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Saturday, April 9, 2011

How do you market cowboys and aliens?



Very carefully.

“The days of a bold visionary having a gut feeling and going with their gut, regardless of what feedback they’re getting, those days are over, I think.”

That’s director Jon Favreau talking about his latest film Cowboys & Aliens and how he sees visionary people behind the marketing of movies as almost extinct now. When I saw the trailer at the movies, it was like, well, here’s about the only two genres left that nobody bothered to mix before now... sci-fi and westerns, and can they make it work? (Least not in this medium. Comics have always played with different themes and time and place.) I had a different take on the vision part as far as marketing goes though.

There may be less of the visionary personality to drive a film, but movies and movie promotions themselves can still break out. They need to, especially when they don’t feature an A-lister to help boost opening weekend.

Case in point is Paranormal Activity. A no/low budget film that came out of nowhere in limited release, spurred on by a grassroots social media word of mouse campaign to prompt wider distribution. Unique marketing aside, here’s where I’d agree with him, because all along, the campaign was tempered by cautious studio execs who didn’t know how to deal with the attention the film was getting in midnite screenings.

Before that, you might look to Snakes On A Plane as another example of social buzz helping a movie launch, even with Sam Jackson in the lead. The difference between the two films though is that ultimately, the gimmick of using the f-bomb in social space couldn’t make up for a lousy film, whereas PA delivered on its trailer and scared the shit out of people.*

Back to the lack of vision part... I have no idea if this will be a good/great movie. At first glance, it has the names – Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig – but flops have stars too. Hopefully it won’t devolve into typical alien cliché territory, as I think the alien theme is one of the hardest to pull off effectively without being contrived. Here, it’s paired with the Western, a theme that Hollywood knows how to nail. (Unforgiven, No Country For Old Men, etc.)

Then again, Hollywood has a habit of not being able to properly market movies whose theme they seemingly don’t have a handle on. It’s why I hate watching a movie I was initially unsure about seeing because of the way the trailer was cut, only to discover a hidden gem. There, it’s not lack of vision but insecurity. Somewhere in test screenings prior to release, less than stellar audience reactions came back that freaked studio execs out, forcing trailers to be recut that reflected what that audience *wanted* to see.

Cue design by committee and inevitable trainwreck. Look at In Bruges, which was cut in such a way as to make you think it was another Snatch, but turned out to be much more violent and dark, without any real saving grace to it. It crossed the violence/dark humor line that Snatch nailed far more deftly. I would rather deal with a trailer that is true to the movie. Besides, haven’t the Coen brothers proven by now that *dark* films sell?

So how do you market cowboys and aliens? Cast Harrison Ford for starters, I guess.

*PA’s eventual gross of $193 million globally relative to actual production budget of $15,000 ranks it among some of the most profitable releases ever. Snakes by comparison may have made it’s money back globally, but wasn’t even close.

(Via Marketing News Group.)

2 comments:

MadamRobot said...

So to sum it up: Hollywood is run by a bunch of gutless, unimaginative pussies.

mtlb said...

Well, there’s that I suppose.