David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive contains one of my favourite movie scenes. The movie’s director and its producers are meeting their financial backers, and David Lynch creates a fantastic visual metaphor for the power struggle between art and money. I am going to follow Lynch’s advice here. Don’t describe it, if you can show it.
It takes a lot of money to make movies. Quite necessarily this creates a certain nervousness in the industry. But what really makes movie studios the kings of fickle is this: selling movies is like selling incredibly expensive vegetables. Your average flic goes to mush faster than a banana in August. To be successful, a typical Hollywood movie has about 10 days to earn its production cost at the box office.
Of course, additional money will flow from DVDs, and iTunes and VODs, but the theatrical success massively influences future income from those secondary markets. Differently said: A successful Batman movie gets a lot more shelf space at Blockbuster than, say, Kamikaze 1999.
Motion pictures have thus long been among the most heavily, and most innovatively advertised goods in our society. Ad agency people don’t think much about it, because we usually don’t get those jobs. Nevertheless, a typical Hollywood ad campaign is integrated marketing at its best.
- It all starts with the seeded rumors on filmfan platforms. Did you hear that “Die Hard V” is now in development? IMDB says yes: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1606378/ and MTV knows details: http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1638454/20100505/story.jhtml
- Next, there’s film related PR in common interest magazines. Remember Daniel Craig in the light blue trunks? http://snarkerati.com/movie-news/files/2008/04/daniel-craig-as-bond.jpg
- Then the first trailer is leaked in some movie theaters, and afterwards, it shows up on movie trailer sites.
- About four weeks before the start, billboards and posters and tv-ads pop up everywhere.
- So do the tie-ins. Shrek IV Happy Meal anyone? Or should it be an Iron Man Burger instead.
- A full flash website with engaging mini-games and background info goes live.
- “Making-ofs” and “Behind-the-scenes” are all over network television.
- Finally, in the last frenetic week, all the film’s stars stack up on amphetamines and first class tickets and hit the talk shows until…
- Premiere night, which is (at least) featured prominently in the big local newspapers.
A movie like Avatar, with a production budget mumbled to be around 250 million USD, easily adds an advertising media budget of 150 million to its cost. So that it really costs way more than 400 million USD to bring Avatar into the cinemas. This is similar for all movies, even if on a smaller scale. Iron Man 2, Marvel Comics’ sequel to last years success, is reported to have a production budget of 160 million and an advertising budget of 100 million dollars. Because unlike with many other products, NOT advertising is not an option.
While all this is great news for talk-show hosts and TV-stations and microsite producers, it’s a steroid-zombie invasion scenario for mid-sized studios and independent filmmakers. Because there is just no way they can support their films with the same marketing firepower.
What happens if they don’t? Take the now famous case of “Motherhood”, a recent independently produced movie with Uma Thurman. To be honest, blogging moms are not the hottest topic. Granted, the trailer does not spell success. And admitted, it was solid flop in the US last October. But it achieved true notoriety when The Guardian reported that Motherhood made a ridiculous 88 £ at the UK box office in its entire first week.
The film’s UK distributor Metrodome openly admits to not even trying to get people into the theatres, as any regular advertising campaign would never have recouped its cost. Metrodome instead focused on selling 6000 DVDs. However, the fact that the distributor was content with catnip does not make it any less of a watershed event. Without a big ad campaign, invisibility is now an option, even if your movie has stars like Uma Thurman and Minnie Driver in it.
To be continued: How Social Media may or may not save the day for smaller films.