Are studio execs spoiling the chances for some movies?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by JohnRice, Sep 7, 2003.

  1. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    This has been touched on in several threads, but I wanted to discuss it specifically in one thread.


    It seems more and more lesser known films, and even some big ones, are being misrepresented by the studios. They seem to be so intent on cramming every movie into one of three or four categories, thinking it will improve their popularity. In the end, it seems to me that they actually usually hurt them.

    Last year, Donnie Darko was marketed as a Horror film, when nothing could be further from the truth. This year, Heaven is market as an Action/Thriller when it is actually a very quiet, philosophil film. The Good Girl was marketed as a mainstream DVD just because Jennifer Aniston was in it. As a result, data was wasted on a full screen transfer and the transfer itself is completely screwed up. So, the general public hates the film because they might be expecting the standard Aniston light comedy and many film fans don't buy the disc because the transfer sucks.

    My point is, when a very deliberate and extremely unconventional film like Heaven is marketed as an Action/Thriller (The cover even says it is a thriller and has a shot of the two stars running from a huge explosion, which doesn't ever happen in the film) then people who rent it are looking for an action film. Their minds are in that mode and when they get this quiet, slow little multi-lingual film, most of the time they will not like it. Even if they might have liked it if that was what they were expecting. They say bad things about it and others who might have given it a shot don't as a result.

    Take Solaris, for example. Several times I have been at the rental store to hear customers and even employees saying how bad it is, or how bad they heard it is. I think a big reason for this is because the studio marketed is as a romance, wich it isn't. So viewers come away angry, thinking it is a bad movie. Also, the studio just assumes they have a blockbuster simply because it stars George Clooney. They spend far too much on a film designed to have limited appeal, the snowball starts, they make it worse by misrepresenting it, and it flops.

    Take the example of the prequal to The Exorcist which recently completed principal photography and has been discussed in another thread. The execs fast-track a screenplay, dump a pretty substantial amount of money into it, end up hiring both a director annd star known for doing unconventional, independent films and bristle and try to kill it when they see what they got. To make matters worse, reportedly in this case, they got exactly what they paid for, but none of them ever actually read the screenplay and were just assuming they would have "spinning heads and projectile vomiting." The fact is, if they actually watched the original, it is a pretty slow moving film and maybe they should stick with that. FWIW, what I have read about the prequal actually sounds quite good.


    So, I think execs, by trying to homogonize the movies they release and represent them in these few "safe" categories are actually doing the exact opposite of what they intend. It seems they see themselves as a lot smarter than the public and that everyone will believe whatever they claim. Like someone is going to watch Heaven and think it actually was an action movie.


    Any comments?
     
  2. Derek Miner

    Derek Miner Screenwriter

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    While I agree there is a problem with the studios' marketing people trying to pigeonhole films into certain categories, I think you are putting too much blame on that one factor.

    To take your example of SOLARIS - however the film was marketed is irrelevant, because the people you overheard watched the film. If I want to see SOLARIS, I'm not trusting the employees (or most of the customers) at Blockbuster to give me an opinion that I agree with. Some people who ended up liking SOLARIS might have even watched it BECAUSE it was marketed as a romance. That's the point of the marketing, to try and get an average person to possibly see a film that's NOT your average fare. It's not unheard of for this strategy to work.

    Another of your examples is DONNIE DARKO. I never saw a trailer for that, but the buzz around the movie got up my interest to see it. The death to that movie was not the marketing at all, but the release pattern. It never played in my area, so I had to wait until video. But the audience has found the movie anyway, so who lost?

    People who care about good movies will continue to make sure that good movies are seen. As annoying as it can get, I don't think misleading marketing is going to have a negative impact on that core group. The problem is how to enlarge that group.
     
  3. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    I don't disagree concerning the existence of the phenomena. The latest film that comes to mind is Dirty Pretty Things. While I haven't been exposed to much marketing for this film, I do believe that it has been marketed as a suspense / thriller type of film. There is a suspense plotline that is one of the film's main threads, but it is subsidiary to the film's primary thrust which is the study of the characters and their existence in the fringes of society.

    If films were marketed more honestly, would the audiences for those films decrease? I suspect the answer, in terms of the general public, might be yes; but who really knows?

    If someone is 'tricked' into seeing a film does that automatically mean that they will dislike the film because it didn't meet their expectations? For myself, usually not. Not all film surprises are bad ones. Some films are capable of surpassing their marketing and offering up genuine value to the viewer. ( While I still haven't viewed the film; I'll mention one film that is a good example for you John - Bubble Boy. )

    Slightly off topic - it is interesting to see how the same film can be marketed to different audiences. Case in point - The English Patient. The romance between Almasy and Katherine was marketed to the female audience. The romance is downplayed and the action aspects of the film ( i.e German paratroopers ) are marketed to male audiences.

    - Walter.
     
  4. JohnRice

    JohnRice Lead Actor

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    Derek, I was probably a little unclear in what I really mean. I'm not so much talking about the consequences of marketing to the more avid film fan, but the more average Joe who makes up 97% of the movie viewing public. After all, this is where most of the real money and success comes from.

    You and I as well as many others here may be more able than the average movie viewer to change "frame of mind" on the run. As in, when we go into a film with one concept in mind, we are more able to change it with the realities of the film. The fact is, and I have been watching this pretty closely here, even many of the most avid movie fans are not able or willing to change their frame of mind. I see comments from people who really should know better about how awful a movie like Resident Evil is, using Paul W. S. Anderson's poor history as well as the fact it is adapted from a video game as evidence. In reality, the film is a pretty darned good example of the genre and the fact that it is a video game and who directed it means nothing. Still, these people never opened their minds to it.

    My example of Solaris is still a good one, because most of the comments I have heard were by people who have not seen it. Someone else saw it expecting one thing, that isn't what they got, and as a result they said it was "bad" and told all their friends. The snowball starts rolling.

    Also, don't take what I'm saying as an absolute answer to all the problems of marketing. I'm just positing the possibility that these more extreme examples may actually hurt the success of the films by setting people up for disappointment.

    Hasn't anyone here ever strongly disliked a movie because they were expecting one thing but got something seriously different? Or maybe they just end up not being in the right frame of mind the first time they see a particular film? It happens to me fairly often. The difference with me is, I keep thinking about it and if it really is a good film, I usually eventually come around. Most general people are not like that. They are disappointed, tell others how "bad" the movie is and never reconsider their point.
     
  5. Nicholas Vargo

    Nicholas Vargo Second Unit

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    I have to agree.

    Last year, the movie "Punch-Drunk Love" was released and classifed as a romantic comedy, when in reality, it was far from that. It was so original, in fact, that I don't know what you could classify it as, but all I can say is that branding movies a specific genre doesn't work anymore. "Punch-Drunk Love" not only should've taken more money in at the box office, but its failure was partly due to this branding (The other part was the Adam Sandler fans who fleed from it in droves).

    But still, the practice is still right on about 75 percent of the time,but here is my advice. When you release a movie like "Punch-Drunk Love", it should be branded "Special interest." In fact, if the studio execs who had released it had been more careful, it should've been branded a "dark romantic drama" instead.

    Just my two cents.
     
  6. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    I agree. They often have only one preview, and it does not accurately show what the movie is about.

    On the extreme other side, on the extras to the musical 'Camelot', they have 5 trailers for it. The first thing that I noticed was that the trailers were presented for 5 different audiences. One for the action, one for the musical, and so on. I am sure that they were sent out to 'preview' for five different movies. A much better way to go, but I am sure that it cost more too.

    Can we spell cheap? $$$

    Glenn
     
  7. Derek Miner

    Derek Miner Screenwriter

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  8. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    The problem is that there is an insistence that everything MUST be sold in a high concept format: single striking image, strong central selling point (stars, genre etc), clear (to the consumer) what is being sold. The high concept form of marketing encompasses micro-casting, or the molding of advertising to target specific audiences. Microcasting is not a different method from high concept methodology (that dominates trailer and print media creation), it is a component and tool of high concept marketing that developed with the widespread acceptance of cable and long after high-concept's advent. Micro-casting is essentially racist and classist advertising meant to attract specific demographics.

    Pirates of the Caribbean is a perfect example of high concept. The visual iconography of the advertising immediately sells the film as an exciting pirate film--nothing in the advertising suggests the film will be otherwise, and the film delivers on that premise. The consumer knows what sort of film to expect--an adventurous, exciting, and humourous romp on the high seas with colorful characters and a romance on the side--that is the film that is delivered. They are not advertised an adventurous, exciting film and then given a ponderous and slow moving film on the societal and cultural forces that could cause a good man to become a pirate in that time period. Had Pirates of the Caribbean been the latter film, it would have flopped stupendously at the box office.

    A modern example of NON high concept marketing (at least up until just before the release of the film) would be Spielberg's "A.I." (this is ironic because many Spielberg films are very easily marketed in the high concept manner, with rare exceptions). The first two trailers were very unusual, they did not try to sell the film as though it were fitting into any particular genre. Instead they concentrated on creating an atmosphere of the avante-garde, abstract, and unusual. At the same time, the trailers sole emphasis was on idea of a robot child (which happens to be the focus of the film). The first trailer merely gives us an out of focus character who eventually reaches out to touch the screen (note that from the earliest trailer, the metal-mecha of the future were being foreshadowed in the form David takes
    } while accompanied by some text that gives some abstract characteristics about David. The rest of the trailer is in the fingerprint, exploring electronic wizardry, before coming to rest in the film's abstract logo (and the only image used in America for the majority of print advertising). The second trailer is a white screen with a red warning (from the film about activating David's love protocols), as the red lettering fades we get narration from Prof. Hobby that explains what David is and his purpose, as he does this, a synthesized Monica voice reads the seven word activation code (while these words appear simultaneously on screen). Afte the last word from Monica, hobby's narration ends, and David's eyes appear on screen (from the film moment when he looks through the half finished David's eyes), opening. We then get a single scene of David with Teddy in the Swinton house and the ADR line "Please make me a real boy." Again, this trailer is very abstract and atypical. We're told very little about the film other than that it will be about a robot child who can love that wishes to be human. Nothing is done to sell the film as anything other than this, but no effort is made to suggest that this will not be an unusual and atypical film. Instead of trying to trick the audience into seeing the film by wowing them with visuals or promising fun and excitement, the trailers create a sense of unease--there is nothing especially compelling in such an avante-garde advertising method, at least not for the average movie goer. This marketing is quite creative and original, imo. It does nothing to suggest that this will be a typical crowd pleasing Spielberg film. Instead the trailers are methodical and thought provoking, much like the film. They also issue a very clear message of the film's central theme without spoiling any of the plot, and incorporate the logo as the central image by which to sell the film (an abstract and minimalist image). In my opinion this is the way modern advertising should be, when a film isn't high concept or doesn't adapt easily to high concept marketing take the principles behind high concept and apply and adapt what you can to an original marketing package. in this way, you're not likely to create negative word of mouth by mis-selling an enormous audience. Perhaps AI would have been better recieved had the audience gone in unsure what to expect, which is how the audience was initially set up.

    Unfortunately, the marketing machine got ahold of AI about a month or so before it's release and cut six high concept trailers that forced the film into the marketing categories of: science fiction extravaganza!; Steven Spielberg populist film!; action and excitement! and so forth. This was the advertising that was heavily marketed just before the film, and the advertising that the vast majority of those seeing the film would be solely familiar with. Since A.I. is really none of those categories, many, many people were disapointed with the film. They were led to believe something and were told they'd been cheated out of theier money.

    The problem is that marketing boxes work so well. They work so well because, as humans, we LOVE to classify things. The job of many (non-analytical) critics is to tell us what box movies fit into, and how well they fit into that box. And woe to the film that doesn't fit into the boxes it is SUPPOSED to fit into. A.I. did not fit into The Steven Spielberg box, and it did not fit into the Stanley Kubrick box, so the 'high-brow' critics immediately were antagonistic because either films fit in boxes or the boxes have to change, since changing boxes=work then it must mean the film is unworthy/bad/inferior because it doesn't fit into boxes. These sort of critics favorite filmimakers are the dead ones, because then the critics can't be contradicted. For the 'low-brow' critics they are more interested in how well the film fits into genre boxes, and the enjoyment factor of the film. These also tend to try to mimic the 'high-brow' critics to a degree, and rarely risk their own neck by offering a non majority opinion.

    (sorry bout that I love ranting against critics and intellectual establishments).

    Critics are always happy to put films like Punch Drunk Love in the 'quirky auteur' box or the 'anti-mainstream' box or the 'independent' box and so on. But note that Spielberg can't have a film in ANY of these sorts of boxes because he is SUPPOSED to make 'Spielberg' films, and he's too successful to be allowed to make a film for these open-minded/ended boxes. [​IMG]

    Seriously though, high concept encourages marketing packages that do not lend themselves to non high concept films (it is my belief btw that whether or not a film is high concept has no affect on the film's quality). But high concept marketing has given us all the blockbusters of the last 28+ years or so. That means that to the studios, you can 'buy your gross' or advertise via high concept means any film and get your desired gross in the opening weeks before word of mouth (that the film is not what it was sold as) spreads and kills box office legs. Because very very few films have reached blockbuster status without high concept marketing stratgies (my Big Fat Greek Wedding for example), studios refuse to believe that any method can be as successful and reliable in securing a gross for a film. If the side affect is that many films are missold, well they already have the consumers money.

    In the meantime virtually every wide release film gets their marketing package by essentially being ran through the highconcept marketing formula.

    Adam
     
  9. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    That was something, Adam. First, wouldn't macrocasting bring in a brigger draw? Why select one small crowd when you can draw in two or more?

    Really sorry that you used A.I. as an example. I did see it on cable, but my only reaction was that it was a 'chick flick' - a tear-jerker, if you will. It just happened to take place in the future, but the sci-fi aspect of it really didn't play a part in it at all, which I was led to believe was true by the ads. All S.S. films are like that, so that part didn't surprise me when it was over, but as usual, I was expecting more from him.

    It is funny that movies have to fit into certain 'slots' in order to work, while in music they just create more slots. It can be maddening, but if a group can make it in two different charts, they will sell more. Why doesn't that work in the movies?

    Glenn
     
  10. Dan Rudolph

    Dan Rudolph Producer

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    Glenn, the sci-fi played a big part in A.I. David behaved so oddly throughout the movie because he was a robot. Not to mention the whoel plot being abotu him being a robot and the various robot adventures that take place. Do you mean there's very little action?
     
  11. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    The idea of microcasting is to represent (or misrepresent) certain parts of a film's characteristics in order to get maximum appeal of certain demographics. If the studios can have saturation marketing of several key demographics, they're more likely to make back that advertising money because a higher percentage of people will respond.
    Macrocasting is extremely expensive and is not the usual practice. It is risking more money on advertising than studios are (usually) willing to risk. If the studio can spend a few million buying three 30 second primetime spots on scifi channel for two weeks, they're going to reach that desired audience simply through advertising fatigue. It'd be much more expensive to buy the 30 second primetime spots on all the broadcast channels and many of the more mainstream cable channels. Plus the wider net of advertising you cast, the harder it is to reach saturation numbers, meaning you're pulling in lower percentages of people to your advertising dollar, your money is not working as hard in macrocasting as it is in microcasting.
    Take Matrix Reloaded for an example, this year's premier event movie--advertised out the wazoo. The studio spent tens of millions just on advertising (I remember hearing numbers from 60-90 million), but despite that, the film only made 270 million dollars (divide that by a very low 5$ ticket price for 54 million people/tickets), it wasn't the 300-400 million dollar film they had hoped for. In other words, each dollar of advertising did not buy even one ticket (so tickets cost anywhere from $1.11 to $1.66 in advertising). There are many other films--advertised less, but mostly micro-cast--this summer that have brought in many more people per advertising dollar. (edit: I just checked box office mojo and it gives M:R a 50 million ad budget and Pirates a 40 million ad budget. Pirates has made more money (and sold more tickets) than M:R on less advertising, meaning in the eyes of the marketing departments, Pirates' ads were much more effective and their money worked harder than for M:R)

    with microcasting there is less financial risk, and you can saturate your target markets and demographics.

    Glenn, I think I spent to much time on tongue in cheek critic bashing and muddled my point. The idea of microcasting it to get the film on as many 'charts' as possible. If you saturation market three key demographics and have most of them show up you'll probably do better than a less comprehensive advertising scheme aimed at a broadcast channels and a 'mainstream' audience.
     
  12. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    No, I do understand what they are doing. I can sort of justify the 'why' of it, (this would take a few years and tons of $$$ for me to agree with micro-ads), but I feel that a wider audience would draw in a lot more viewers.

    I really haven't been paying attention to what previews are part of 'what' shows on the tube. I'm way past the target audience anyway, but I'll have to watch for that.

    As for A.I., yes sci-fi played a part in creating the boy, but then the boy's mind took off on his own. If they brought him back to a lab and tried to figure out where they went wrong, that would be another story.

    And no, it isn't the 'action'. I've got '2001', but the fact that a mechanical boy's brain sort of went off of the beaten track is probably good enough for a short story.

    And look at Data on TNG. Not that A.I. was in anyway a copy, but I've already seen enough of androids thinking/wishing they were human. The thought in itself doesn't make any sense, so any mechanical thinking machine would never get past the first thought of a thought about it.

    Glenn
     

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