Prince... Launching 'Purple Rain'

Great management always starts with devotion to and amazement about the client. And that's certainly what Prince was getting from his guys. I looked forward to a sneak of Purple Rain near San Diego to get an idea of how it played to its intended audience. Our daughter Danielle, who was attending the University of California at San Diego, picked me up at the airport and came with me because I needed a viewpoint contemporary with that of the audience I would have to reach. Looking at it through very different eyes, we were each similarly astounded by what Prince had accomplished. It wasn't music to which you merely listened. The visuality and the verve and the beat of the music and the corresponding energy of images and editing had that audience dancing in its seats. My job would be to convey to the media the hunger of the audience for Prince and his first film venture as an actor, a singer/performer, a composer (for which he won an Oscar) and writer. This vision, under the directorial skills of Albert Magnoli, spoke to his avid audience as much as his music did.

A few weeks later, we had our one and only planning meeting. So there, finally, we all sat. Prince, his management team, Ruffalo, Cavallo and Fargnoli, and all of the other essential people who pertained to Prince's life, career and product.

It was the first time I'd met Prince, and I didn't really meet him. He came in shortly after the rest of us and sat at a chair that was positioned right near the door, pretty much in the middle of the long conference table. I was introduced, and there was a cordial exchange of nods.

It was immediately apparent that Prince was there as an auditor of the meeting which would help shape how his film would be sold. Various pertinent matters were discussed by the others, all skilled operatives in the facilitation of Prince's great talents. Prince sat looking at the wall opposite him. This was a meeting on the Goldwyn Studios lot in Hollywood, the place where my company Guttman & Pam had started in an office not a hundred yards from where we all sat. I mention that because in short order it became a possibility that the Goldwyn Studios was
the same spot where my company could come to a crashing stop, or at least to a bumpy part of the road.

Joe Ruffalo, the prior business completed, threw the ball to me to explain what I planned to do for that film. I started to lay it out and just as I was swinging into some specifics of what I would be asking Prince to do, Prince simply stood up and headed out the door behind him. I felt he should have at least given me the chance to prove myself worthy of his disdain, and as the door was about to close behind him, I called out, "I look forward to not working with you." It was one of those things that just comes out. The door closed, hermetically sealing the horror of everyone else in the room, all of whom were life-committed to this extraordinary artist. I have to admit I was fairly horrified myself and fully understood how badly this would portray me when the word went out. At the end of this brief but suffocating silence, the door opened again, and Prince looked in and said, "OK, you've got one." With which he sort of smiled and then he left for good. To their great credit and to my great gratitude, everyone left sitting weakly in the room understood that this meant I had carte blanche to make a demand of him, one demand, and he would do it. More gracious you cannot possibly get. It was a very heavy challenge of opportunity. I would have to use that one shot wisely. I didn't really hear as much feel the great sigh of relief in the room and then a little release of tension through a mild spurt of laughter.

I knew fairly quickly how to use that one free pass. The kids would be there, but the adult audience hadn't yet caught Prince fever. Job One was to let the entertainment industry establishment and the media know that this train was coming and that it was coming for everyone, not just the kid audience. There was a six minute sampler of the film, and I merely asked that some more of the stylized dancing be added and emphasized. It was hard for anyone of any generation not to see and hear that this was the beat of that era. The timing of that film's
release was summer of 1984, a fact I remember because I used the coincident LA Olympics to help impel our key promotional objective for "Purple Rain."

My one free shot would be used to reach out not to the natural youth audience, but to the older public and media who ritually watched Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show." Surprise that Carson audience, raise its awareness and curiosity and, voila, cross over. l'm telling you that you could not watch that six minutes without bouncing in your shoes.

I sent the six minutes to Jim McCauley, one of the top talent coordinators for "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," and asked him to show it to the powers that be. It was not the kind of talent that the show presented often back in the '80s, but I wanted them to know that Prince was, all by himself, a significant "movement" in the music scene, a great change-of-pace, a keeping-up-with-the-times booking for the show. Jim called back in sad amazement. He thought the clip and the booking were great. The six minute clip had been shown to someone significant in the network production of the show, and the response had been, "Get me the
Ink Spots." I mean... literally... that was the response. I don't believe for a second that that was a racial remark. It was simply an evidence of the time-disconnect between the generations at that point. Significantly, in Jay Leno's later long reign as the beating heart of the Tonight Show and unrivaled king of late-night TV ratings in that time, Prince was one of Jay's favorite and most prized guests on the show. He appeared with Jay seven time and even did a two-night participation in Jay's first farewell week. But that recognition of the genius of Prince had not been the case in 1984, so the big "Purple Rain" emphasis was concentrated on a lavish premiere at the historic Grauman's (it was never anything else to me) Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard which was melded with an all-night celebration on MTV where broadcast of the wild after-party featuring Prince and Sheila e. in performance received major ratings.

The party and the live performance were initiated and produced by the studio and by Prince and his associates, not by me. I was just there to add to the wider, cross-generational importance and impact of the evening in the media's mind. And here's how the 1984 Olympics played into my hand on that one.

My problem with the "Purple Rain" opening was that, while the prospect of the premiere had the galvanized attention and anticipation of the pop and youth culture across the nation, in Hollywood we really weren't getting a big response from the traditional red carpet decoration types, the super-structure taste-makers and mainline stars to whom we had sent invitations. We didn't want coverage of the premiere to affirm that this was a niche film. We needed the regular famous faces there to convince the media that Prince-fever was raging across the demographic board. "Purple Rain" had to have the visual and visceral confirmation of wide cultural anointment signified by the attendance of major film stars. A cousin of mine was the king of obtaining tickets for choice Olympic events. This Included two tickets-of-all-tickets for the closing ceremonies. I had my cousin place ads in the film industry trade papers, the Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety, stating that he was happily and eagerly offering these coveted tickets in trade for two tickets to the premiere and after-party for "Purple Rain." I then arranged for his strange and startling ad to get wide pick-up in the media... a guy willing to give up the golden tickets of the Olympics. Who knew he was my cousin?

Suddenly the premiere RSVPs from the town's elite started to pour in. My cousin dejectedly reasoned that they just wanted them to trade out for his Olympic finale seats, but I knew he would get no takers. His ad was the ultimate expression of the most powerful rule of persuasion, the rule which validates why publicity works.

Everyone has the courage-of-someone-else'-convictions. How valuable were tickets to "Purple Rain?" More valuable than tickets for the Olympics closing ceremonies.