Doris Owens Gives Cincinnati the Vote for Film

By Betsy Ross, Contributing Writer
Photos and Videos by Madison Schmidt

Doris Owens, founder of The Owens Group, has promoted movie stars and the movies themselves for more than three decades from an office on the west side … of Cincinnati far from Hollywood.

So during this Oscar week, it’s appropriate we talk with her about the future of the film industry, this year’s Oscars and the growing Hollywood connection in Greater Cincinnati.

First, some background on Doris: She got her start in the movies, as so often happens, as a fluke. A Colerain High School grad, she was working as her husband’s secretary when she heard of an administrative assistant’s job at a local advertising agency that worked with Warner Brothers studio. (Hat tip to her hair dresser, who was, by chance, dating Doris’ brother).

She took the job, and when the ad agency decided the account wasn’t big enough, Warner Brothers offered the PR job to Doris’ boss, who turned it down but recommended Doris for the post.

“Warner Bros called soon after and said we have a movie coming out: ‘The World According to Garp,’ and we want you in New York tomorrow for the press junket.”

So Doris packed her bag, invited her two sisters along and made her way to New York to manage the press interviews to promote the movie managing Robin Williams along with John Lithgow and Glenn Close, who were both starring in their first movies.

After the press junket hired Doris to do Warner’s public relations. “I had a fax machine, a phone and me. And within three months, Disney called, then Sony, then Universal, then Paramount.” 

From there, The Owens Group was born, providing clients with public relations support for over 30 years, handling several major movie studios.

Her work with movies has also earned her an invitation to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Previously, she had been turned down for the honor, even though she met the application rules which were: You have to be in the business for 20 years, have seven people who work for you and have to have two sponsors.

Simple enough, huh?

Her fifth application featured the signature of a top movie director. And she can probably thank Michael Jordan for that.

Yes, that Michael Jordan.

Doris is so serious about her honor, that she built a movie room in her house.

While she can’t talk about the voting process, she can talk about her process of watching movies.

“I watch everything,” she said. “There were three pictures I watched twice, ‘Hidden Figures,’ ‘Fences’ and ‘La La Land.’ Because I believe you’ll see a picture differently depending on your frame of mind.

“I’ve watched, in the last year, probably 100 movies. And I try to take myself out of my demographic while I’m watching. I look to appreciate the art that’s on the screen.”

With all these Hollywood connections, did this west side girl ever consider moving to LA to be closer to the film business?

“I’ve been offered three other jobs: One, with Michael Jordan to be his PR director in Chicago, one at Warner Brothers and one at Disney. But I wanted to raise my two kids here. Cincinnati’s my home and I love it here and I think every year it gets better. I think we’ve changed a lot in Cincinnati, and especially Film Cincinnati (she’s a board member). I’m very proud of having anything to do with that.”

She worked to bring George Clooney’s political thriller, Ides of March, to town, which helped kick off Cincinnati’s recent renaissance in the film industry.

“Our city is a city trying to stay on the cutting edge. And once you’re here, whether you’re Cate Blanchett or John Travolta or Kelly Preston, when you’re here, you’re surprised at what we have to offer. And what Kristen Schlotman (executive director of Film Cincinnati) has been able to do, is run circles around other cities. And the reason she’s been able to do that, is her passion. My tiny role is to support her.”

Travolta, in town recently to shoot the biopic Gotti, is one of her favorite actors.

Some of her other favorites?

“My personal favorite is Kevin Costner. I worked on Dancing with Wolves, and we’re at the press premiere when the film broke. Kevin’s hopping over me to find out what’s going on and the next thing we know the buffalo were going the wrong way and upside down. All you could do was laugh. We bonded—he’s one of my favorites.

“And, believe it or not, Mel Gibson, when we worked on The Man Without a Face and Lethal Weapon 1. He was one of the kindest men I’ve ever known. Robin Williams, of course, and Dan Aykroyd. It’s mostly the ones that were really good to me and would request me to run press junkets for them. I was comfortable with them.”

With more original movies now being released directly to the public through streaming services instead of theater chains, does Doris see the business of marketing films changing?

“People will always love movies and will want to have the experience, the excitement of going to the movies. I really do feel that grassroots marketing is still working for these studios. Our work is still unique and fulfilling. And all that talent, it’s not going to go away. There are some amazing pictures out there.”