Marketing. It's what really makes a hit. If a bad movie succeeds, thank the studio's marketing department for hyping it well. If a good movie fails, blame said studio for marketing it poorly. Most people reading this already know about the surprise that was pulled on my film Claustrophobia, when Lionsgate decided the title Serial Slayer - along with a cheesy cover photo that had little relation to the film itself - would be an easier "sell" to their target audience, much to the disappointment of yours truly. But in the end, it's a reminder that marketers always play to the lowest common denominator. Below are some of the lamer ideas that studios - and even some independent filmmakers - have glommed onto recently, in order to shift as many units of their product as possible.
- The "T2" phenomenon. When Terminator 2 was released, somebody got the bright idea to officially nickname it T2, apparently believing that few Americans would be able to pronounce "Terminator" when buying a ticket. It caught on, and thus Mission: Impossible II became M:i-2, Men In Black 2 became MIB2, and so forth. At the nadir of this fad, Fox came up with the inexplicable ID4 for their Independence Day. I guess the "4" came from July 4th, but please.
- "Only in theaters". I believe this started when the X-Files movie was released. Fox felt they had to inform audiences that this is not something they should be looking for on television. Fair enough, as it's somewhat unusual to make a movie out of a TV show while the show is still airing. But now it's become standard practice to market theatrical features with this reminder. And you know it's because nervous studio heads want to make sure they have their asses covered, because, after all, moviegoers are dumb.
- Don't look into the camera, lady. I first noticed this when A Few Good Men was released. On the poster there was Tom Cruise, looking sternly into the camera. There was Jack Nicholson, looking sternly into the camera. And there was Demi Moore looking sternly... into space. I soon saw it on posters everywhere: The male lead is staring right at you, while the female lead is either coyly looking off to the side or at her costar, lovingly. Is this due to insecure actresses preferring their more demure poses when approving their publicity photos? Or insecure studios fearing that audiences would get turned off by an in-your-face female? Though apparently it's okay for chick flick stars to face forward, the trend persists in action films and dramas. I leave this matter for a womyn's studies major to investigate.
- "Fast-forwarding" in trailers. Inspired no doubt by couch potatoes who skip through the boring parts of movies with their remotes, it's been hip for a while to artificially speed through numerous shots in movie trailers, making the advertised feature look zippier than it actually is. (P.S. Would you be surprised to learn that the average studio trailer costs more to produce than most independent features?)
- Releasing a "special edition" DVD - when it's the only edition. This is such an old-fashioned marketing ploy that it's almost cute. But not when self-distributing indie filmmakers label their homemade DVDs with this pretentious claim.
- "Making of" docs that are longer than the films themselves. As the DVD market has grown so big, it's become common for film producers to include documentarians on their crews, in order to shoot a "making of" featurette to include on the DVD release. But these days, no-name indies are doing it too, unaware that nobody really wants to see how their little movie was put together. (For the record, we had a guy do this for Claustrophobia, but I couldn't bring myself to edit together the footage for the DVD.) If that weren't bad enough, I've actually seen "making of" docs attached to short films - and yes, the docs really are longer than the shorts! These filmmakers need to get over themselves.
- Classic books reprinted with actors on the cover. This has long been a pet peeve of mine: When a film adaptation of a classic or popular novel is released, the book is typically reprinted in paperback with the movie's poster replacing the previous cover. Who buys these things? I mean, would you proudly display, in your library, a copy of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot with Will Smith on it?
- Music videos filled with film clips. This goes back to the early days of MTV: Some band records a song that is used in a major motion picture. A video is made of that song. That video invariably consists of footage of the band in performance, awkwardly interspersed with clips from the film. I suppose there's nothing wrong with this, but it's still cheeseball.
- I'll kick your - ! How many movie trailers have you seen that try to get a cheap laugh by cutting to a clip of a (usually African American) character saying "I'm gonna kick your -" only to cut away to another shot (usually another character acting silly) before the "ass" comes out. Does anybody find this funny? Anybody?