New Film Strategies Needed

26th August 2009 by Maura McHugh

The Washington Post has a long article analysing the current trends in the American box office, and what effect this might have on the production of new films in the coming years.

Two kinds of films are doing well: big budget blockbusters with visual impact (and often little else), and the low-budget indie film. One is making money by satisfying the desire in moviegoers for the visual spectacle, and the other is earning because of its low outlay.

The middle-range, well-made film with strong performances is suffering. One distributor in the USA is releasing such films in the theatres, and on its cable company simultaneously, so it can capitalise on the buzz of the film’s launch and yet reach those viewers who don’t want to leave their couches.

The usual Hollywood strategy of paying $20 million for a prominent actor and expecting that to translate into box office sales for a film is no longer working.

The marketing of the film is being deemed as critical:

Hollywood Reporter writer Carl DiOrio, who in April wrote about the struggles of adult-oriented dramas, says it all comes down to one thing: marketing. “It’s less about whether there will be actual motion pictures and more about whether they’re concepts that are easily marketed,” he says. “You need to let the viewer understand what their moviegoing experience is going to be like in a very simple TV message, and that’s not easily done unless you have something that can be boiled down to a [one-sentence synopsis]. And the [typical] modestly budgeted adult-oriented drama of the character-driven variety doesn’t really lend itself to a convenient marketing hook.”

(Last winter’s “Taken” and the current “Julie & Julia,” both adult-aimed movies that have done well, exemplify DiOrio’s point. One is a fast-moving action thriller about a retired CIA agent who must rescue his abducted daughter. The other features a beloved actress playing an equally beloved American icon, in a story set in romantic postwar France and full of delicious shots of food and cooking. What’s not to like?)

Bickford echoes DiOrio’s observation. “As long as you can figure out a way to market these movies without spending your entire profit, they’ll be made,” she says.

“The last 18 months have been just devastating,” she continues. “But in terms of audiences for these movies, they’re there. Look at how many people want to see Meryl Streep play Julia Child.”

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