even at this late date, I’m told that neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian National Authority have yet seen the movie. “Nobody’s seen anything. We’ve, as a courtesy, been in touch unofficially at a fairly high level and they know what’s going on,” an insider told me. “Given a lot of the other things on their plate, they have much bigger fish to fry than even a Steven Spielberg movie.”