Friday, March 30, 2012

MARKETING: Limitations - John Carter (2012)

A $260m budget Disney tentpole, with marketing and prints pushing this figure much higher, that didn't quite bring the house of mouse down, but just scraped its official budget back. The marketing is blamed. Despite the objections of Disney's marketing team, the director insisted on setting the tone for the marketing, with disastrous results:
  1. the book/film's central romance is underplayed, undermining crossover female appeal
  2. dropping the '...of Mars' from the title made it confusing, underplayed the sci-fi, and lost some of the built-in appeal of the existing IP, the hit book series
  3. using an early 1970s classic rock track, Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir', to underpin the trailer, was alienating for the core/primary youth target audience
  4. Um...sci-fi? Romance? #epicfail
  5. this case highlights the blurring of the dividing line between production and distribution 
  6. it is also argued that the production cost ran out of control (see below)
Although the tentpole strategy, or what Anita Elberse terms the blockbuster strategy, is now central to the approach of all of the big six vertically integrated Hollywood conglomerates, questions have been raised about the bloating of budgets; bear in mind that a film really needs to gross 2-3 times its budget to truly go into profit on box office, with prints and marketing often equalling the production budget:
Paul Dergarabedian, president of noted, "John Carter’s bloated budget would have required it to generate worldwide tickets sales of more than $600 million to break even...a height reached by only 63 films in the history of moviemaking"
While on paper there have been bigger box-office turkeys in recent years – Breck Eisner's Sahara took $68.7m from a reported $160m budget in 2005 and Oliver Stone's Alexander managed just $34.3m from a $155m budget the previous year – the film already looks likely to be one of 2012's biggest loss leaders. Disney's statement hints that the film's true budget may be far higher than $250m; industry analysts have repeatedly speculated that it cost at least another $50m thanks to a gargantuan marketing spend, making it one of the most expensive films of all time. [Ben Childs]
You can find details on many more, including links to quizzes testing your flop knowledge, here.

Bottom line? 
Marketing shied away from the sci-fi (the producers had already dropped the ...of Mars from the film title, despite its presence in the books it is derived from), which may have been seen as a female-friendly move ... but also ignored the strong romantic element in the marketing. Frankly, bizarre thinking there. Some reckon this was the most expensive movie of all time, so the marketing had to be at least competent. It wasn't. (Later posters did get closer to the mark ... but it was too late).

Poster gallery (impawards);
Screenrant explains why UGC trailers were better than the official ones;
Forbes (business magazine):
how the posters went from awful to ... okay;
the official site, games and all;
Apple gallery;
IMDB entry.

Critics have suggested that John Carter's failure to connect with audiences may have been due to confusing marketing as well as lukewarm reviews. Disney chose not to run with the "of Mars" suffix in the wake of traditionally poor box-office results for films that focus on the planet, and trailers also largely ignored the movie's central romance, something Hollywood tends to see as a surefire method of attracting female filmgoers.
"The movie is called John Carter, but aside from the fact that he can jump far and looks good without a shirt on, what else did commercials really convey about the title character?" wrote Ray Subers of the Box Office Mojo website. "Also, what was John Carter doing in this desert landscape occupied by tall green men, aside from fighting giant furry white creatures?"  [Source]

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

MARKETING Spike Lee style

an insight into Indie-style guerrilla marketing...

‘In 1985, Lee wrote the screenplay for She's Gotta Have It, about Nola Darling and her three suitors. Shot on the streets of Brooklyn and featuring a star turn by Lee as Mars Blackmon, a bespectacled and geeky would-be lover, the movie not only defied prevailing stereotypes of the Reagan-era inner-city black movie, but called to mind Woody Allen's early romantic comedies. To help finance the movie - which cost $175,000 - he obtained a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, and seed money from his maternal grandmother, Zimmie, a frugal woman who "saved her social security cheques", Lee says.’
‘She's Gotta Have It premiered at the San Francisco Film Festival and prompted a bidding war for the distribution rights. It opened in the summer of 1986, with what Lee calls a "marketing gimmick": for nearly a month, the movie could be seen at only one cinema in America, Cinema Studio in New York. "Every night it was sold out," Lee recalled. "And I would get there and hand out buttons. Me and my friends were selling She's Gotta Have It T-shirts." When the film opened in wide release, it made about $7m. The credits announced the film as "A Spike Lee Joint". Lee said: "Coming from the independent world, I knew that millions and millions of dollars were not going to be spent on the promotion and marketing of my film. So in a lot of ways I had to market myself and market the brand of Spike Lee."’

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

WT early days: MBL/WYWH

Today we'll be building on our initial learning around WT's early history and subsequent development into the leading UK film producer.
Back when they started out it was all so very different...

We'll look at their 1st 2 films as WT: MBL (Stephen Frears, 1985) [IMDB] and WYWH (David Leland, 1987) [IMDB]
Chances are you've heard of neither before now, but one of them created a memorable (and slightly rude!) catchphrase: 'up yer bum'...

MBL cost just £650k, WYWH slightly more at £1m; both were acclaimed by film critics and both today are seen as classics. Lets tease out what makes these 2 early WT films so different from almost  all the subsequent releases (4Weds, NotHill, BJD etc).

Here's the trailer for MBL:

We'll look at marketing in some detail, but what expectations does this trailer create for YOU? (remember, part of this topic is the ability to think of how YOU operate as a film consumer)
Does it strike you as typically British - if so, why ... and if not, why?!
A key point to grasp for this exam is that you'll need very specific examples of actual films to write about - particular scenes/shots/elements. So, your note-taking needs to be very detailed and precise, ie your denotation of these scenes picked out as useful. These are effectively the same as quotes for an English Lit exam!
Lets now look at the film's opening - the DVD is available for you to borrow from the library (ditto WYWH and many more WT/Warp films, + some Ealing, Hammer...); I've found the opening on YouTube too:
As You watch this, consider again:
(i) what signifiers there are of Britishness, and what general representations there are
(ii) the general style or genre of cinematography, mise-en-scene etc
(iii) the readings available - do you think as a teen in 2012 you can follow the director/cast/editor's preferred reading?

The early WT was a brave, adventurous company prepared to take risks:
  • the unknown Daniel Day-Lewis got his break in this movie (as Emily Lloyd would with WYWH)
  • with the right-wing Thatcher government in place, supported by an almost entirely right-wing press, creating a film centring on an Asian character was unheard of and far from the commercial, money-making logic that later lead to so many Hugh Grant vehicles
  • to make him gay too was guaranteed to attract 'flak' [THEORY TIP: Chomsky's propaganda model argues that five filters, including flak (criticism/attacks from media 'shoot down' radical ideas/texts), weed out radical/leftie thoughts from our media which exist to serve and reinforce the powerful, NOT to serve democracy]
  • before WT hooked up with PolyGram and then NBC-Universal, it had to fight to find the financing for movies - Film4 was key to getting this film made, though it was only the success of the film at the EIFF that persuaded a distributor to fund a cinematic release and marketing campaign to go with it (it was intended to be a TV-movie only)
  • with WYWH they went back to the past - but unlike the cosy heritage/costume dramas of today, they did so to present a countertypical, radical representation of the repression of women in wartime and 50s Britain

Turning now to WYWH, here's a few clips; as before -
As You watch this, consider again:
(i) what signifiers there are of Britishness, and what general representations there are
(ii) the general style or genre of cinematography, mise-en-scene etc
(iii) the readings available - do you think as a teen in 2012 you can follow the director/cast/editor's preferred reading?

Review your notes; what can you learn from these examples that might help you discuss any of the topic prompts provided by the exam board (see below)?
Candidates should be prepared to understand and discuss the processes of production, distribution, marketing and exchange as they relate to contemporary media institutions, as well as the nature of audience consumption and the relationships between audiences and institutions. In addition, candidates should be familiar with:
  • the issues raised by media ownership in contemporary media practice;
  • the importance of cross media convergence and synergy in production, distribution and marketing;
  • the technologies that have been introduced in recent years at the levels of production, distribution, marketing and exchange;
  • the significance of proliferation in hardware and content for institutions and audiences;
  • the importance of technological convergence for institutions and audiences;
  • the issues raised in the targeting of national and local audiences (specifically, British) by international or global institutions;
  • the ways in which the candidates’ own experiences of media consumption illustrate wider patterns and trends of audience behaviour.

This unit should be approached through contemporary examples in the form of case studies

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hammer 'double-play' releases

Hammer's back catalogue is getting a re-release with new BFI editions featuring a host of new extras - see for example
These are 'double-play' releases, where both a Blu-Ray and standard DVD are included

Monday, March 05, 2012


Thanks to Simon, Helpdesk Technician, for bringing this to my attention (also featured in this month's Total Film magazine): The Asylum are an example of a production company who make straight-to-video blockbuster rip-offs, generally on sub-$10k budgets! See

Its almost as if the spoof Jack Black productions in Be Kind, Rewind, which launched the concept of 'sweding', leeched out into the real world...

Thursday, March 01, 2012

DIGITISATION: self-published short film

Across these blogs I'll keep returning to the concept of digitisation, the ongoing process of change and transformation of our media, a key element of which is the opening up of opportunities for micro-budget media producers to (occasionally!) attract large audiences and even make some money...
We mustn't forget that giant global conglomerates remain utterly dominant, but the possibilities for someone with a digital camera and a Mac are infinitely higher now than 10, 20 years ago. There have always been amateur/debut film-makers somehow bringing together feature films on infinitesimally small budgets, from Wes Craven's Last House on the Left and John Carpenter's Halloween, through Alex Cox's Repo Man (see his superb book X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker, there's a copy in Lib/F6), Kevin Smith's Clerks and closer to home the rather more dubious Colin!
Here's an interesting example of a horror buff with her own successful blog, Final Girl, who made a short film ... and monetised it through this blog, charging $5 for a DVD of the 10min short film! The short is a postmodern lesbian vampire skit using knock-off Barbie dolls, reflecting the filmmaker's feminist sensibilities. If you do watch it, remember its NOT a feature film - shorts can be rather quirkier. It is, whatever you make of the film itself (the sound is nicely done and the mise-en-scene well handled given the size of the characters!), a great example of how digitisation has expanded the possibilities for enthusiastic amateur filmmakers and media producers generally to go ahead and create, distribute and exhibit work without having to sign deals with larger media firms.

'Final Girl' runs a monthly slasher film club; check it out and if you blog on it she may add a link to your blog on hers!

There is of course another example of a self-publishing filmmaker closer to home, and we will be looking at a trailer for his latest production in Friday's lessons, and with a bit of luck hearing a little from the filmmaker himself on how he went about it, and his plans for this new opus...
We'll also have a look at the film Monsters, a good example of how digitisation has opened up possibilities for filmmakers to produce slick work on very limited money and with a crew barely bigger than a Media coursework group; I have previously blogged on this and various other examples of digitisation, plus analyses, in a wide range of posts you should be looking over whether for AS/A2 exam or AS/A2 coursework (especially Evaluation)...