Some pretty interesting revelations are to be had in a recent Jim Hill Media report. Seems the Disney marketing types are a little puzzled about how to promote Pixar’s next flick, the Brad Bird directed Ratatoullie (I’m sure I spelled it wrong). It just doesn’t seem to want to fit into any holes for pidgeons. And of course they’re a bit concerned about merchandising a rat-chef to kids. I can’t see why. My kids would play with a cockroach character if it was cute and funny looking. The idea of a rat in the kitchen cooking is perfect to a child- it tips the world on it’s ear. It only offends grown ups. But there’s this this little snippet from a Disney marketing aparatchik to chew on….
“The feeling now is that we all may have been a little too close to ‘Cars.’ That we were too in love with this film before it was released. Which is why it’s now considered a mistake in-house to buy into the old ‘Everyone goes to Pixar movies’ idea.
Sure, it seems ridiculous to be complaining about the second highest grossing film of the year. But the fact of the matter is that there are 75 million NASCAR fans out there. And — before ‘Cars’ opened — we had convinced ourselves that every one of those people was going to buy a ticket to Pixar’s next movie. Which is why we were really expecting that ‘Cars’ would rack up ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘The Incredibles’ -sized grosses.
But when that didn’t happen … Well, the first place that we looked was at ‘Cars’ marketing. We started asking ourselves: ‘Did we position this picture properly? Should we have gone with another poster? Or a different set of TV commericials?’ You always wind up second-guessing yourself in situations like this.”
A different poster? You know I always had a hard time reconciling all the pre-release warm fuzzies about Cars and the film that almost put me to sleep in theaters. The first place you looked was at the marketing? Good grief there wasn’t a more heavily marketed film in 2006 outside of the Pirates of Carribean II.
Back to Rat Chef. You know why I like Brad Bird films? You can tell that by and large they’re coming from his personal point of view, they’re not the results of taking a vote. Ahh, but the same thing that makes them interesting is what makes them hard to market. First Iron Giant so confused Warner’s that they just punted. Do you remember that TV spot that had the music from The Scorpions “Rock You Like a Hurricane” on it? Egads. And The Incredibles had Disney wringing their hands because it wasn’t another Nemo like film. But I dig that. As an iconoclast Mr. Bird has the energy and drive to put his immutable stamp on a film. This tends to make his films a bit more unique and individualistic as a storyteller (and to make him a bit difficult to work for if rumblings are to be believed). But the result is less like the committee driven stuff that usually emerges from the studio system. But marketers can have difficulty figuring out how to take something unique and individual and play it to a wide demographic. To which I say - Good! That instantly means the film will probably be a lot more interesting. At least to me it does. But it also means that it probably won’t be a huge mega block buster $1billion worldwide box office bonzo fest either. But that’s not my concern as a movie goer. That’s the studio’s concern as a business. It’s a fairly common thing these days in entertainment for the business to think it’s all about them and to forget the audience. (Hodge pontificates accordingly here). And this whole ‘marketing’ thing has one core problem. It doesn’t see individual customers. It sees market demographic groups. But story telling ultimately comes down to making individuals buy into your yarn and walk away happy for the time and emotional investment. But when you aim at a ‘group’ of collective tastes you end up removing things of personal interest. I personally don’t care what the studio’s “take” on a story is. Most studios are large corporate conglomerates. Basically corporations have no personal point of view other than maximum profitability. Boy, that sure is something to get excited about, huh? No, I want to hear a storyteller tell me a story. If it’s quirky or odd all the better! I hear the Laika film Corraline may not fit neatly into conventional norms that most marketers like. As an animation director at Blur I had an opportunity to read an early screenplay of Corraline a few years back- this was before Henry Sellick had landed at Laika (nee Vinton) and his agency was shopping the project around town. I really liked it. It was different, quirky- something totally not driven by a focus group but by a storyteller- in this case Neil Gaiman. It’s an animated film I’d be very interested in seeing when it’s done. But I knew the marketers would hate it. They think not about individuals but money groups- and increasingly when it comes to animated films that group isn’t even kids, but the overweening soccer moms who drive them to the cineplex. The same ones who insist that your kid’s 4th grade class can’t have any red or green napkins for their “mid year party” because red and green might make someone think of Christmas. And we all know that this is not good for it might make someone have to face the reality that not everybody sees the world the same way they do and not everybody agrees with them, and this is far, far to traumatic a thing for a 10 year old to deal with. Just give ‘em more sugar. (I wish I was making this up.)As a result we’re losing the simple humanity of one person dealing with another person- in this instance the storyteller and the audience member. So is it much wonder that we have very poor “customer service” in our industry anymore? Tell you what- you take care of my interests as a customer and have a storyteller spin me an entertaining yarn that comes from a unique personal perspective (”director driven” film is the term) and I’ll be more than happy take care of your concerns as a business. Do we have a deal? And if that means you have to spend less in making your films I’m sure that’ll be OK. I say a director driven film is cheaper by half compared to a committee film due to the reduced waste. So if you lower your costs then you don’t need a massive block buster to make your money back. It’s still a profitable model. Just not a mega monster go for bust or go for broke one. Odd how something so sane and rational could be so radical and crazy, huh?