Because We Haven’t Ranted About Marketing in Days

November 21st, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

First, we have to say that we believe there was no need to turn a fine book like The Polar Express into a movie. Film could add nothing to the experience. Second, we want to mention that our first encounter with the movie’s trailer left us unsettled and not the least bit intrigued. It wasn’t much of a surprise to discover it, well, tanked with most people.

What, you say, can’t you at least give it a chance? No, not in this instance. In order to recoup just the production costs, the movie would have to gross somewhere in the range of three hundred million. Add in marketing costs, and that leaps up into the five hundred million range (assuming film rentals — the studio’s piece of the box office — settle out at about 50%; the longer a movie plays in a theater, the lower the settlement). This is not outside the realm of possibility, especially depending on quickly it hits the international markets, but we’re not holding out much hope. Even rougher, unless the distributor decides to break with tradition and hold the DVD/video release until next Christmas, the video likely won’t generate huge numbers, what with people thinking beaches and barbecues six months from now.

If you have mild interest in Hollywood and such things as box office gross, we can offer a small tip: look at a number called “per screen average”. If you look at the various releases, you’ll note that The Polar Express is averaging a little more than half the average of The Incredibles (meanwhile, National Treasure is putting up huge numbers — we don’t expect it to maintain that kind of momentum).

What to make of this event? Well, just as with publishing (bet you didn’t think we’d get around to that), decisions are being made by the wrong people. Here we have two quotes from two publications:

This brain-freezing approach to promotion and distribution merged with the new age of research in Hollywood. Armed with reams of data showing what audiences said they wanted to see, analysts in studio marketing departments rather than the creatives in the production departments began driving the development of films. Alas, research shows that audiences want mild variations of what they’ve already seen before.1

With so much money at stake, the writers were quick to learn that commerce took precedence over art. They would sit in a boardroom with an editor and directors of marketing and promotion. Each, Ms. McLaughlin said, had equal say on the book’s direction.2

Now, we’re not going to suggest that marketing types aren’t creative — clearly they are — but it seems to us that art should be done by artists while selling the art should be left to marketing types. Art by committee is never a good thing, especially when artists are required to execute marketing’s decisions.

We’ve all read about the trials and tribulations of Citizen Girl, the second book from the authors of The Nanny Diaries. Setting aside the quality of the book (reviews coming in are not positive, making us want to read it and form our own judgment), the authors were paid a lot of money in advance to essentially create Nanny 2 — if they didn’t understand that this was goal when they signed the deal, they found out the hard later…about the time they were trying to get their publisher to accept their entirely unrelated second book.

What marketing doesn’t get is that the success of The Nanny Diaries came from the unexpected. A follow-up would be more of the same. Readers would lose interest. The flipside of this is The Polar Express example — Hollywood believes a winning combination of talent will replicate previous successes. Perhaps, but not always. We agree that audiences want mild variations of what they’ve seen before…until they reach a saturation level. And that happens much faster than you’d expect, both in publishing and motion pictures. We’re living in the age of short attention spans, and by focusing on past success, marketing-driven art isn’t as satisfying or audience grabbing.

File Under: Square Pegs