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Part One Of My Wide-Ranging Interview With Legendary Film And Television Producer Marshall Herskovitz

Interviews
by Jim Amos
May 16, 2014 12:25 PM
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT--PAT ONE OF MY WIDE RANGING CONVERSATION WITH LEGENDARY PRODUCER MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ

Marshall Herskovitz is one of the most famous and prolific producers and screenwriters in film and television history.  His films have included ""Traffic", "The Last Samurai", "Blood Diamond" and "Love & Other Drugs" (to name but a few) and he is also responsible (along with producing partner Ed Zwick) for some of the most well-respected television series of the past 25 years such as "Thirtysomething", "Once And Again" and "My So-Called Life".  In Part One of our interview, we discuss the film business and we get his views on movie distribution platforms, crowdfunding, the state of the industry and how marketing a movie will change in the coming years.

JIM AMOS, BOX OFFICE INSIDER
THANKS FOR SITTING DOWN WITH BOX OFFICE INSIDER, I KNOW YOU RECENTLY GOT BACK FROM TRIBECA WITH THE FILM, "ABOUT ALEX".  WOULD YOU TALK A LITTLE ABOUT THAT FILM AND HOW YOU GOT INVOLVED

MARSHALL HERSKOVITZ
That was just a thrill for us.  (Producing partner ) Ed Zwick's son Jesse, had written a screenplay and a producer who found the money to make the film and they were already going to make it but then they came to Ed and me and asked if we would be Executive Producers because that's the nature of independent filmmaking today, in that we could help them with casting and positioning the film.  It wasn't a case of getting it made, it was just a question of helping the process.  So we were happy to say yes to that and we are absolutely thrilled with how the film came out but we were both a bit jealous in that neither of us was this good at age 27!  We just had a wonderful time, the screening went incredibly well and they have offers already for distribution so they're doing great.  ** Update: Since the time of the interview the film's U.S. distribution rights were bought by Screen Media Films

JA
IS HE GOING THE TRADITIONAL THEATRICAL ROUTE OR WILL THERE BE SOME FORM OF MULTI-PLATFORM RELEASE?

MH
That I can't tell you but my guess is that is will be traditional theatrical distribution

JA
JOSS WHEDON'S LATEST FILM WAS MADE AVAILABLE DIRECTLY AFTER ITS PREMIERE AT TRIBECA.  WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT TYPE OF STRATEGY?

MH
Remember, Joss creates his own climate and he has a huge built-in fan base that wants to see whatever he does so he can do that and it works for him.

JA
DO YOU SEE THAT KIND OF RELEASE PLAN AS A GOING CONCERN FOR LESS EXPERIENCED FILMMAKERS, GOING DOWN THE VOD OR PPV ROUTE?

MH
Honestly, I am a little perplexed by the situation right now.  The way I look at it is the marketplace is so loud and noisy right now it's so hard to make people aware of your film, so I worry about any of these avenues.  Any outlet that isn't going to spend $30 million in marketing I have concerns with.  VOD is great if you're David Fincher or Joss Whedon but if you're an unknown quantity are you the tree that falls in the forest that no one hears?  This is part of the big shift in the business and I don't think anyone knows where it's going to end up.  I think this whole idea of how people become aware of what you're doing is going to be a bigger and bigger problem.

JA
I THINK THAT WE FELT FIVE YEARS AGO THAT SOCIAL MEDIA WOULD TAKE OVER THE LIONS SHARE OF A FILM'S MARKETING CAMPAIGN BUT HERE WE ARE IN 2014 AND YOU LOOK AT ALL OF THE TV ADS FOR FILMS SUCH AS "AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2" OR "GODZILLA" AND YOU WONDER IF STUDIOS ARE ENDING UP SPENDING THE SAME FOR TV MARKETING AS IN THE PAST, EVEN WITH SOCIAL MEDIA?

"The way I look at it is the marketplace is so loud and noisy right now it's so hard to make people aware of your film so I worry about any of these (VOD,PPV) avenues"

MH
It's true.  It's still really hard.  I watched this happen on YouTube because I did an online series in 2007 just in the moment when people started seeing content go viral and thought, "oh, that's how the marketplace is going to sort itself out", but after 2007 everyone thought that it would not in fact sort itself out in that manner because there are 3 million pieces of video being put up every hour and how can anybody find anything?  So it became all about marketing and promotion even on the internet, let alone television, movies and the like, so there's no easy path right now and I think everybody's still quite unsure and worried about it.

JA
I DON'T THINK THAT COMPANIES SUCH AS KICKSTARTER HAVE, OTHER THAN THE OCCASIONAL "VERONICA MARS" OR "WISH I WAS HERE", MADE A HUGE IMPACT AS OF YET.

MH
Well that's the key, of course, in that everyone knows who Zack Braff is.  A lot of people have raised money via this route, and I'm no expert on Kickstarter, but they haven't raised enough money to do a feature film if you're not well known.  Why do you think the studios only want to make movies that everyone knows what it's about?  They want the name recognition because they see how many millions of dollars it takes to spend to have people remember anything about a film.

JA
DO YOU THINK THAT ANYTHING CAN BE DONE ABOUT THE INCREASING GULF BETWEEN THE MICROBUDGET FILM AND THE BIG TENTPOLE RELEASES FROM THE STUDIOS?  IT SEEMS THERE'S A NICHE OUT THERE FOR THE $40-75 MILLION BUDGETED FILMS THAT USED TO BE PROFITABLE 5-10 YEARS AGO.

"...it just becomes harder and harder for anyone who's not the loudest and most successful and expensive to be seen and heard"

MH
It's a self-created problem going back to the 1970's where the thinking of the studios turned to maximizing opening weekend and that put in motion a situation that, even now 40 years later, we are still laboring under, and it just becomes harder and harder for anyone who's not the loudest and most successful and expensive to be seen and heard.  So we need to remember that it didn't have to be this way but here we are and we have to contend with it.  The question then becomes are there ways the marketplace can organize itself to self-select what's out there and sort of help what's good to rise to the top.  I don't really think that's happening.  It's not even happening on the videos on YouTube, let alone something you have to pay to go see, but I wish there was some way, since we have something we didn't have before which is this interconnection between people of all forms of social media.  I remember having a conversation with the people at YouTube where I mentioned that right now everything gets dumped on the site and chances are you'll never see a piece of content unless you see the front page right at the exact time it's posted.  What if they divided up their universe into different compartments where each section was seeing a different slice of all the videos that were posted each day?  In other words, can you have a situation where you have several different versions of what's on the front page instead of just a single first page?  I never got an answer and maybe they do something like that, I don't know, but the point is it needs to be in somebody's interest to figure out how to make that work better.

JA
DISNEY DID SNEAKS THIS PAST WEEKEND ON "MILLION DOLLAR ARM".  IT'S THE FIRST TIME I CAN RECALL A STUDIO DOING SNEAKS IN A LONG TIME.  THAT SURPRISES ME ONLY FROM THE STANDPOINT THAT KNOWING HOW HUGE SOCIAL MEDIA IN NOW, ONE WOULD THINK THAT THE STUDIOS WOULD TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT IF THEY FEEL THEY HAVE A CROWD PLEASING MOVIE THAT AUDIENCES WILL RESPOND TO FAVORABLY AND TELL THEIR ONLINE FRIENDS ABOUT.

MH
Yeah, I would think so too.  I don't have a concrete answer but I'm guessing that, along with everyone, they're risk averse and therefore they're only going to do a sneak when they are fairly certain it is going to succeed.  They're not going to do a sneak as a gamble as they did in the past.  Now it's more about ramming home what they're pretty sure is going to be a winner.

Next time, we speak with Marshall about the ever evolving world of television and the changes in the small screen landscape since his "Thirtysomething" and "My So Called Life".   

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