How the Women of Lionsgate Powered Through the Strike to Box Office Success

Power Women Summit: Executives Keri Moore and Helen Lee-Kim discuss shepherding the studio’s refreshes of “The Hunger Games” and “Saw”

(L-R) Diane Haithman, Jocelyn Sabo, Keri Moore, Helen Lee-Kim and Jenefer Brown at Power Women Summit 2023
Photo By Jennifer Johnson/Shutterstock

2023 has been a year of revivals for Lionsgate. As the studio’s “John Wick” series hit new box office highs with its fourth installment, success was also found with franchises that seemed to have run their course in theaters: “The Hunger Games” and “Saw.”

Of course, releasing those films during an actors strike didn’t make it easy.

Several of the executives at Lionsgate discussed how they helped build and maintain these franchises at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit, including EVP & Head of Global Products & Experiences Jenefer Brown, Film Group International President Helen Lee-Kim, Theatrical Marketing Co-President Keri Moore and SVP of Scripted TV Development Jocelyn Sabo.

While Lionsgate is not a studio affiliated with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the strike still created challenges when it came to promoting movies like “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” which has grossed over $120 million at the domestic box office so far.

Prior to the end of the strike in mid-November, “Songbirds and Snakes” was approved for SAG-AFTRA’s interim agreement, allowing the film’s cast to promote the film in the final weeks leading up to its release. Moore said that Lionsgate and its overseas distribution partners had to come up with various promotion plans depending on when their interim agreement application was approved.

“When you saw the ‘Hunger Games talent come back on the set for the last three weeks of the campaign, it felt different,” she said. “For Tom [Blyth] and Rachel [Zegler] and all of these emerging young, amazing actors who were stepping into this big moment in their careers…not only was it hard for the campaign, it was hard for them to sit on the sidelines.”

“So, getting to create that moment that they got to come back and celebrate everything that they had done and get to participate in how much fans cared about this thing that they were part of was really special moment for us,” Moore continued.

Lee-Kim recalled how Lionsgate set up a fan screening event in Germany right as the SAG-AFTRA strike ended, and how even then it wasn’t clear how much the cast would be able to get involved.

“The marketing team had five versions of talent/no talent versions, hybrid of the talent, but at the last minute, Germany got access to talent,” she recalled. “When I think about what the opening would have been without that talent in Germany…it would have been so different.”

On the other hand, Lionsgate didn’t have its actors on hand for “Saw X,” including longtime star Tobin Bell as the infamous John “Jigsaw” Kramer. But what Lionsgate did have was another icon of the long-running horror franchise: Billy the Puppet.

“Billy was not ‘striking,’” Moore quipped. “He was supporting his actors and carrying the banner of the film for a bunch of filmmakers who invested, and cared, and loved a movie that they were no longer able to promote.”

Moore’s marketing team devised a campaign around Billy, the toy Kramer uses to introduce his deadly games to his victims, with plenty of TikTok and YouTube videos. Brown also struck partnerships with Six Flags and the online game Roblox to create a “Saw” experience featuring Billy.

“We were in haunted houses. We did this amazing ‘Saw’ experience in real life across multiple Six Flags parks around the country so we could touch people everywhere. But we also wanted to reach the fan base more broadly, so we also partnered with them in Roblox and did a virtual experience that you could go through, and the cool part of that is that we were the first studio to go on Roblox with a film campaign that targeted age 17 and up,” Brown said.

Lee-Kim said she was proud of how Lionsgate was able to stay nimble during the strike, using interim agreements and other marketing campaigns to refresh their biggest franchises. She was particularly proud of the work on “Saw,” as it introduced the series to a new generation, many of whom were far too young to see the gory series during its 2000s heyday.

“We’re on ‘Saw X.’ ‘X’ means 10. We’re on Saw 10! So how do we engage a new audience? How do we get on Tik Tok?” she said. “Our international marketplace, those clients, those partners are waiting for brilliance from our young marketing team to come up with all of these ideas, because what we provide is basically a toolbox of everything that we do in the US in the UK and Latin for ourselves.”

For all of TheWrap’s Power Women Summit 2023 coverage, click here.

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