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


Movie Marketing Ideas That Never Were

Movie marketing isn’t an exact science but have you ever seen a film that was crying out for a tie-in or some kind of clever hook?

Here are some light hearted movie marketing ideas that never happened.


This is a phrase I’ve heard from several people as kind of a gag, but the question needs to be asked. Why on earth has George Lucas never released a Star Wars film on May 4th?

In 1977 the first film came out on May 25th, in 1980 The Empire Strikes Back was released on May 21st, whilst in 1983 Return of the Jedi was unleashed on May 25th.

So, what about the prequels? Maybe they didn’t need the publicity, but let’s see. The Phantom Menace came out on May 19th 1999, Attack of the Clones on May 16th 2002 and Revenge of the Sith on May 19th 2005.

According to Wikipedia, May 4th is even known as ‘Star Wars Day‘ – so why have there never been any Star Wars movies released on this date?

I sense a missed opportunity in the Force.


DiG! is a 2004 documentary about two rival bands: The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. It won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival and is a highly entertaining look at two very different approaches to life in the music industry.

The same year, Kevin Rose was starting the social news website called Digg, which is now pretty big. How about a tie-in for a future DVD release? Maybe users could Digg DiG


Microsoft launched their latest operating system with a rather confusing campaign using the word Wow. Given that they spent an estimated $500 million on the campaign and people actually want to go back to XP, surely they should have spent some money on a big name?

How about someone famous and not afraid of making a fool of himself in Japanese beer adverts? Yes, why not get Arnold Schwarzenegger to reprise his famous Terminator 2 catchphrase? Hasta La Windows Vista, Baby.


Firefox is a 1982 thriller starring Clint Eastwood as pilot who steals a highly advanced Soviet fighter plane (code named “Firefox”) which carries weapons controlled by thought (yes, really).

Although it grossed $46,700,000 at US cinemas, I think we can safely say it isn’t one of Warner Home Video’s biggest ever titles.

How about bundling a revamped special edition DVD with the latest version of Mozilla’s Firefox browser?


In 1998 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan reteamed for a romantic comedy called You’ve Got Mail after the success of Sleepless in Seattle in 1993. The title of this film was based on the – now rather dated – greeting that AOL users heard when they received new e-mail.

How about Nora Eprhon doing a Google funded director’s cut where Hanks and Ryan use the much cooler Gmail?


Last year I remember seeing some smart comments on Hollywood Elsewhere about the marketing of The Bourne Ultimatum. The first one sheet poster was based around the idea of Jason Bourne returning to the US (‘This summer Jason Bourne is coming home’), so someone suggested the phrase ‘Bourne in the USA’.

Given that the Bourne movies and Bruce Springsteen are both popular and politically savvy, what ever happened to the tie-in album? 😉

Any other ideas? Leave them below.

> Movie Marketing Madness
> Film marketing at Wikipedia