Dear Studio Executives,
Last month, I voiced my opinions to your home entertainment counterparts over some problems in the world of the DVD. So, with the summer movie season getting under way this Friday, I thought it would be appropriate to address you folks as well as your cash cow that is the summer movie season is upon us. With the staggering success of the DVD market, I'm pretty sure they didn't need to listen to me too much. That, however, is not the case with you folks.
I'd like to start out on a positive note, however, and congratulate all the studios on what looks to be a pretty damn good summer movie slate. It looks like there will be at least one thing worth watching every weekend here, starting with this weekend's Mission: Impossible III all the way through the end of August, with many weekends offering more than one option for my moviegoing pleasure. I can only hope that many Americans share this same outlook, though, because things haven't been rosy at the theater so far this year, as you are all well aware of.
As of last weekend, there has only been ONE movie to pass the $100 million mark, that being Ice Age: The Meltdown, which is obviously not a good sign. Even last year, the first year since 1991 that didn't surpass the previous year's total grosses, there were three flicks that had surpassed the $100 million plateau: Hitch, Robots and The Pacifier. I know that the winter/spring period is usually fairly weak, but this is getting pretty ridiculous. While I also know there can't be a The Passion of the Christ every year before the summer starts, it seems like you aren't even trying that hard anymore, putting most of your eggs in the basket that is the summer season, which is starting to lead to a disturbing trend.
The majority of the flicks released this year so far have been aimed at either kids or young families. Although my status as a single male over the age of 25 finds this rather annoying, that's not even the worst of it. The worst part is that the handful of flicks that are aimed at my demographic barely get a fair shake at the theater. Now, I don't know who's to blame for this, since I don't know how the theater count process really works. If it's the studios that determine the theater counts, then you're to blame for these adult-oriented flicks like Running Scared or Lucky Number Slevin that were either ignored or barely shown at theaters within a 40 mile radius of myself. If it is the theaters that determine the theater count, then they're to blame for almost solely catering to kids and families before the summer starts up. If it's a combination of both, then you're both to blame, but I think I know why.
Like any trend in Hollywood, when something hits big, everyone wants a piece, and it's the same way with animated fare popping up everywhere these days. Everyone's looking for the next Shrek franchise to hold on to, hence the glut of animated movies these days. The problem here is we aren't as dumb as you probably think we are. There are so many knock-offs and knock-offs of knock-offs that we can see right through them, and no one likes a copycat. Add on all the remakes and sequels, there is barely any originality left in Hollywood, and even when someone does have the balls to do something original, it isn't seen by hardly anyone until it hits DVD. What's funny about this is that the studios and theaters are vastly more confident in something that they believe is "established" or something that is a knock-off of something "established" more so than something original. You can't dispute the success in recent years of original flicks like Napoleon Dynamite and Garden State, a flick that writer/director/star Zach Braff once said that every studio in Hollywood had said no to at one point, and even both of those flicks started out in the shadows of summer blockbusters, and grew on word-of-mouth to be more successful than many of those flicks they went up against. We are becoming a very fickle public, and with the growth of Internet and other communications like instant and text messaging, we can share our thoughts with our friends quicker than ever before, and this is something you should definitely start taking advantage of.
It's been a long standard to show advanced screenings to the general public, months before the movie is released. In return for their sneak peek, they have to fill out an exit survey, commenting on what they liked and didn't like. While that's all fine and good, there have been flicks that underwent significant changes after these screenings (28 Days Later), all from a small group of random people. This is where the Internet comes in. Instead of screening the whole movie for a few random people, put out longer trailers on movie sites like MovieWeb and the many others, and invite feedback from either a message board on that movie's official website, or an email address set up at the studio or prodco. Then you're reaching out to a much larger audience and getting the same feedback only 100-fold. And, since you're not screening the whole movie, you avoid the paranoia of doing re-shoots, just because 50 people didn't like the ending. Of course, you're not necessarily reaching out to the "average Joe" who only sees a handful of movies a year, but that's where the text and instant messaging comes in. Movie freaks and geeks like me are the ones that these "average Joe's" turn to when they want to know about movies, and if we just saw a kick-ass trailer for a movie they might not have heard about yet, they'll surely take note of it. Moreover, if this does take off, it will increase traffic at all movie websites, thus exposing them to the rest of your slate as well. This even works if the response is terrible. If that happens, you can just yank it from the theatrical slate, cutting out a lot of marketing and distribution costs and just send it out on DVD where, even then, it still might take off. You could even do the same thing on the TV spots, having a website or email address asking for feedback, thus covering the "average Joe" ground as well. The point is, if the response is good, you can pump up the marketing campaign, and if it's not, well, at least you know where you stand.
Making successful movies is a crap shoot, everyone knows that. Titanic could have easily turned out like Waterworld, and maybe even Gigli could've been a hit... maybe. My whole point of this letter is that the movies don't have to be a crap shoot. You have the technology available to reach out to practically every American, and it's time you start using it. There are legions of fans who talk about your movies every day on this site and the many other sites like mine. Our voices are used to either talk up or down your movies, but you don't seem to know about it. Instead of just throwing out a movie and hoping for the best, it's time you lend your ears to us, and hear what we have to say. You have to know your consumer, and from the horrific grosses this year, it's vastly clear that you know very little of the American moviegoing public. Lend us your ears, studio executives, and hear our voices, for better or worse.
Love it? Hate it? Suggestions for future Open Letters? Let me know what you think. Hit me up at [email protected] All responses welcome!