Behind The Scenes Interesting

New Yorker article on Movie Marketing

The New Yorker on Lionsgate and movie marketingThe latest issue of The New Yorker has an interesting article by Tad Friend on movie marketing with a focus on Lionsgate’s resident guru Tim Palen.

If you have ever wondered how film marketing works in Hollywood then this is required reading. 

One section of particular interest is when Friend mentions five ‘unofficial rules’ that studio marketers have in order to make their films seem broadly ‘relatable’:

  1. Can’t we all get along? In “Stomp the Yard,” which was about an urban street dancer who goes to college, the poster showed the African-American hero with his back turned, leaving his race indeterminate. The campaign for “Bring It On” portrayed the story as a rivalry between white and black cheerleading squads, even though more than eighty per cent of the film was about the white squad. The first marketing materials for Fox’s X-Men franchise showed only an “X.” Why exclude half your audience?
  2. If the poster shows a poster child, the movie is for kids. Posters are intended to tell you the film’s genre at a glance, then make you look more closely. Horror posters, for instance, have dark backgrounds; comedies have white backgrounds with the title and copy line in red. Because stars are supposed to open the film, and because they have contractual approval of how they appear on the poster, the final image is often a so-called “big head” or “floating head” of the star. Every poster for a Will Smith movie features his head, and for good reason: he is the only true movie star left, the only one who could open even a film about beekeeping monks.
  3. Everybody’s a comedian. Any drama with at least three funny moments in it will be portrayed, in the trailer and TV spots, as a comedy. The trailer for the 2005 film “The Squid and the Whale” conveyed a measure of the film’s delicate unease, but it was basically a series of wry exchanges. A joke, particularly a pratfall, is self-contained, whereas a sad or anxious moment is hard to convey briefly and out of context.
  4. If it’s called “The Squid and the Whale,” it’s somebody else’s problem. That movie was produced by Samuel Goldwyn Films, an independent studio, and grossed seven million dollars—quite good for a small film, but not for a studio release. If a movie’s title and stars don’t tell you almost everything you need to know about a film—“Get Smart,” starring Steve Carell, say—marketers worry. Fox had to spend a little extra to sell “The Devil Wears Prada,” because casual moviegoers wondered what Meryl Streep was doing in a horror film. When a movie under performs, an awkward title is often seen as the culprit.
  5. Always cheat death. People die in movies; they almost never die in trailers. They are courageous (“The Express”) or missing (“Changeling”) or profoundly alive (“Revolutionary Road”). “If a movie is completely, one hundred per cent about death, then it’s also about life, right?” Fox’s co-head of marketing, Tony Sella, told me. The only thing marketers can’t pull off, Sella acknowledged, is “selling old to young”—persuading kids to see a movie like “Driving Miss Daisy.” “You can try with”—he adopted a baritone voice-over—“ ‘You don’t know where you’re going, but here’s what it’s going to look like when you arrive.’ But they usually say, ‘Screw you, I’ll wait.’ ” 

There is also an observation about how marketing dictates what kind of movies get made:

Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who’s in them—gone are lavish adult dramas with no stars, like the 1982 “Gandhi.”

Such considerations account for a big role being written for Shia LaBeouf in the most recent “Indiana Jones” (to attract youthful viewers as well as Harrison Ford’s aging fans).

They also account for the virtual absence from the screen of children between the ages of newborn (when they appear briefly, to puke on the star for the trailer) and that of the Macauley Culkin character in “Home Alone.”

It explains the arc of a campaign for an average movie:

Modern campaigns have three acts:

  1. A year or more before the film debuts, you introduce it with ninety-second teaser trailers and viral Internet “leaks” of gossip or early footage, in preparation for the main trailer, which appears four months before the release; 
  2. Five weeks before the film opens, you start saturating with a “flight” of thirty-second TV spots
  3. At the end, you remind with fifteen-second spots, newspaper ads, and billboards.

Plus, we also get a breakdown of the average costs: 

Studios typically spend about ten million dollars on the “basics” (cutting trailers and designing posters, conducting market research, flying the film’s talent to the junket and the premiere, and the premiere itself) and thirty million on the media buy.

Between seventy and eighty per cent of that is spent on television advertising (enough so that viewers should see the ads an average of fifteen times), eight or nine per cent on Internet ads, and the remainder on newspaper and outdoor advertising.

The hope is that a potential viewer will be prodded just enough to make him decide to see what all the fuss is about.

Read the rest of the article at The New Yorker’s website.

> Find out more about Lionsgate at Wikipedia
> Tim Palen’s official site

Cinema Thoughts

Why the Saw films own Halloween

I remember walking through Leicester Square in London last Halloween and began wondering why Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween wasn’t being released then.

It had opened on September 28th, a full month beforehand, and in the US had opened even earlier on the Labor Day weekend.

Given the obvious marketing benefits, why had the distributors not gone for the obvious October 31st release date?

The answer is simple: The Saw franchise owns Halloween. 

As the tag line for the Saw IV poster cockily put it:

If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.

Although I’m still looking for them to use an actual image of a see-saw with the tag line: 

See. Saw.

But anyway, how did this extraordinary success come to pass?

In 2004, Lionsgate Films released a low-budget horror film from the unknown writer/director team of James Wan and Leigh Whannell

Although it had some known actors in it such as Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, it was it’s clever mixture of extreme gore and unpredictable twists that powered it to a gross of over $100 million worldwide.

Given that it was made for just $1.2 million dollars, you can see why Lionsgate keep churning these out every year. 

In fact, the last two Saw films alone were made for just $10 million each and both made box office revenues of well over $100 million, showing just how popular and enduring the franchise has become. 

Despite the financial success, there has been an inevitable decline in the quality of the films; Saw II was entertaining, but III and IV were tired riffs on the original premise to the point that I just didn’t really care about who was doing what. 

But the success with mainstream audiences does intrigue me. Do people get a kick out of the sadistic torture sequences? Or is it the intricate and puzzling aspect of the killings that fascinate audiences? (Remember, the villain is called Jigsaw).

Perhaps in an era where the current US president has essentially legalised torture they represent a bizarre fantasy for the viewer – after all, there is often a twisted morality to the people Jigsaw tortures.

But a more practical answer might be that these films are just brilliantly marketed – not only do they offer a younger audience effective scares, but they have an appealing sense of mystery in each one. 

Most horrors involve monsters or a lone boogeyman stalking unsuspecting victims, but the Saw films have an added dimension in that each death is nearly always some kind of diabolical puzzle.

Added to that there is always an element of choice the victim has – even if it means gouging out their own eye, they can still save themselves – which is a neat twist on the helplessness of most horror movie victims.

On top of that, the inherent theatricality of these sequences mean they stick in the mind more than some bimbo getting stabbed with a knife or a creature gobbling someone up.

The latest film sees Forensic Hoffmann (Costas Mandylor) take over Jigsaw’s reign and here is taste of the from the trailer:

The big question for me is where does this all end? The tagline for the poster above states:

In the end all the pieces will fit together.

But I’m already hearing there will be Saw VI next year along with a computer game(!). 

It seems we haven’t seen the last of Saw.

Saw V is released in the UK on October 24th

> Official site for Saw V
> Find out more about the Saw franchise at Wikipedia 
> Listen to our interview with Tobin Bell (who plays Jigsaw) from Saw III