product

by eug
September 23, 2006 5:35 AM
6 Comments
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I have to admit an idealistically intolerant view of the word product when it is used to describe movies, particularly by people who work in independent and specialty film. So deep is this pet peeve that I spent about 20 minutes on the Variety site last night trying to figure out when the word became part of the lexicon.

It turns out that Army Archerd used the word in 1941 -- writing about a United Artists film sales exec, he wrote:

Sears knows exhibs. They trust him. For United Artists he should be a natural tower of strength. He should and is able to convince consumers that the product he represents is the best, not alone in quality, but in profits as well.

But the term immediately faded from usage for 40 years, returning in 1992, with numerous appearances in the fall of that year. The first apparent usage in connection with specialty film is fittingly found in a story about then independent October Films securing financing from investment bankers:

October's expansion comes on the heels of a contraction in the independent film arena, where fewer companies compete for product, which has created a general downward pressure on independent film titles of roughly 20% to 25% over the last year.

But the word has truly fourished recently, according to the Variety site. Today I hear it regularly in conversation and read it often in trade news stories. Even when used in the context of movie marketing or sales, I still can't help but find the term crude. Personally, I've been trying to swap in the word "content" instead. Anyway, I'll stop there...

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6 Comments

  • Michael | September 26, 2006 7:39 AMReply

    Interesting point, and I think I'm going to have to start saying "product" all the time now just to annoy you. We should see a product together sometime soon...

  • Bill Pace | September 26, 2006 6:25 AMReply

    On the nose Eugene! And thanks so much for doing research to see when and how it became such a popular nuisance.

    I have to admit though, that at times I find myself on a roll lecturing in producing class and then uttering the dratted word too. But at least it gives me a chance to stop, back up and apologize and explain why filmmakers should never refer to their films as product. They are films, movies, projects and even joints, according to Spike Lee, but they should not be viewed as "product" by the creators.

  • gabe | September 26, 2006 3:34 AMReply

    While the term "product" may conjure images of both widgets or hair gel, I have found it useful when discussing films--arthouse or otherwise. Perhaps I do this with a hint of Warholian irony, or perhaps not. I could get into an entire digression about art in the (post) industrial age--let's not forget when we shoot a film we call it a production. What is the final result of said production if not a product?

    What I do know is this: those who not prepared to treat their projects like products may have a difficult time selling them, marketing them, raising money to make them etc. And once you do have a film (or a product), make no mistake when it comes to getting your work shown (or sold) anywhere in a commercial arena: whether distributed on art-house screens, manufactured and purchased on dvd, downloaded on iTunes (etc.) or ordered On Demand, an audience pays for something. And that something, is the product of hard work, the product of imagination, the product of a long creative process. But it is, alas, product.

  • Paul Coleman | September 25, 2006 10:32 AMReply

    I agree. That term takes the passion and fun out of it.

  • jay van hoy | September 24, 2006 7:36 AMReply

    Thanks Eugene for this. For the same reasons that I’m responding to your blog, when I hear someone refer to a film as “product” I find myself either biting my tongue or more often interrupting whatever it is that person is talking about to emphasize the importance of distinguishing films as something other than product (how about just “films” or “movies”?). For one, I find that people resort to the term most when they are trying to prove (to themselves or to someone else) some grasp of the business; and in almost every case, it raises suspicions for me that the person might not know what they’re talking about.

    It’s really quite simple, films are not products in the traditional sense, or at least what most people think of when they think of products (including most people working in the film industry). While it is indeed helpful to use the term “product” to describe distribution in the global sense (as in the many businesses of a studio), when people get too comfortable calling individual films “product” they run the danger of losing track with—among other important aspects of the film—the audience.

    It's semantics, sure. But within the corporate culture of agencies, distributors and exhibitors this is a pragmatic concern of structural communication within these businesses. Films are stories. They’re experiences, encounters. Sure, we all know that. Even when we refer to films as product. As someone working in film, I find it most helpful to understand each film as process—from its conception, through development and production, to the experience an audience has with the film either in a theater or at home. Personally this forces me to stay fresh, to honestly acknowledge the dynamic intricacies of each film, to re-think my assumptions, and concern myself with the point of view of the filmmaker I’m working with and the audience we are hoping to reach. It’s just more fun. As an example, the way that a "product" functions within community and the way that a film does (good or bad) is quite different.

  • james israel | September 23, 2006 7:40 AMReply

    I totally agree. When I hear the term "product" I think of something I'd use to clean the bathtub.

    It is demeaning term, especially for indie and specialty films that are the result of years of passionate, hard work by the numerous craftsman and artists required to make a good film.