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Inside A Hollywood Studio Movie Marketer’s Playbook

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by Tambay A. Obenson
August 24, 2012 5:41 PM
10 Comments
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Researching for a future post, I stumbled upon this 2009 lengthy article in The New Yorker titled, The Cobra: Inside a movie marketer’s playbook, which gives the reader an insider's look at how film studio marketing departments operate (excerpts below).

Yes, it's from 2009, but that was just 3 years ago, much (if not all) of what's talked about in it, is still very current, and I encourage you to read it.

Much of what is in it, I was already familiar with; however, it's all still rather depressing (ok, maybe I'm being too dramatic) to be reminded of just how much "business" has devoured the "show" in show-business.

If you're a filmmaker, take your idealist hat off (assuming you're wearing one), and forget the *art* of it all; if you weren't already aware, to any studio marketing exec, your film is no different than a Double Cheese Burger from your choice of fast-food joints. How can we make it accessible to as wide an audience demographic as possible? Thicker slabs of beef? More ketchup? 6 slices instead of 4 slices of cheese? Eliminate the buns altogether? Sure, it just might kill them, or at least, lead to unhealthy bodies, but, we're making money, and that's more important.

Piece by piece, your film is taken apart in an attempt to find something within it (or sometimes something that's not even in it) that can be packaged and easily sold to audiences that are thought of as not much more than sheep. And whatever vision you as the filmmaker may have had for the film, means very, very little to them.

So, you might see a finished version of your film that is vastly different from what you created, even though your name remains stamped on it.

So anyway, just a Friday slap into reality. Although I don't think any of this will be a shock to most of you.

Here's a snippet:

It is often said in Hollywood that no one sets out to make a bad movie, but the truth is that people cheerfully set out to make bad movies all the time. It is more accurate to say that no one sets out to make a movie without having a particular audience in mind. Many studio executives argue that films can’t objectively be categorized as “good” or “bad”: either they appeal to a given demographic—and make the studio at least a ten-per-cent profit—or they don’t. “Most critics are not the target audience for most of the films being made today, so they’re not going to respond to them,” Sony Screen Gems’ Clint Culpepper says. “How a fifty-six-year-old man feels about a movie aimed at teen-age girls is irrelevant.”

And I might be inclined to agree. From a strictly business standpoint (emphasis on business), there are no bad movies; it's all subjective anyway, right? One man's trash is another man's treasure? So I may not like a Tyler Perry movie, for example; but others will connect with something within the movie, even though I didn't.

Here's more...

An unexpected corollary of the modern marketing-and-distribution model is that films no longer have time to find their audience; that audience has to be identified and solicited well in advance. Marketers segment the audience in a variety of ways, but the most common form of partition is the four quadrants: men under twenty-five; older men; women under twenty-five; older women. A studio rarely makes a film that it doesn’t expect will succeed with at least two quadrants, and a film’s budget is usually directly related to the number of quadrants it is anticipated to reach. The most expensive tent-pole movies, such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, are aimed at all four quadrants.

The collective wisdom is that young males like explosions, blood, cars flying through the air, pratfalls, poop jokes, “you’re so gay” banter, and sex—but not romance. Young women like friendship, pop music, fashion, sarcasm, sensitive boys who think with their hearts, and romance—but not sex (though they like to hear the naughty girl telling her friends about it). They go to horror films as much as young men, but they hate gore; you lure them by having the ingénue take her time walking down the dark hall.

Older women like feel-good films and Nicholas Sparks-style weepies: they are the core audience for stories of doomed love and triumphs of the human spirit. They enjoy seeing an older woman having her pick of men; they hate seeing a child in danger. Particularly once they reach thirty, these women are the most “review-sensitive”: a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend’s gross by five million dollars. In other words, older women are discriminating, which is why so few films are made for them.

Older men like darker films, classic genres such as Westerns and war movies, men protecting their homes, and men behaving like idiots. Older men are easy to please, particularly if a film stars Clint Eastwood and is about guys just like them, but they’re hard to motivate. “Guys only get off their couches twice a year, to go to ‘Wild Hogs’ or ‘3:10 to Yuma,’ ” the marketing consultant Terry Press says. “If all you have is older males, it’s time to take a pill.”

There's a lot more where that came from.

If articles like these are meant to dissuade novice filmmakers from entering the business, it might work. It could've had an effect on me if I were still in my early 20s, out of film school, with a dream and vision of making it big in Hollywood. I wouldn't want to have to play this game, but it's a game that one has to play to succeed within the realm of Hollywood studio filmmaking.

Of course, you can completely bypass the studio system altogether, and instead tread down the just-as-challenging DIY path many filmmakers have, are, and will continue to take. But no matter which way you go, the road will be bumpy.

It ain't easy...

Read the entire piece HERE.

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10 Comments

  • Christina Zubareva | August 27, 2013 12:47 AMReply

    When I first finished reading this article it made me think of trailers and how often times they are misleading to the actual movie because they are trying to fit a certain demographic. A movie like “Drive”, for example, was what came to mind and how many people got the impression from the trailer that it was an action-filled race car movie starring Ryan Gosling, when the actual movie was more artsy and unlike what people expected. It’s just one out of many examples of marketing trying to maximize the appeal to a large audience.
    While I agree every movie is subjective to one’s taste, there are those that are made purposefully for being successful at the box office, adding a superficial sense in the business. That is why a lot of the times it can be very appreciated and refreshing when film makers do not cater to critic’s opinions and stick to the art of it all.
    This shows the challenge of having to sacrifice parts of a movie that might be important to a film maker but is necessary in the business side. It was interesting to learn about these four quadrants and will be something new to focus on the next time I watch a movie.

  • Luis Vasquez | August 26, 2013 11:17 PMReply

    To people who are solely movie viewers, such as myself, the focus on the quadrants may come as a surprise at first, but can be easily understood. It makes sense that a film directed at multiple quadrants requires a larger budget than a film directed at just one quadrant. But I believe that it is a problem for creative filmmakers who have an original idea, because if their film does not have an appeal to any specific quadrant then it most likely won't get a chance. Of course it makes sense that no one would want to pay to make a film which will not generate profits, but the quadrants give a sort of generic base for films. The quadrants do function as separations in the interests of the general public, but not everyone in a certain age group is interested in exactly the same things.

  • Kendall | August 26, 2013 11:06 PMReply

    I had no idea money and business dictated what was in films instead of the other way around. Of course making movies involves trying to make as much money as possible, but I never knew how big of a role it actually played. It is kind of sad that movies and films must sell to at least one of the four quadrants to be made even if there is a great film that may only appeal to a few kinds of people. It is also sad that movie makers, business men, and marketers don't really care how the audience feels as long as they bring you in to see the movie. Just like a lot of things in today's society, movies revolve around money, but that doesn't mean good low budget films have to be cut from the theaters. I think this article was well written and kept me interested in the business behind film making and marketing.

  • Sophie | August 26, 2013 10:35 PMReply

    I've never thought of films this way before. It's strange to think that it's all a matter of opinion, no film is really good or bad. What makes a movie unsuccessful is if its target audience doesn't go to see it, not that it wasn't made well. This shows how important marketing it for these movies. If the preview doesn't appeal to the target audience, no one is going to go see the movie. More people will go to see movies that had previews made to attract multiple quadrants. Most of the famous films that my whole family likes are examples of movies that target all four quadrants.

  • Miles Ellison | August 26, 2013 9:51 PMReply

    This certainly explains why an alarmingly large number of films are virtually unwatchable.

  • Katy | August 26, 2013 9:43 PMReply

    I thought this was very interesting. I really liked how it told us what movie makers add into movies to make it interesting for all types of groups. Like the part about long hallways and suspense, for younger women. This helped me understand how much thought really goes into a movie to keep the audience interested. A movie is really nothing will out an audience, so to read about ways of targeting people was very cool.

  • Alice | August 27, 2012 1:21 PMReply

    Welcome to the business of show. Art and business don't often enter the same conference rooms here in La La land. And yes, it's one of the most frustrating elements about working in the industry. Most creatives just wanna do that, but they aren't business people. But thanks to the options the internet makes available, creatives can focus on art and not sacrifice it for business all the time. Good post as usual!

  • Luis Vasquez | August 26, 2013 11:27 PM

    It is unfortunate how creativity is less focused on than profit. Luckily, the Internet options you mentioned, one being Netflix, allow for creative minds to express their ideas without having to worry about not making enough profit. Not to mention that it saves money in the scenario of making DVDs, since everything is digital.

  • Nicole | August 24, 2012 7:00 PMReply

    Interesting piece. So in which quadrant would black, latino, asian movie-goers fit? Or are they a separate quadrant? After reading the article, I have to believe that the marketing for a film targeted to "minority" audiences has it's own chapter in the playbook. I would love to see it!

  • Adam Scott Thompson | August 24, 2012 6:00 PMReply

    Informative.

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