HBO stakes its all on 'Band of Brothers'

Hoping to turn conventional wisdom as to what sells in India in the movie business on its head, HBO tonight premieres its $ 120 million epic miniseries, Band of Brothers, to the hail of a veritable media blitzkrieg across the country.

According to Shruti Bajpai, director, marketing of HBO South Asia, it is the most heavily promoted event for HBO India in 2001. There is a multimedia campaign planned around the launch of the show, involving outdoor presence, press ads in various publications in major cities, Internet, radio and cinemas in all metros.

Says Bajpai: "We also have an on air promotional plan which is the most expensive on air promo ever being done on the channel." The teaser campaign, programmes on the "making of" behind the scenes, exclusive interviews with Hanks, critics' reviews, audience reactions and a ten day countdown were all part of the promotion. In addition, the Band Of Brothers book is also being promoted at leading bookstores across the country.

After tonight's launch of Band Of Brothers, there will also be episodic recaps of all episodes. The channel is also pushing the series on MTV and Discovery Channel, Bajpai says. Apart from vantage point hoardings in Mumbai and Delhi, HBO has gone in for interesting media innovations with some leading English newspapers in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore. An example: today's edition of Mumbai's top-selling Mid Day tabloid had a double page centrespread foldout devoted to the launch.

Ad spend on the 10-part miniseries, the most expensive original production by HBO till date, is approximately 25 per cent of the channel's overall marketing budget, Bajpai revealed. Industry sources say HBO's ad spend for the year is roughly Rs 150 million so that would indicate a figure of Rs 37.5 million or thereabouts as the promotional spend on Band of Brothers.

If Band of Brothers does succeed as HBO expects it to, the prevailing wisdom that viewership on movie channels is title-driven and made for television productions cannot succeed will have been effectively disproved.

As for the episodes themselves, for 10 Mondays beginning tonight 9.30 pm, Band of Brothers will tell the story of World War II from the viewpoint of Easy Company, an elite team of American paratroopers who were among the first to land in France on the fatal D-Day morning and played a vital role in the capture of the Bulge. They also freed a concentration camp in Germany.     

Based on Stephen Ambrose's book, the series is produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. The series is refreshingly free of the usual cliches associated with a war drama, according to the official release. No fake Pearl Harbour romantic triangle, no sickening patriotic rah rah. Just raw gritty drama that examines the human condition at the time of a war. Hanks has also directed Brothers' fifth episode called Crossroads.

Production for the series started last April and finished in November. The series has 500 speaking parts and 10,000 supporting actors were involved. The cast was trained on the usage of the weapons. They also had to undergo the hardships of a boot camp and each working day lasted 16 hours. They were trained in movement both during the day and night, hiding in foxholes and jumping from an aeroplane.

Tonight's episode is Currahee and shows how the members of Easy Company train. David Schwimmer of sitcom Friends' fame plays the nasty Lieutenant Sobel whose bullying attitude causes the men under his command to despise him.

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