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No Men Allowed: How Sony Pictures Classics Is Wooing Women Only to ‘Austenland’

Female-only screenings and a “high tea” at Jane Seymour’s house highlight a unique new marketing push for the romantic comedy; says SPC co-president Tom Bernard of men, “We just said ‘Fine, it’s not for you. Don’t see it. Can’t come.’ ”

With its Aug. 16 romantic comedy Austenland, Sony Pictures Classics is taking female-targeted marketing to a new level. The specialty label has begun a series of word-of-mouth screenings and events for women only. “It’s not like we’re going to have guards at the door throwing men out,” says SPC co-president Tom Bernard. “But I think everyone will get the message based on the invitations.”

After nabbing the Jerusha Hess-helmed film at Sundance for just north of $4 million — one of the biggest sales of the festival — Bernard and co-president Michael Barker began devising a campaign that focused squarely on females. “At Sundance, women loved the movie, but we found that the few reviews that we did get from male critics were vicious,” recalls Bernard. “We just said, ‘Fine, it’s not for you. Don’t see it. Can’t come.’ “

For Austenland producer Stephenie Meyer, who demonstrated the power of the female consumer with her Twilight books, the moves make perfect sense. “This film is very uniquely female,” she explains. “There can’t be many movies in the marketplace that are based on a novel by a woman, scripted by women, produced by women, directed by a woman and starring a woman. There are beginning to be more female-centric, female-created movies in the marketplace, but they’re still vastly the minority.”

Adapted by Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and Shannon Hale from Hale’s novel, the film follows a woman obsessed with a BBC production of Pride and Prejudice who travels to a Jane Austen-styled English resort to find her perfect gentleman.

In addition to all-women screenings, the blitz includes tie-ins with Daily Candy, and Jane Austen Summer Camp as well as ads on female-skewing networks. Co-star Jane Seymour hosted a “high tea” at her Malibu home in April, the studio is sending Austenland calendars to female journalists, and Meyer is harnessing her fans online.

The rollout will culminate with women-only premieres in New York, and L.A. Party maven Andrew Saffir, who is organizing the New York affair, says it’s a first for him. As for Hess, she says don’t be surprised if her husband and frequent collaborator, Jared Hess, is a no-show. “I don’t know if they will let them in,” she says. “I told a [male colleague] to bring a wig just in case.”