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January 21, 2009 4:44 AM   Subscribe

An unexpected corollary of the modern marketing-and-distribution model is that films no longer have time to find their audience; that audience has to be identified and solicited well in advance. The Cobra - The New Yorker on the art and science of movie marketing.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (36 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Modern "professional" marketing and distribution. YouTube proves there are other ways.
posted by DU at 7:03 AM on January 21, 2009


Richard Dreyfuss (Dick Cheney) was posing in a green velvet jacket that made clear he was no Republican.

?
posted by nasreddin at 7:56 AM on January 21, 2009


Just glancing over this article makes me sad. The main concern is essentially: "How can we make the packaging of this film so shiny that everyone we think would be enticed by it actually spends money on it" - horrible!
posted by Glow Bucket at 8:01 AM on January 21, 2009


YouTube proves there are other ways.

Not to make back and turn a profit on your $180 million budget.
posted by killdevil at 8:08 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have often that thought 90% of modern movie reviews should not try to describe what a movie is like, but rather, describe whether or not the movie is like its trailer. Since there's too many movies to keep up with anymore, I generally don't read reviews of movies I haven't heard of, and if I've heard of a movie its probably because I've seen the trailer, and if I've seen the trailer, I have a good idea of whether or not I will like the film the trailer is advertising. At this point, the real question becomes: is the trailer accurate? Because if the trailer was poorly done it will convince me to avoid a good film, but it might also bait and switch me into watching a piece of crap.

I'd probably feel differently if we were talking about movie criticism, but movie reviews are not criticism. Actual criticism involves interacting with something, thinking about it, putting it into perspective, and conveying your emotions about the work elegantly. Most movie reviews, on the other hand, are disposable 500 word shillfests that basically boil down to "enthusiastic poster blurb!" or "pissiness about % of movies that are sequels!" Critics are, in theory, separate from the marketing machine of the studios, but all the same, their only function anymore is to sell me a product.

Let's face it: you know whether or not you're going to see Saw 5 from the trailer, and there is not a single thing that a mamby pamby from the Des Moines Register is going to be able to do to change that.
posted by Kiablokirk at 8:10 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Depressing reading all 'round - this excerpt is telling:

"...Palen...was particularly taken with “The Spirit,” the studio’s first wide release at Christmas and its first to have a thirty-million-dollar marketing budget. “The Spirit,” based on an obscure Will Eisner comic strip from the nineteen-forties, was Lionsgate’s attempt to build a tent-pole franchise...Palen produced a crescendo of three trailers, and everything from “Spirit” trading cards to snow globes to iPhone applications.

...the producer and the studio were equally excited about the film’s prospects (and they were equally crushed when the film got swamped in the crowded holiday season, grossing only eighteen million dollars in the first two weeks)."


Even the fanboys over at Aint it Cool could tell by just a few seconds of a teaser trailer that The Spirit was s**t. Yet in this article the film failed cause it was 'swamped in the crowded holiday season'.

The thing is I love old-fashioned hucksters like William Castle - they were genuinely trying to entertain you and they knew, that you knew, that it was all a gag/flim-flam.

Am tired of the lying. Marley and Me? Strapline: "Heel the Love". Just lies, man.
posted by jettloe at 8:28 AM on January 21, 2009


Here's the problem with the entertainment industry: I have seen every single film nominated for a major Oscar this year, and I paid nothing. I saw them all online, in Divx format, on different sites that were themselves linking to embedded videos stored elsewhere. I don't remember the names of the sites, nor how I found each one, and yet, when I want to find a film, it's no more than a few minutes of searching away.

The real problem is that movies are crap. They look great, but they are substantively crap. The product is low quality. Another superhero movie? So no one in Hollywood actually reads real books, or god forbid, short stories? I'm not seven years old, I don't need a 'thrill ride' or a buxom martial arts vixen. I've seen it. I've seen every permutation of the action movie. There is not action movie plot twist that has not already been filmed with a $60 million+ budget. Stop making new ones.

No more romantic comedies with the musical dressing room montages, fat but supportive friends, or oafish. Stop trying to sell me on an action movie by telling me the hero is 'dark.' 'Dark' is still one-dimensional. Stop making dramas about the suburban wasteland and about personal growth through infidelity. I liked it better when it was a poem written by T. S. Eliot. Stop confusing 'sexy' with 'S&M fetish', stop confusing 'erotic' and 'sexy', and stop confusing 'romantic' with 'high school'.

Give me something to think about. Something that will resonate throughout in the viewer as they move through life. Give me a movie that is incredible on the first viewing, and needs another ten viewings in order to fully appreciate it. That's a movie I will pay $50 for, let alone $5.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:57 AM on January 21, 2009 [15 favorites]


Shame they didn't (or weren't willing) to talk more about the marketing of The Spirit. I think one reason it failed was because of misleading marketing. It was a cheesy, tongue-in-cheek, sharp-looking movie along the lines of Kill Bill; but they seemed to market it as an angst-ridden Dark Knight clone.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:59 AM on January 21, 2009


that audience has to be identified and solicited well in advance.

I'm gonna go for shit-eating morons!

$$$$$$$$$$$$$
posted by Artw at 8:59 AM on January 21, 2009


Pastabagel - Oscar nominations aren't announced till Thursday.

How did you like Revolutionary Road?
posted by Artw at 9:04 AM on January 21, 2009


In a huge upset, “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain” and “Munich” to win Best Picture.

there may have been something other than marketing genius playing a role there.
posted by Artw at 9:38 AM on January 21, 2009


YouTube proves there are other ways.

Not to make back and turn a profit on your $180 million budget.


I don't think it's necessary to reference a large Hollywood production to make this point. Even if we consider a small-to-medium independent movie shot here in Mexico, at a budget between 3 and 10 million pesos (250,000 to 700,000 US dollars), I don't see how YouTube, or any sort of grassroots independent no-budget Internet distribution model could recover those costs today. In 5-10 years, if things develop really well, maybe. Today, no way.

YouTube allows you to get exposure, and, as far as I understand, in some cases some money, for short movies shot on consumer video cameras with a minimal or non-existent, and certainly unpaid, crew. It might be a way for budding filmmakers who are willing to work really hard for free to get a little exposure. But please don't confuse it with anything even remotely resembling an alternative distribution model even for the most modest production that's up to any professional standard.

I wish it was, and I certainly hope it or something like it will be. But to say that it is right now is just clueless.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:32 AM on January 21, 2009


In a huge upset, “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain” and “Munich” to win Best Picture.

nonsense. Munich was never really in the running, they just had to pad out the ballot. It was always between Crash and Brokeback, and deservedly so. They split the difference, as they've done in the past, and let Crash win Best Picture and Ang Lee win Best Director. It was an upset to no one. It was entirely expected, and no one was outraged.
posted by shmegegge at 10:38 AM on January 21, 2009


Sony Screen Gems’ Clint Culpepper says. “How a fifty-six-year-old man feels about a movie aimed at teen-age girls is irrelevant.”

which is another way of saying "How a fifty-sex-year-old man feels about anything is irrelevant" since all movies are aimed at teen-age girls, now.

whatever the reason, there's some secret joojoo in the teen-age girls demographic, such that all tv, movies and music are now aimed directly at them. they have some insane control over spending dollars, which is odd since most of them are unemployed. it's madness.
posted by shmegegge at 10:54 AM on January 21, 2009


It's a depressing and sobering read, although somewhat marred by presenting absolute horseshit as evidence to help it form its conclusions and assuming the audience knows as much about movies as what has been presented on Entertainment Tonight in the past eight weeks:

Every poster for a Will Smith movie features his head, and for good reason: he is the only true movie star left

This is true in the sense that there are no posters that feature Will Smith from the shoulders down, but just because Hancock and Seven Pounds are just full face shots, this does not equal "every poster" in a fifteen-year career. Yes, he is the focus of many posters, but putting the star of the movie on the poster is hardly noteworthy.

KiabloKirk:

Let's face it: you know whether or not you're going to see Saw 5 from the trailer, and there is not a single thing that a mamby pamby from the Des Moines Register is going to be able to do to change that.

I first saw this line of thinking advanced in a review of Mrs. Doubtfire, in which the reviewer confessed in the first paragraph that this review was pointless: "Either you are the sort of person who will part with eight dollars to watch Robin Williams in drag for two hours or you are not, and nothing I can write will persuade you to change your mind either way on this."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:12 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's a rather depressing article. I can't even get it up to hate on the guy properly, Bill Hicks style, because he's just telling the facts of his horrific job as he knows them. This is the bit that really got me:

Marketers segment the audience in a variety of ways, but the most common form of partition is the four quadrants: men under twenty-five; older men; women under twenty-five; older women. A studio rarely makes a film that it doesn’t expect will succeed with at least two quadrants, and a film’s budget is usually directly related to the number of quadrants it is anticipated to reach. The most expensive tent-pole movies, such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, are aimed at all four quadrants.

The collective wisdom is that young males like explosions, blood, cars flying through the air, pratfalls, poop jokes, “you’re so gay” banter, and sex—but not romance. Young women like friendship, pop music, fashion, sarcasm, sensitive boys who think with their hearts, and romance—but not sex (though they like to hear the naughty girl telling her friends about it). They go to horror films as much as young men, but they hate gore; you lure them by having the ingénue take her time walking down the dark hall.

Older women like feel-good films and Nicholas Sparks-style weepies: they are the core audience for stories of doomed love and triumphs of the human spirit. They enjoy seeing an older woman having her pick of men; they hate seeing a child in danger. Particularly once they reach thirty, these women are the most “review-sensitive”: a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend’s gross by five million dollars. In other words, older women are discriminating, which is why so few films are made for them.

Older men like darker films, classic genres such as Westerns and war movies, men protecting their homes, and men behaving like idiots. Older men are easy to please, particularly if a film stars Clint Eastwood and is about guys just like them, but they’re hard to motivate. “Guys only get off their couches twice a year, to go to ‘Wild Hogs’ or ‘3:10 to Yuma,’ ” the marketing consultant Terry Press says. “If all you have is older males, it’s time to take a pill.”


So basically if you want a story that's not bridging 2 of those, or solidly placed in one of the first two, fuck you. Want intelligent Thrillers that are not crossbred with Oscar-bait issues movies or edited to fuck chase scenes, fuck you. Never going to be made. Decent SF that’s actually got a brain? Fuck off, not going to be made, not by these guys anyhow. Maybe by some highbrow indie losers. There’s entire kinds of film you could have made n the 70s that just couldn’t exist now.
posted by Artw at 11:29 AM on January 21, 2009 [7 favorites]


Pastabagel's comment can't be favorited harder by me (Hard Favorite Starring Bruce Willis and John Leguzamo A Thrill Ride Of Commentarianism) BUT I don't think it's a specific failure by modern marketing or movie-making, it's a natural consequence of popular media. 90% of anything in a free market is bad, in any era. Which is why I'm hoping Obama will socialize the music industry next just so I can be Rear Admiral Special Agent in charge of garage-rock production. But til then there's no use getting upset--most crap fails despite all the hype, some crap succeeds for a time because of hype, and greatness percolates up to the heavens in the long term even as its short term success is mostly dependent on dumb luck.

Of course there's still room for truly pathetic outrages like Crash being recognized for anything other than a ridiculous punchline. Which, I guess paradoxically, is a demonstrable triumph of the art of promotion. So I'll call it a draw.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:36 AM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Artw: I somewhat agree with you, but then again, it's hardly their fault that older men don't go to the movies. I guess you could make the argument that they don't go to the movies because no movies are being made for them, but I think that's just part of the reason. They're happy to watch movies on DVD or TV, and I'm sure they watch quite a few more than two movies a year that way, but it's hard to get them out of their houses to go to the cinema.

There could be many reasons for that, but in the end, modern US movie profit calculations are still based on cinema grosses. DVD and TV stuff is seen as a bonus, not part of whether or not a project is going to be profitable.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:39 AM on January 21, 2009


The Oscar for Crash that amazes me the most is the Best Screenplay one. Where is this awesome writing? Where?
posted by Artw at 11:39 AM on January 21, 2009


whatever the reason, there's some secret joojoo in the teen-age girls demographic
Ahem. I believe it's "jewjew"
posted by jckll at 11:57 AM on January 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah, good luck, trying finding say, an intelligent cop film nowadays. You've gotta go to tv for that.

I remember a growing feeling of amazement that slowly turned to anger when I caught up with Sideways not long ago... a romantic comedy... with fully rounded adults in it... when was the last time I saw one of those!

Though you can't polish a turd still holds true... the marketing men seem able to totally cock it even when they've got a real gem on their hands. Slumdog Millionaire had the biggest second week jump of any film in the UK ever by a huge margin - I'm largely putting that to word of mouth getting over its totally rubbish quirky romantic comedy 'the feel good film of the millennium!' marketing campaign.

Still Watchmen coming out soon... that looks great!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:57 AM on January 21, 2009


The Oscar for Crash that amazes me the most is the Best Screenplay one. Where is this awesome writing? Where?

Hey, they were able to come up with ninety-six completely different variations of 'Racism is bad, m'kay'. That takes genius.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:01 PM on January 21, 2009


Slumdog got buried here till the other week. Even now I think there’s just the one screen showing it in Seattle – sold out every night of course. I’ve not seen a tickets queue like that or so many punters turned away for an indie flick for some time.
posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on January 21, 2009


Yeah, how the fuck did Sideways get made? That one really slipped through the filter.
posted by Artw at 12:08 PM on January 21, 2009


Artw, I agree that the situation sucks, but if we were going out to the movies, they'd be making them for us. The teenagers are going to go to the movies no matter what, because they can escape their parents and make out in the theater more easily than they can at home. The older you get, however, the more patience you're likely to have to wait to see something, and the more you tend to like your own home, thank you very much. So the studios fight to see who's picture can shuffle in the teenagers, because that's who they're going to have around.

On the other hand, we get quality t.v. now, because the networks have finally realized that there's a large contingent out there that actually wants to see something intelligent, and they'll be damned if they'll let HBO have that entire demographic.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:03 PM on January 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


YouTube allows you to get exposure, and, as far as I understand, in some cases some money, for short movies shot on consumer video cameras with a minimal or non-existent, and certainly unpaid, crew. It might be a way for budding filmmakers who are willing to work really hard for free to get a little exposure. But please don't confuse it with anything even remotely resembling an alternative distribution model even for the most modest production that's up to any professional standard.

Well, you can put a full length 720p movie up now. So as far as quality, that's not an issue.
As for revenue streams, ads are pretty much the only way right now, and that's where the snag would arise, I imagine. The revenue models aren't static, though, so hopefully more options will become available.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:14 PM on January 21, 2009


wildcrdj: I'm not talking about "quality" as in how high resolution or what bitrate the video is, I'm talking about production values. Making something that looks decent and works as a movie, instead of something that looks like it was shot in your basement with your dad's video camera, requires quite a bit of resources.

Some parts of those expenses are dropping quickly (in particular, very high quality digital cameras are getting fairly cheap now), but you still need to light and record sound and have some actors and a minimal crew, feed everyone, pay them, and have money left over for at least some postproduction. It's impossible to do that for anything even close to what someone might make on YouTube ads or something similar.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:40 PM on January 21, 2009


Ah, agreed. I thought you were saying that something about the delivery mechanism was incompatible with high quality movies. I totally agree that it's extremely unlikely to recoup the costs for even a moderately priced movie through YouTube ads.

(Even the movie studios who are putting movies up there so far are only doing it for ones that are long past their prime --- so basically it's all extra revenue / gravy).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:48 PM on January 21, 2009


Even the fanboys over at Aint it Cool could tell by just a few seconds of a teaser trailer that The Spirit was s**t. Yet in this article the film failed cause it was 'swamped in the crowded holiday season'.

Whether a movie is shit or not has less to do with its box office than one would think. Though I stayed far away from the Spirit (which, indeed, looked like total shit from the trailer), I don't think that "swamped in the crowded holiday season" is a far stretch. There are people who go see movies even when there is nothing worth seeing. These people would have seen The Spirit if they hadn't had other options. If shit equaled low box office, films like Saw and The Dark Knight would be bombs. Mall Cop is the #1 movie in America right now, for fuck's sake. For the average MeFite, the choice between staying home and going to Mall Cop isn't a choice at all. That's not the case for everyone.

I enjoyed the article because it was exactly what I thought it would be. I don't think Palen is deluded and thinks The Spirit is a great movie, he just thought it was a movie he could market. One of the factors outside of his control, to some extent, is what his competition chooses to market--and when. The Spirit had a huge campaign that lasted months, making it difficult to change the release date of the film once the Christmas fare, which had much more muted campaigns, many (Benjamin Button, Revolutionary Road, Milk, and a couple others) which, though we knew they were coming, we didn't quite know exactly when.

[Crash winning best picture] was an upset to no one. It was entirely expected, and no one was outraged.

You are completely wrong about this. I attend an annual Oscar party and won the pot that year by picking Crash. Of almost 20 people at the party, I was the only person who didn't pick Brokeback.

In addition, the days following the Oscars there were numerous articles and stories on tv about the upset. For the most part the explanation excuse offered for why Crash won was because it was "a movie about LA, shot in LA--something rare these days--and the academy is made up of people who live in LA."

Yeah, how the fuck did Sideways get made?

Low budget ($16M), due to little-known stars, story by first time novelist, low-paid writer-director, indie-arm of major studio. In short, little risk.

2008 was one of the worst years in recent memory for American films. However, those of you bitching about poor cinema offerings in all have pretty short recall. Last year was the best year for USA'n films in almost a decade: There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Juno, Michael Clayton, the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, etc. Even the weaker films and the outright shit (Into the Wild, Gone Baby Gone, Ratatouille, The Savages, Atonement, Eastern Promises) were better than all but maybe two American films released this year (my fave was The Wrestler).

Shit like The Dark Knight, Wanted, Tropic of Thunder, Eagle Eye, Quantum of Solace, Incredible Hulk, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Mummy, You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Four Christmases, Get Smart, Twilight, and Iron Man all made more than $100M. DK is on its way to a BILLION dollar box office.

The thoughtful films--the films that I think most of us want to see--will not make the list of the top 25 grossing films of the year. Can you blame studios for not wanting to make them when they have these alternatives? (Yes, you can, but I think you see my point.)
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 3:42 PM on January 21, 2009


I guess most of the big names in Sideways were only big names afterwards - that kind of helps.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on January 21, 2009


It's rough out there for visionaries. Hopefully a new model will evolve that supports them. Here's one I'm rooting for: the independent film maker works without time constraints to craft his masterpiece. He releases it directly to DVD, and it is played in ever more sophisticated home theaters. This film is so amazing that it builds a following, and after 50 viewings the dedicated fans want more. Screenings in super high quality theaters are arranged to satisfy them, and the film is played like once a week or once a month for a long run where the superfans watch it another 50 times. The theaters are demographically targeted, there is no real advertising, there are no film prints, the film maker takes a good chunk of the door, and ideally retires on what trickles in for years.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:40 PM on January 21, 2009


Even better than direct to DVD is direct to VOD -- which is what I think we will see a lot of. It's easy to see how YouTube could evolve to this, or how Hulu could start offering it. A lot of sites already offer this for DVD content. With the right business model, it's even easier for an independent to succeed via VOD, with it's zero distribution cost.

Besides, disk-based video will be dead in <10 years anyway. It's already dead for a lot of people.

Whether theaters will survive as anything but places to watch exceptionally high-budget 3D films is another question, I rather doubt it. I can't get any enthusiasm for going to the theater versus watching it on my home entertainment system. Over time, even a good home system will be cheaper than the movie theater anyway.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:36 PM on January 21, 2009


Webisodes are the future!
posted by Artw at 6:43 PM on January 21, 2009


My New Yorker still hasn't come in the mail this week. If the mailman pinched it bacause of the cover, I am going to be seriously upset.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that Crash was wretchedly terrible and pathetic.
posted by paisley henosis at 7:23 AM on January 22, 2009


Thanks for posting this, fearfulsymmetry. I work in film marketing and know some of the people mentioned here so this was an interesting read.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 2:38 PM on January 22, 2009


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posted by Artw at 2:45 PM on January 22, 2009


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