Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Smart Movies vs Dumb Trailers
Some interesting threads coming together, interesting if you're a dork like me who watches movie marketing the way other people watch hockey.
Articles such as this from the LA Times are ringing alarm bells about smart movies falling flat at the box office.
Examples? State of Play bested by 17 Again.
Or more recently The Soloist squashed by Obsessed.
Both State of Play and The Soloist are prime Hollywood product. Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr. Russell Crowe etc.... The poor performance of State of Play was so jarring that KCRW's entertainment radio show "The Business" actually cornered Tim Bevan in a follow up interview asking him what went wrong.
His response is interesting. He admits the marketing of the movie could have been better but then, not once but twice he basically begs the audience to go see the movie because "if they don't see films like this, we can't keep making them."
Now while you all snicker at the idea of of the producer of State of Play and The Soloist pounding his chest for intellectual cinema, let me say (as i did in my podcast) I enjoyed both of those movies. State of Play for the mood and the subtext about journalism. The Soloist for director Joe Wright's vision of L.A.'s lost people.
But the reaction to these movies betrays a certain nervousness out there. In the interview, the host of The Business even went so far as to ask Bevan if Russell Crowe was too portly, and did his rumpled visage cost him box office points?
At the end of the day, all this obsession over box office performance is silly. The box office is just the trailer for the really money maker...the DVD sales. Good box office helps build buzz and give studios bragging rights.
A great, great article on this can be found here in the New Yorker. Among other things you'll learn how firms that track box office performance know if a new movie is a winner or loser by mid-Saturday. And the companies that produce the trailers for the studios are often separate entities. There are company that specialize in trailers, like Seismic Productions. And that explains a little of what went wrong with State of Play and The Soloist.
In my humble opinion it isn't that people don't like Smart Movies, or we're getting dumber. This is case of bad trailers turning people off.
Look at the trailer for State of Play.
Generic and underwhelming. Also, false. That line where Russell Crowe's character says "I heard a young girl was murdered?" Never happened. Just a little of the tweaking done to quash a complicated story into a 2 minutes trailer.
Now, how about The Soloist...
This one, near the end where Robert Downey Jr. says "We take care of each other. I'm the closest thing to family he has..." As far as I can recall those lines never made it into the movie. Why? Because the director probably felt they were mawkish, making a point that had already been expressed. But there they are in the trailer, over-torquing the storyline and causing us to roll our eyes. ("Oh, another one of those movies.")
Of course it didn't help that trailers for The Soloist have been running for months. People start to wonder, when is movie coming out? Why are they pushing it so hard? Their spidey-sense went off, it smelled like a stinker and they left it alone.
What didn't make the trailer? The cast of homeless people, real streetlife veterans who give the movie a touch of authenticity. In the end they were edited out, promoters selling schmaltz instead of smarts. Well you reap what you sow. The moral: If you're making a smart movie and going for a smart audience don't insult their intelligence with a dumb trailer.