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Letter to the Studios: How Not to Market Adult Dramas

by Mike Kaplan
August 5, 2009 9:34 AM
15 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Here's the first of a series of pieces (which do not necessarily reflect my POV) by guest bloggers on various aspects of the entertainment industry. Now based in Nampa, Idaho, Mike Kaplan is a veteran filmmaker (Never Apologize) and marketer who has managed campaigns for Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey) and Robert Altman (Short Cuts) among others. More recently, please note, Kaplan helped to introduce Clive Owen to American audiences with the sleeper hit Croupier and You'll Sleep When I'm Dead. Here's his argument for how the studios are killing adult dramas--through misguided marketing. Kaplan came up in a film industry that made producing and marketing films for grown-ups its first priority. That is no longer the case.


In the past two years, there have been worrying signs of systemic change in the film business toward anything that smacked of quality, a power play to minimize the influence of art. After Paramount Vantage produced three of the best American films in one year – Oscar-winners No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood (both released with Miramax Films) and Into the Wild, Paramount gutted the specialty division because too much money was spent on the films – marketing costs above all. Instead of reconfiguring future spends, the baby was thrown out with the bath water.

Then Warner Bros. shuttered its two specialty divisions – Warner Independent and Picturehouse, the latter headed by Bob Berney, one of the most innovative architects of specialty film distribution (Memento, Y Tu Mama Tambien, The Passion of the Christ , My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the Oscar wins of Charlize Theron and Marion Cotillard).

Warner Independent was also the original distributor/co-financier of Slumdog Millionaire, which was headed for DVD-land when big Warners shrewdly placed it with Fox Searchlight, keeping a share of the profits. However, in signing a new deal with a British company, Slumdog producer Christian Colson acknowledged the increasing difficulty of getting smaller films financed and hoped that “riskier projects would still be backed.”

In reading this year’s Oscar postmortems, the prevalent attitude was that the nominations and awards –aside from Slumdog – had little major boxoffice impact, from Frost/Nixon to Milk and The Reader. Along with the regular carp that the most popular films (in this case, The Dark Knight, Iron Man) weren’t getting their due, the Oscars – never an elite barometer but the most influential tribute to the movies – were now less important.

Thompson on Hollywood

THE SUNDAY NEW YORK TIMES arrives in semi-rural Idaho by mail, so it was with extra anticipation that I turned to the Arts & Leisure section last March, eager to find the first large quote ad for Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity. I wanted to see what quote and layout choices would be made for one of the few films from a studio’s major division that was a smart, adult entertainment and not a tentpole sequel or a science fiction/action oriented/special effects extravaganza aimed at the audience whose movie choices rarely go further than opening weekend need-to-see.

Unlike the usual, empty afternoon seats at Edwards Cinema Complex in Nampa, there were actually people at the 2:00 PM first day matinee, a good sign. They were not talking to each other nor rushing out for popcorn refills. They were enjoying the film, which on one level is a clever, time shifting, beautifully-crafted corporate spy caper, and on the other, a re-imagined screwball comedy with two attractive stars, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, who create a romantic chemistry that hasn’t been seen since the golden pairings of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray. This was a big-budget, glamorous, witty, surprising movie that couldn’t fail.

So what would the ad look like? Would the quotes only come from the major raves – A.O.Scott in The New York Times (“The most elegantly pleasurable movie to come around in a very long time”), Kenneth Turan in The Los Angeles Times (“Sleek, dizzying entertainment. Sophisticated amusement that needs to be experienced"), David Denby’s later-breaking New Yorker (“Enormously enjoyable. The stars’ bantering rhythm is so natural and easy that it’s already an early stage of sex.”) Or would they be peppered with less covered but equally important sources…Todd McCarthy in Variety (“This is as good as Hollywood gets”), Leah Rozen in People ("Deftly written and directed. Roberts exudes an edgy world –weariness and Owen, well, he’s pure sex on a stick"). And would someone have spotted the rarely achieved 4 Stars in The Week, the influential newsweekly compilation?

[Photo of Mike Kaplan, Sally Kellerman and Malcolm McDowell by Jeffrey Wells]


I turned the pages: quarter pagers next to each other for the poorly reviewed Nicholas Cage actioner, Knowing, and the “bromantic”comedy I Love You Man, two films aimed at a younger audience that opened the same day as Duplicity, to better weekend business, . Duplicity would have to build with word-of-mouth as the review consensus got out, the Sunday NY Times being the most important for any film of consequence.

I reached the end of the section and couldn’t find anything. Not even a one column display ad showing where it was playing. I went through the section three more times and then counted the pages. The count is correct.

This is either inexcusable incompetence or deliberate sabotage.

I don’t know why there was no ad. It’s hard to believe that any studio could abandon this film without a second or third week push. Wasn’t it in Universal’s original marketing budget? They could have turned it over to Focus, the studio’s expert specialty film division, which doesn’t live by tentpole mindset and knows how to platform a film that isn’t easily definable.

Julia Roberts' films and the Bourne trilogy written by Gilroy have grossed billions of dollars for the majors, a bottom line fact that demands respect and attention. Their success has helped perpetuate the industry’s high living standards. Gilroy’s acclaimed Michael Clayton and Mike Nichols' Closer, starring Owen and Roberts, and Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men, with Owen, helped to keep alive the hope of cinema for adults.

We live in transforming times. Wall Street’s greed and ruthless values have turned the world inside out. I thought, "how ironic if Duplicity, which cunningly exploits the intricacies of corporate machinations, became the scapegoat for leaving sophisticated moviemaking to small-budget independents. If they dumped Duplicity, there’s no hope."

Several months ago, Charlie Rose had the first interview with Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup, after the company’s $189 billion bailout. At mid-point in the hour-long session, Rose asked, “Shouldn’t some major Wall Street figure offer an apology to the American public?” Pandit, maintaining his passive arrogance, replied, “We are moving forward.” No apology. No acknowledgment. Onto the next.

When Duplicity disappeared from cinema screens through lack of support, it was onto the next week’s giant sequel to Transformers, Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Batman and X-Men, all made by talented people and sometimes rewarding – but one needs champagne as well as beer – and they need not be corporately incompatible. Champagne, however, requires more attention.

Forty years ago, an emblematic film campaign was adapted throughout the country following an experimental tryout in New York. This was “The Ultimate Trip” for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, transforming the stiff, hardware images of spaceships, lunar landscapes and astronauts in space suits, which I’d been railing against for over a year as Kubrick’s point man, into a last minute inspiration -- the welcoming embryonic Star Child looking at us with eyes wide open.

This was the second act of the film’s life, in the second year of its run, having spent the first year being the catalyst for an editorial approach in marketing (it was called advertising, publicity and exploitation then) that eventually found its own momentum, establishing 2001 as a cultural milestone. Following its 70 mm/Cinerama roadshow engagements with full technical bells and whistles, 2001 went wide in many key cities, including New York, where the grosses fell precipitously in comparison with other wide releases for roadshow films – Doctor Zhivago, The Sound of Music, Lawrence of Arabia etc.

After studying the figures, and having ridden and sometimes initiated the waves of the 2001 turnaround, it was apparent that the film’s audience only wanted to see the film in its original, technically pristine format. Therefore, a 70 mm re-launch, should be tried with a new campaign, while 2001 was still playing in its various release patterns throughout the country. MGM finally agreed and its success is history.

However, I have always maintained that had 2001 been an average costing film, had MGM not been fighting for its corporate life with a looming proxy fight, and had Kubrick not been a master of Socratic logic in dealing with the studio – and being so open to unconventional marketing ideas -- 2001 would have closed in two weeks. The major reviewers didn’t understand it; the upmarket roadshow audience wasn’t responding. Into the toilet.

This all came back in realizing that Duplicity wasn’t even going to last a full two weeks. For the decision in not having the Sunday quote ad had to be made shortly after its opening weekend. Even the minority press that had reservations about Duplicity's interwoven structure wrote enticingly: The thoughtful salon.com critic Stephanie Zacharek: “Roberts and Owen are a pleasure to watch. His scenes with Roberts are close to perfect and the role gives him a chance to stretch out and play….Duplicity made me realize how much I’ve missed Roberts. She makes the dialogue equally casual and effortless.”

Enough to work with?

Without support, Duplicity topped out at $40.5 million domestic gross (it did no better overseas: $39 million). The ad budgets for its opening competition, however, weren’t pulled: Knowing went to $78 million and and I Love You Man to $70 million. Duplicity, with a little help from Universal, could have equaled those figures.

There is a particular talent needed to open a film to $70 million--which happened the next weekend with Universal’s 4th Fast and Furious installment, setting an April industry record. Being from the same corporate team, it complicates the argument that Duplicity delivered the goods but marketing didn’t. Getting to the young, primarily male audience, who are afficionados of car chases and crashes, is not a given, but that audience is market-specific and turns out immediately, quickly diminishing by the second weekend.

Duplicity’s audience demands nurturing and constant assessment, which requires executive career risks, utilizing valuable time. In the days of the studio system, the moguls made decisions by the seat of their pants. They knew that certain films were guaranteed winners – adventure epics, westerns, literary romances, escapist musicals -- and those films cushioned the chances they took on less commercial subjects they wanted to try because they loved making movies; it was more than a business.

When Ann Sothern told MGM honcho Louis B. Mayer she was tired of starring in the Maisie movies--the successful, inexpensive ten-film feminist series produced between 1939 and 1945--he told her she had to continue because, “Your films pay for our risks.”

John Ford had to wait more than a decade to make The Quiet Man, his pet project, and only after he first agreed to film Rio Grande, a western that would also star John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. Republic demanded that insurance.

The treatment of Duplicity seems to me to represent a dangerous sea change, for despite what Gilroy, Roberts and Owen produce in the future, let alone what they’ve done in the past, it will be nearly impossible to negotiate a quid pro quo. Now it’s all business, without any guarantee of giving “problematic” movies a fighting chance.

When the history of Duplicity is discussed, there will be little mention of why a potential hit disappeared, because marketing is never dissected as a reason for failure. The blood, sweat and tears that artists spend in developing and then making a film become irrelevant if their efforts can be destroyed in a matter of days -- without accountability. Lillian Gish, always committed to the art of film, put it best: “What you give is a life; what you get is a living.”

At their best, movies provide a window to the world and an insight into human nature. The unfathomable is that Duplicity could ever have been considered problematic or difficult in terms of finding its audience. If we care about seeing future Duplicitys, the system has to be re-invented. Corporate values have to change.

Calling Mr. Obama?

15 Comments

  • Kevin Butler | February 8, 2010 4:00 AMReply

    Dear Lenny,

    What is missing in today's movie dramas..is sincerity and morals.

    We see characters,who are violent,angry,cynical and abusive..and those that criticize the hypocrocy of our system and of our bogus values.

    But?

    There are no real flaws or emotions that show us the caring and kindness behind those fights for what we believe in.

    What we need are actors like Ms.Amy Breenanman,Ms.Linda Blair,Ms.Valerie Bertinelli,Mr.Tom Cruise,Mr.Robby Benson,etc to show
    more of the breadth and wideth of the human condition.

    But..with a genuine ammount of compassion..and good scriptwriters

    and directors.Who can create and present a story that has more to it than

    angry,foul language,abusive physical violence and sexual situations that shouldn't be seen in a movie drama.

    Hopefully?Someone within the studio system will give such films in the near future?

    Kevin Butler.

  • MIKE KAPLAN | August 22, 2009 7:21 AMReply

    Part 3

    The outrage that has greeted LACMA's decision to shutter their film schedule may be indicative of a larger audience needing more than just pap. Sure, that audience might represent a portion of the film public but it is one that looks forward to good filmmaking and spreads the word.

    Two days ago, I purchased a 2010 calendar of vintage movie posters, being an avid poster collector. The 30-ish salesman looked at the calendar and said, 'That's one of my favorite films." SINGIN' IN THE RAIN was on the cover. "'I saw it on a big screen and it was great. There's nothing like seeing movies that way. We saw so many great films that way ...LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, CITIZEN KANE..so many."

    He had taken a film class in college, in Phoenix.

    I hope we haven't dumbed down the audience as Barry suggests.
    I don't know if the salesman would have liked DUPLICITY, but I suspect he would have.
    Being a cockeyed optimist, it was reassuring to hear the joy in his voice when he talked about movies .

    We were in a mid-size town... in the middle of Idaho.

    * * * * *

  • MIKE KAPLAN | August 22, 2009 7:17 AMReply

    PART 2 - continued
    While Seth was not overwhelmed by DUPLICITY, he recognizes a "marketing snafu" and intriguingly describes the dominating industry practice of "running a marketing playbook seemingly inspired by the western style of love making: twenty minutes and you’re done."

    MICHAEL HARPSTER alludes to this in his insightful comment:

    "The structure of wide breaks is very tough on intelligent films. While one may get some efficiencies you have to play in C towns which are way out of the loop.
    I argue for wide with limited markets and then work the film thru the country. Much tougher to do and the marketers generally have another film right behind. And if the strategy doesn’t work they face a lot criticism."

    The operating word here is "work."

    Today's studios lack the mindset to challenge the playbook. It takes specific talent to sell expensive toy and tentpole movies. Those films should be handled by marketing folk who know that playbook inside out.

    Studio films that need any nurturing require a different sent of distribution folk who work from a different playbook, one that operates away from "onto the next."

    Finally, BARRY's astute comments on the state of the industry reflect the implications of DUPLICITY's theatrical fate and the wider role that film has had as a cultural force:

    "A certain amount of the “blame” for the decline of adult drama must be attached to the contemporary movie audience, which, with its short attention span, degraded expectations and uncritical acceptance of mediocrity, is in lockstep with studio marketeers. Comedies/action tentpoles are regarded as critic-proof, in that a mass audience will turn out for these movies in spite of bad reviews. All too often, well-reviewed drama cannot draw a large audience. The fact is, studio marketers have finally got the movie audience they deserve, and vice versa. It is an appalling dialectic."

    One hopes we haven't driven the audience into laziness, as one world-class filmmaker observed after reading the blog and comments. Most people in the industry gained their movie love in the darkness of big screen theaters, watching movies that spoke to them and wanting to become a part of that world. 'Onto the next' meant waiting for the next exhilarating film experience, not whatever was the next attraction.
    Continued in PART 3

  • MIKE KAPLAN | August 22, 2009 7:00 AMReply

    PART 1
    The ramifications of abandoning DUPLICITY are serious and far-reaching.

    Most disturbing, The LATimes cited DUPLICITY's disappointing boxoffice as indicative of why LACMA intends to shut down its respected film program, causing an uproar among concerned filmgoers:

    "LACMA's action comes while movies aimed at discriminating audiences are struggling. Several recent adult dramas -- including Julia Roberts' "Duplicity" and Russell Crowe's "State of Play" -- fizzled at the box office, and so far this year there have been no breakout art-house hits like "Slumdog Millionaire" or "Juno."

    The Times offered no analysis of why this happened to DUPLICITY, how lack of marketing support was a possible cause of its demise, or that SLUMDOG and JUNO both received careful platform rollouts while DUPLICITY went wide immediately.

    In the buildup to the film's release, comparisons were made to the previous openings of Roberts' films. Her last starring title, MONA LISA SMILE (2003) had an opening weekend of $11.5 M, equivalent to DUPLICITY's $14M in today's figures. With ad support, MONA LISA SMILE eventually achieved a gross of $65M. With no continuing backup, DUPLICITY grossed $40M.

    Using numbers -- and marketing execs interpret an array of research to confirm their decisions -- DUPLICITY, regardless of its stellar reviews, at least deserved subsequent week support.

    Several comments to my blog post were enlightening while others missed the point. I was not implying that one ad in the Sunday NYTimes would have made the difference, DAN. If that ad had appeared, it would normally have been part of a continuing campaign decision for all key cities -- in newspapers as well as in other media -- including a probable niche broadcast buy. ("A best reviewed film of the year" spot could have had considerable impact).

    Don’t know what standards IMDB uses in determining audience response. SETH citing the high 8.4 IMBD rating for 2001 has no bearing on what the numbers would have been had IMDB existed in 1968 when audiences were walking out in droves in its initial month. That number would have been abysmal. The salient point is that a SUSTAINED marketing effort "rescued" 2001 from commercial disaster while DUPLICITY was not sustained.
    continued in PART 2

  • Michael Harpster | August 7, 2009 7:21 AMReply

    Its interesting to look at DUPLICITY and MICHAEL CLAYTON at the same time. Both complex films with budgets over $25 million. The latter platformed off 15 screens but then went to 2511. The former went out on 2574. CLAYTON ended up with close to $50 million (IMDB) and DUPLCIITY (40 million). The patterns were similar. DUPLICITY opened at 5425/sc and CLAYTON at 4431. Over three weeks DUPLICITY beat CLAYTON. DUPLCIITY held 50% and CLAYTON held 60% second week till it collapsed in third week. Only the Academy stuff got CLAYTON up in the air.

    The problem is that neither of these films are treuly mass market films and neither made any money for anyone beyond fees.

    To open a film on 2500 screens the distrib is surely spending 20-25 million just to open. CLAYTON probably spent 40 million or more total.. Gross is $50, settlement is $25. In the hole for $15m before fees. Maybe video generates $15 million gross to distrib and Pay does another 5 mil gross. All before fees and costs. So maybe domestic contribute $5 mil to negative. Maybe foreign contributes $15 $20 to negative. Its too hard to figure out who financed in these days but the point is, negatives were barely (if at all) covered.

    This is a picture of a market model that is in the midst of dissolution. It is going away.

    Sophsiticated films like these can not be profitably sold as mass market films. The elements were not there to carry out an efficient mass market campaign. These filmsare too expensive to be specialized and few have figured out antoher strategyfor profitable release.

    A market by market analysis will almost surely show overindexing in the most sophisticated markets but a wide break compels one to take all the dumb markets which eat up the marketing money and dont perform.

    When video was growing at 10% a year a lot of errors could be covered but as HV declines and Pay slots dwindle-its increasingly hard to justify mass market methodology on films that are really not mass market.

    Spend less to make them, spend less to sell them.

  • Ryan Sartor | August 7, 2009 2:17 AMReply

    He's probably right, but nobody goes to see a Clive Owen movie and if I worked for Universal and saw that "Duplicity" was about to bank $14 million opening weekend, I might pull the Sunday ad as well.

    I see both points.

  • Michael Harpster | August 6, 2009 8:35 AMReply

    Clyaton and Duplicity are intersting if looked at side by side. IMDB gives Clayton 49 million and Duplicity 40m. Clayton was platformed off of 15 runs whereas Duplcity was wide. Duplicity worked better than Clayton in the first three weeks with roughly 26m to the latter's 19m. Wihout the Academy push Clayton would have been around 40m.

    Both of these are good markers for intelligent films. Most art films only play to an audience of less than a million people. These two found about 6 to 7 million.

    There are a number of interlocking problems. To go on 2500 screens you will have to spend 20 to 25 million and your messaqe must be right on the money. I dont think either of these films had exactly the right combination as witness $4131 on Clayton and $5425 on Duplicity. On the other hand, marketers can only sell what they have. Clive Owen has not opened films and Clooney works only in specific roles as does Roberts. And these are complicated films.

    More to the point, the structure of wide breaks is very tough on intelligent films. While one may get some efficencies you have to play in C towns which are way out of the loop.

    I argue for wide with limited markets and then work the film thru the country. Much tougher to do and the marketers generally have another film right behind. And if the strategy does't work they face a lot criticism.

    And lets not forget-neither of these films prefromed very well week to week. Clayton retained 60% second week but fell apart 3rd week. Duplicity was a bit better than 50% second and third week but nothing to get excited about.

    If one ran a DMA analysis one can see the inherent inefficences of a wide break-but as long as producers and distributors are driven by Pay deals and video deals no one is likely to make a change.

    And its doubtful that either film could have grossed more-there might have been more to the bottom line-but hardly anyone cares about that these days.

  • daniel | August 6, 2009 5:54 AMReply

    The main problem with your argument is that, despite the reviews, Duplicity wasn't very good. I'm sure word-of-mouth--ever important for adult dramas--killed it, not the marketing. Ultimately, it was a movie about corporate executives trying to steal secrets for ho-hum consumer products. You know what? I don't give a f**k. I went on opening night, by the way. I'm an adult who saw the previews, read the press and waited eagerly for the opening. Afterward, I told everyone I know to skip it.

  • derrin zikks | August 6, 2009 5:43 AMReply

    Completely agree with Kaplan. In the UK the reviewers were not up to the film's standard, which made it even more depressing.

  • cadavra | August 6, 2009 5:13 AMReply

    Mike, the bigger problem is the corporate take over of the studios. In the old days, they were content to make both prestige pictures and popcorn flicks. (Jack Warner famously complained that "every time Paul Muni parts his beard and looks into a microscope, this company loses two million dollars," but he continued to make Muni pix, because they won Oscars and earned acclaim, plus he knew that Cagney, Robinson, Flynn and Davis would more than balance the books.) Today, however, the giant conglomerates that own the studios only care about profits, and so we get more remakes, sequels, and tentpoles based on TV shows, comic books and even toys. As the saying goes, no one ever lost money by saying "no."

  • Brian | August 6, 2009 2:10 AMReply

    I'm a grown-up looking for a smart, adult, funny romantic comedy that doesn't insult my intelligence. Think today's equivalent of Rock Hudson and Doris Day (I never get tired of LOVER COME BACK). I read the rave reviews for DUPLICITY and it sounded like the kind of film I was looking for, so I went to see it. It wasn't. I hated it. There was a good comic idea at the heart of the script, but they just bungled it. The film had no idea what it wanted to be: a thriller? a romantic comedy? a romantic drama? a satire on the corporate culture? a farce? It, ultimately was none of these things. The big problem I had with it was its insistence on withholding key info about the characters until the VERY END! All in the interest of a big surprise, a "clever" twist at the end. I don't watch movies for surprises or twists. Suspense flourishes, even in comedies (ESPECIALLY in comedies) when we, the audience, know more than the characters do. When we know less, it puts us at a loss.

    All this means for me is fewer and fewer critics to trust.

  • Dan Goldberg | August 6, 2009 2:05 AMReply

    Sorry - but this is poorly argued. Duplicity failed because of one missing ad in Sunday Arts and Leisure? This fails to factor in Universal's larger marketing budget - including not just newspaper, but television, online, etc. I remember seeing TV ads frequently. Also, believing that the newspaper spend is the be all and end all of film marketing doesn't take into account the myriad of ways people find out about movies today. I was disappointed that Duplicity failed as well but there are any number of reasons for this besides a missing newspaper ad in a newspaper with a declining circulation.

  • vermontfudge | August 6, 2009 2:00 AMReply

    So if newspapers are in a great decline, doesn't that pose a problem for movies that benefit from good reviews from good reviewers.? You can't rely on Rotten Tomatoes, they will let almost anyone write reviews. How do you get the good word out now? (Helps that "At the Movies" TV show now has real movie reviewers from the New York Times and Chicago Tribune)

  • Seth | August 6, 2009 1:49 AMReply

    Marketing aside Duplicity wasn’t all that well received by audiences—a fact betrayed by its 6.5 imdb rating.

    I am an enormous Gilroy and Owen fan. I’d walk in front of traffic for either of those guys. Some of the very best in the industry undoubtedly. Still, Duplicity didn’t wrap the whole experience up in that elusive filling feeling sorta way only a satisfying movie can. For my person taste complex anyway. Again with the 6.5 imdb rating I don’t think I’m alone in this thought.

    I’m not saying imdb ratings are god or anything but I think especially if you account for post 2003 thereabouts system juking bloat it’s the most accurate single rating around to gauge general film appreciator exuberance.

    While I’m not contesting a marketing snafu or even entertaining any knowledge of said execution I think the movie itself didn’t connect with a wide audience. Critics along with their many quotes may have liked it and it had some enjoyable parts for sure. Oh some of that sweet sweet fresh spring in a never-ending Mojave of lowest common denominator dunes: ‘adult’ stylings. But it didn’t tie off that elusive completeness that brings a film out of the powerful undertow of the quickly forgotten.

    Purely from a business perspective I don’t doubt deft material specific marketing could have significantly increased the gross of this film. But if you look at the user ratings for other good adult oriented works by Gilroy: Michael Clayton (7.5), and Owen: Children of Men (8.1), Closer (7.4), and Roberts: Charlie Wilson’s War (7.4) I think it’s pretty clear the greater film going audience didn’t think Duplicity was quite up to snuff. A 6.5 is waay off from a 7.4. And Kurbrick’s 2001 the author draws in parallel with? It stands at an awe inspiring 8.4.

    Marketing didn’t impact this movie not being all that well received by the public. It’s possible from the studio’s perspective they did what was best for them: they saved the marketing dollars for a movie more likely to produce a return on their investment. While that may annoy those of us that liked the movie it’s not unreasonable from their perspective, especially when running a marketing playbook seemingly inspired by the western style of love making: twenty minutes and you’re done.

  • Barry | August 6, 2009 1:02 AMReply

    Very elegantly argued and very true. I'm an ex-studio executive (at Universal, no less) and would only add the following:
    - A certain amount of the "blame" for the decline of adult drama must be attached to the contemporary movie audience, which, with its short attention span, degraded expectations and uncritical acceptance of mediocrity, is in lockstep with studio marketeers. Comedies/action tentpoles are regarded as critic-proof, in that a mass audience will turn out for these movies in spite of bad reviews. All too often, well-reviewed drama cannot draw a large audience. The fact is, studio marketers have finally got the movie audience they deserve, and vice versa. It is an apalling dialectic.
    - Certain powerful film makers, especially during the height of Ovitz's reign at CAA in the 90s, aligned their "creative" agendas with those of the studios, crossing a border between church and state. Instead of using their leverage to oblige the studios to take on riskier movies in return for accepting assignments to direct "product" (Coppola, Paramount, "The Conversation" and "The Godfather" is the most famous example of this) they allowed their names to be attached to meretricious agency packages that represented a "sure bet" for the studios. In doing so, they got hits (in which they often participated financially as producers) but willingly abandoned the moral and economic authority they had to maneuver the studios into the quid pro quo mentioned above. They became very well-remunerated studio employees who surrendered the artistic semi-independence for which many of the same film makers fought so hard in the 1970s. It was a massive sell-out by powerful baby boomers who should have behaved more in line with their true values and it's why it is possible, sadly, to draw a direct umbilical connection between Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay.
    - During the last ten years, developments in other entertainment media, including the Internet, have made American theatrical features much less culturally significant than they once were. One can blame the ascendance of cynical, lowest common denominator marketing and/or the complete corporatization of film production in the USA (I would argue that Disney, for example, can no longer claim, at least with a straight face, to be in the movie business at all, beyond Pixar). It's a chicken-and-egg conundrum. Did the corporations ruin adult cinema or did the consumers of cinema give them a pass?

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