Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Movie Studios Need to Grow Up

About 4 years ago, when I was writing for, I wanted to get comment from one of the big movie studios on a part that was cast for a then-upcoming major motion picture. It was an exclusive, no else had it at that point-- it was based on a couple of sources and I was pretty certain I had the goods. Go me.

I got a number for one of the main press contacts there, and called for confirmation. After telling the PR person -- or, rather, her assistant -- what I was after, he asked where I was a writer. I told him that I was from an Internet site than had a substantial readership of a quarter-million per month, or whatever it was during that time; in response, the PR person sniffed and said he had not heard of it, and that they rarely responded to Internet writers.

The film wasn't anything that did particularly well at the box office, but it was a summer film (not a tentpole, but still) that ultimately didn't perform as well as expected. It should have been a big deal, this was one of the lead roles. I never understood the reasoning, but I was mildly pissed -- after running it -- when my exclusive picked up a day later by one of the trades, without attribution to the site. As a reactive measure, the studio gave the "news" to them, it seems; the trade writer, who I quickly wrote to, said he had "been given" the news by the studio.

I was reminded again of this again last weekend, upon reading this article by Anne Thompson in the Hollywood Reporter, in which the trade magazine's deputy film editor writes about the diminishing power of the critic, which one could argue somewhat coincides with the decline of box office returns. While the article is a little disjointed -- I feel she tries to tackle too many different areas at once, she needed at least twice the wordcount for what she was aiming to tackle -- she talks about one area the studios need to improve: their relations with Internet writers.

In passing, she focuses on a "rising cyber-star",'s Walter Chaw, "who writes with a refreshing candor that you would never find in the print world."

As she writes there: "But newspapers might be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Aiming at a youthful readership is a fool's errand. Any parent of a teenager knows where young people go for information about anything: the Internet. Which is where Kehr and many less established critics are now expounding on movies...But in a "The House Next Door" blog interview, Colorado native Chaw admits that he struggles to gain entry to screenings, even though he claims his site has three times the "circulation" of both Denver dailies combined. "I don't know if I'd be as moral," he says, "if I were banking Roger Ebert's or even a living wage."

In this age of the Internet being the medium where people get the bulk of their news, you would think that publicists from the major studio would be all over this-- that the above mindset still exists, four years later, is baffling to me. The major studios should want to publicize their movie as far and wide as possible, by inviting some of the 'influencers' to advance screenings. I'm sure the high-traffic film sites -- like Ain't It Cool News and ComingSoon -- of the world are taken care of, but the studios need to change this mindset. But what about the online film writers and some of the influential bloggers who have sway to get people into theaters?

And I mean beyond the film writers, those who have the pageviews and the enviable readership. Here's an example of this from September 2005: Universal Pictures, in its bid to distribute Joss Whedon's "Serernity" offered advance screening passes to readers of Josh Marshall's influential political TalkingPointsMemo site. The site offers really good demographics in terms of the influentials reading it, but there is little linkage between it and the film, other than political geeks (and I count myself among them) possibly liking a sci-fi movie. In essence, this was a huge win for Universal-- it was able to grow awareness of the film among the site's more than 600,000 average monthly visitors -- and something to be emulated. It's a unique, creative play by the studio and hopefully something we'll see more of.

The movie studios need to do their research and look beyond the current model used to publicize their films. If they want to draw more people into theaters, this might be one way to do it.

1 comment:

Chris Thilk said...

Hey Chris,
Great blog and great point. I struggle a lot with the mindset you describe. It would seem that studios would want to send me all the promotional material I could handle since my blog is all about movie promotional material. Instead my constant pleas for contact go unheard by but a few. Even when I was writing for FilmThreat no one seemed to take me seriously. There's a tremendous amount of change that needs to take place at the studio level for them to start recognizing who is influencing people at a grassroots level.