Finding the Audience: Distribution Notes for 7/30/08

“Boring, baby-maintaining adult” and one of my favorite AdFreaks David Griner picks up on “social viewing” being the common thread between Netflix’s new distribution deal through the Xbox 360 and Disney’s Blu-ray Sleeping Beauty functionality. And he rightly pegs that sort of feature as something that’s going to be increasingly important to younger viewers.

Don at Mashable says free streaming movies would be a better allocation of studio resources than constant tilting at windmills in the form of “fighting” piracy.

An interesting piece from the Hollywood Reporter on how it’s the exception and not the rule for successful movies to spend some significant time at the top of the box-office heap. What’s interesting is that the lifespan of a hit movie this year, while it pales in comparison to the staying power of movies twenty years ago or so, is still better than last years. There’s the assumption that this shift from last year to this means Hollywood’s decision to release fewer movies worked, but I think that might be a hasty conclusion to jump to. I think it’s just the quality of the movies, which is much higher than it was last year.

Oh, and this year’s box-office is a lot better than last year’s at this point.

Scott Kirsner passes on the results of a survey that shows while independent filmmakers are frustrated by not making much money from digital distribution channels now, they still remain optimistic that this is the way to go for the future.

The only surprise in the story of how Netflix is shuttering their Red Envelope distribution division is that it took this long to happen. As Karina and just about everyone else points out, the venture put Netflix in the position of competing against the studios it needed to provide it with blockbusters and catalog titles that are so popular.

Laurie at Infinicine has a great interview with the head of Shooting People, a network of filmmakers and other creatives that allows members to trade information and resources, on how the members of the group are getting involved in changing distribution patterns and leading the charge to adopt new technologies.

Laurie also is doing some thinking out loud about whether the digital download market is actually a good thing for small filmmakers or not.

20th Century Fox has become the first major studio to partner with an exhibition chain on the oft-promised introduction of digital upgrades. The studio has worked out a deal with a consortium of exhibitors that would significantly expand the roll-out of digital projection and delivery, something that brings with it lower costs and a better overall audience experience.

Anne Thompson gives small & creepy films, a small distribution site run by screenwriter Caroline Thompson, a brief profile.

On the home video front, Blockbuster says it’s planning a string of digital download kiosks as well as the eventual integration of Movielink into their offerings. And Netflix has hit the 12,000 title mark for its Watch Instantly service while it signs a series of distribution deals.

Picking up the Spare: Dark Knight, Iron Man, WALL-E

The Dark Knight

There’s an application for the iPhone or the iPod Touch that allows you to add the scrawled Joker make-up to any picture of yourself, whether it’s something you already have or something you take using the devices. This is exactly the sort of thing that I thought should have been part of the campaign and I don’t know if this is an official application from Warner Bros. or not, but it should be.

The Interpublic Group Lab blog (disclosure: I work for an IPG firm) takes a look at the campaign, giving a very basic overview of some of the sites and other marketing ventures taken in support of the movie.

You have to wonder what the folks at the Santikos Theater in San Antonio, Texas were thinking. The theater had been engaging in their own little viral marketing campaign in anticipation of the movie’s release that culminated in a cake that looked like a bomb being sent to a local TV station. That, of course, was followed by the authorities becoming involved when not everyone realized it was just a prank. I give them props for originality but…well…come on.

The movie’s shadow caused a drop in the usual number of independent films being released this past weekend. While the movies that were released or which were already out did fairly well, most decided not to go head-to-head with Batman.

It did, on the other hand, prove to be a blessing for Imax. The movie’s release on the big, big format was a major component not only of the paid campaign but also of the public relations and publicity surrounding the film. It might even prove to be the thing that brings Imax releases of mainstream films out from being “an interesting experiment” and turns it into a must-have part of a movie’s release patter.

Annalee at IO9 uses The Dark Knight as the launching pad for a self-categorized rant on how ARGs are just not very interesting and kind of pointless.

And speaking of the ARG, 42 Entertainment, the interactive agency behind its development and execution, has issued a press release touting just how interesting it was and how it achieved the goals it was designed to meet.

Dan Calladine has an interesting chart of Facebook Wall references to either The Dark Knight, Iron Man or Indiana Jones that shows Batman was the flat-out winner in this rough measure of word-of-mouth buzz.

Iron Man

David Poland picks Iron Man as the smartest campaign by a major studio so far this year. The Dark Knight, Wanted, Kung Fu Panda and a host of other movies covered here on MMM are also in his top ten campaigns of the summer.

Antony Young at AdAge does a mini-review of the campaigns for both Iron Man and The Dark Knight, analyzing them for their different audience approaches. He punts on declaring an overall winner, but each of his sections are worth checking out since he does a decent job of showing how things were executed differently.

WALL-E

Rob Walker discusses the marketing of WALL-E, specifically the portion of it that involved the fictional Buy-N-Large corporation. And he nicely ties that to the notion that much of the movie’s design was inspired by Apple’s products, including Eve, who looks like a more angular, floating iPod.

X-Files: I Want to Believe

Mashable has an awesome list of fan sites and other resources that will allow you, if you’re so inclined, to dive deeper into the show’s mythology and backstory as well as official sites for the series and some of the actors from it.

Unfortunately, the marketing campaign didn’t help push the review needle any higher, with Patrick Goldstein noting that this movie marks Fox’s (more or less) 18th straight film to not break a 50% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Search doesn’t play by the old rules

I hope everyone enjoys this story on how the expense of search marketing keywords makes engaging in keyword buying an option and not a necessity for movie marketers. The problem they run into, something that pushes the cost of the keywords up is that the movies being advertised feature famous people, famous people who everyone is trying to use to drive traffic to their respective sites.

The story is largely, it seems, one that’s meant to make movie marketers feel better about not worrying so much about search. But it also shows how easy those marketers have had it. Adding Angelina Jolie’s name to a poster but it costs quite a bit to add it to a list of search keywords.

The new paradigm

So now that Tom has publicly let the cat out of the bag about his new gig at MTV I feel comfortable mentioning what’s going on in my world.

Now that The Biro has moved on to try and become the next Ed Lover I’m doing what I can to take up the slack in the DialogueMedia practice at MWW Group. They’ve asked me, and I’ve agreed, to travel out to New Jersey on a weekly basis in order to provide more hands-on care to both the account teams and the clients. Since the agency is based in NJ that makes sense as we figure out what’s going to happen going forward.

So if things are a bit more sporadic and some MMM columns get published a little late that’s why.

This is an exciting time and things are in a pretty decent state of flux, but things are going to be great moving forward. Bear with me, please, as I get into the new routine. The biggest problem right now appears to be those instances when either the state of New Jersey or the airline industry doesn’t want to let me leave the east coast. I don’t like that.

Movie Marketing Madness: Step Brothers

(Note: Yes, this should have gone live last week. Schedules and circumstances prevented that from happening, but since I had it almost completely written anyway I figured I may as well push it out. Apologies all around for the delay.)

I was talking with someone recently about how much better a certain singer’s performances are when he’s paired with someone else in a duet. Putting him in that situation forces him to tone down his vocal gymnastics, designed to do nothing but broadcast fake emotions that he’s not seemingly able to pull off authentically. But put him up against someone and he’s pushed to actually sing in order to keep up with his partner, resulting in a much better performance. Even the great performers of all time, Eric Clapton comes to mind, benefit from supporting players that push them to the limits of their abilities instead of allowing them to sit back and give awesome but relatively uninspired performances.

Such is the case with someone like Will Ferrell. He’s remarkably funny in and of himself, but when he’s put in a position where he can riff off of someone equally talented his performances are raised to a whole other level. That’s certainly the case with movies like Anchorman, where while he was the star he had to keep up with what Paul Rudd and the rest of the cast were doing as well.

In Step Brothers, Ferrell turns to John C. Reilly as his partner in comedy. Reilly has made a mid-career adjustment from serious dramas to comedies, not forsaking the latter entirely but certainly focusing on the former more and more in the last couple of years.

The movie has the two actors playing grown men, neither of whom have left their respective nests. Eschewing all forms of responsibility or maturity, the two are brought together unwillingly when their single parents marry each other, forming a family that now includes two man-children. While the two first plot against each other they eventually find out they have quite a bit in common and use each other to continue prolonging their adventures in delayed self-reliance.

The Poster

It’s not actually that surprising that there was only one poster for the film that was created. It’s not really a high-profile action film or even something that invites multiple perspectives. The one-sheet shows Ferrell and Reilly in a family portrait style photo, both with incredibly ridiculous looks on their faces. It works on a very basic level, in that the main selling point of the movie is the interaction between these two goofballs.

You might think there would be room for a couple of character posters in this campaign but I think that separating the two actors would take away much of the funny. The movie is based on the conflict, and later camaraderie between the two characters so splitting them apart would also split apart the essential allure of the film.

@timnudd points to this poster as being the tipping point, when Sears Family Portrait Studio-type pictures officially became uncool. While I whole-heartedly agree with him that such photos are uncool, I have to wonder when he thought they were cool. That in and of itself disturbs me more than a little.

The Trailers

The one and only regular trailer opens with the two main characters, Brennan and Dale, meeting each other for the first time and not exactly getting off on the right foot. Their relationship is immediately defined by threats of bodily harm and instances of them actually attacking each other, something that includes Ferrell’s character attempting to bury Reilly’s alive. Eventually, though, the two find they have quite a bit in common. The story of the movie is then revealed as the two grown losers are told to get jobs and get out of the house, something they sabotage to the best of their ability so they can continue their lives of absolutely no responsibility.

The red-band trailer amps up the language quite a bit. The conflict of the movie is immediately setup as the two meet when their parents get married. There’s quite a bit of the same footage that appeared in the first trailer, with most of the new scenes being ones that feature some crude language. A few of them are just extensions of scenes we’ve seen before.

Online

When you load the movie’s official website the first thing you see is a framed portrait of Ferrell and Reilly that’s very much like the poster. Only this moves. Ferrell will do something and Reilly tells him to calm down or cut it out and then the picture freezes. Below it there’s a “Replay” button for you to kick it over to the next thing that they do.

Off to the side there’s something called the Step Brothers Duel. It’s basically a little gag to play on your friends that lets you upload their picture from your hard drive and then have it sent to their mobile phone. At least that’s how I’m guessing it works since the site wasn’t really working for me, though I did see a box to enter your friend’s phone number.

There’s also a link there to watch the restricted clips there that includes access to the red-band trailer and some similarly bawdy clips from the film. Basically the studio wants to remind us that the actors are allowed to swear in the movie and these work quite well at achieving that goal.

Once you go ahead and enter the site, you’re basically taken into the feud between the two new step-brothers. Specifically you’re taken into their house, with the site’s sections scattered around the place. It’s not like they’re hidden, it’s just that the site is meant to continue the attempt to draw you into these people’s lives.

“About the Film” contains a brief Synopsis as well as the usual Cast and Crew profiles. You’ll find the Trailer, some Clips and a couple of TV Spots under “Media” and a whopping eight stills from the movie under “Gallery.” “Downloads” has just what you’d expect, a Wallpaper, a Screensaver and a bunch of Buddy Icons.

The content under “Special Features” is a little bit better. Brennan and Dale (Ferrell and Reilly’s characters, respectively) are lists of their special treasures, things like karaoke machines and other goofy stuff like that. There’s also a Soundboard that consists of brief audio clips from each character and a Step by Step Guide to getting along with your brother-in-law, which thinks it’s much funnier than it actually is.

“Promotions” is just a sweepstakes the studio is running in conjunction with MovieTickets.com

Like the stuff under “Special Features,” the “Join ASSB” takes you to the site for the fictional “American Society of Step Brothers.” And like the “Special Features” content, it thinks it’s much funnier than it actually is. You can upload your own photo or that of a friend into the family portrait from the movie. You can also play a game called “Whack-A-Bro” where you get to select which of the two, Ferrell or Reilly, you’d like to hit over and over again in a whack-a-mole type game.

There are also the requisite Facebook and MySpace pages for the film as well as a Mobile friendly site and content. The Facebook page has voicetones you can download, trailers, the Duel game and a batch of photos. You’ll find videos, games, downloads, voicetones and the staring contest widget on the MySpace page.

Advertising

Like they did with You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Sony/Columbia created standees for the movie that come equipped with Bluetooth technology. The standees, which have been placed in 50 Regal Entertainment theaters across the country, will beam four voicetones to moviegoers who interact with the standee. A fifth is also available to those who take an extra step. Those who saw the standee between July 18th and 20th also were able to grab a 30-second clip from the movie.

There were also quite a few TV spots, a smattering of online ads and a few outdoor ads that I’ve seen for the film.

Media

The stars and director of the movie stopped by Comedy Central’s “Reel Comedy” show to talk about the difficulties of living with family and other such topics. This is a standard part of most comedy’s publicity plans.

Reilly and Ferrell also appeared on the newly launched site IBeatYou, engaging in a staring contest on the site that didn’t do much more than put a presence for the movie there. You could grab this contest as a widget to put on your own online presence. It’s not necessarily something where the funny holds up upon repeated viewings, but what are you going to do?

Overall

It’s an alright campaign in achieving its target goals of simply alerting the general public there’s a new Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly comedy – directed, I should mention, by Anchorman and Talladega Nights helmer Adam McKay – that’s hitting theaters. But while the single poster and the couple of trailers are plenty funny the website speaks to a marketing effort that does not appear to have a lot of support. I realize that the online component might not be the most visible in terms of what’s seen by the mass audience, but you can also use that to some extent as a barometer of a studio’s excitement about a movie.

I think the biggest problem I have with the general lackluster vibe the campaign gives off is that we’re now over a month past the release of just about all the other major comedies of the summer. You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Get Smart, The Love Guru and The Happening were all released in early- to mid-June. That means Step Brothers, with a more full-throated marketing yawp could have been THE comedy of the mid- to late-summer, a light-hearted antidote to the super-serious Dark Knight and the bevy of action films that have come out. True, Hancock was positioned (somewhat inaccurately) as a comedy, but that wound up fitting very much into the action movie mold more than anything.

The campaign relies almost exclusively on the audience’s tolerance for Ferrell and Reilly’s mugging instead of making the case for the film itself. While, again, most of the individual components work pretty well at conveying the selling points of the film, the campaign as a whole fails to measure up.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

  • 8/20/08: Don’t tell anyone, but Step Brothers has quietly amassed over $100 million at the domestic box-office, which is kind of a big deal when you think about this being a mid-level comedy. As Karina says, this sort of “Oh my, did that really succeed?” movie is one of many reasons that studios have been shutting down their specialty divisions that deal in movies that require marketers to actually “think” and “put together a plan.”