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Monday, May 21, 2007

Finally, an Adonis who can also act!

Publicity is a funny thing. Too little of it can ruin your box office (Grindhouse comes to mind) and too much of it ... can ruin your box office (Snakes on a Plane). I'm about to run off to the premiere of a certain crappy film tonight, so I was thinking about the publicity that Warner Brothers created for Teenagers and to what lengths studios are willing to go to make a mediocre film look good.

I'm not sure why WB bought the film in the first place -- all their correspondence describes the film as "satisfactory" or "acceptable." They made certain that the famous WB shield NOT be shown before the film but in the end credits, and even then as small as possible. But despite their fuss the powers that be did dedicate some time (a few hours?) to creating a press strategy for the film.

It wasn't a huge press packet, but enough to get the word out. A booklet of ads was created (see tomgraeff.org for the three "posters" they created) for print in the newspapers and trades, as well as some choice blurbs describing Dawn Bender's willingness to do her own stunts and the "science" behind the gadgets like the focusing disintegrator ray. For all you collectors out there, 30 publicity stills were created for lobby cards & press use, though at least 5 or 6 of them were probably never printed.

But the most interesting angle by far for the Teenagers campaign was that dedicated to the rising star of "teenage" David Love.

Apparently a sneak preview was held at a theater "far from Hollywood," where audiences were tricked into seeing the film, buying tickets for a different movie. But when it was over, the audiences couldn't stop raving about hunky star Love, whom comment cards described as an "Adonis" and a variety of other over-the-top praises. But was this "acclaim" real? Personally, I have a hard time believing that an audience would be that floored by Derek to the degree that WB purports. It's more than possible that the publicists could have just pulled the more positive cards out to quote, but the whole story just seems too overblown to be true.

In response to such high-sung praise, the newspaper reviews of Teenagers were mostly negative. Some are downright mean (thought witty) and tear the film in an almost Mystery Science Theater like fashion. Would this have happened if the film had been released under more modest circumstances? Of course no one could say for sure, but setting too-high expectations usually ends in disaster for those who can't live up to them.

The Teenagers publicity campaign reminded me a great deal of an interesting article I read a while back discussing filmic awards and their decline in importance vs. their proliferation. Years ago, there were few awards, and few film festivals, so an official selection meant something. Whereas today any filmmaker can finagle some kind of award or festival selection, no matter how niche, thereby leading them to assume the title of "award winning" director, producer, or whatever. However plastering the phrase "award winning" all over a project creates an expectation that a film maker's work will be great, and if that person cannot deliver great, audiences will be more irate than if they'd gone into a film expecting bad and receiving okay.

It's basic human psychology to love more that which you expected to hate (for me, Zodiac, best film of the year so far) than what you knew you'd love (Letters from Iwo Jima) . And the reverse is also true: you will hate more what you thought should have been good (Casino Royale) than what you thought would suck in the first place (Just Like Heaven, on HBO right now ... don't watch it).

But would an honest publicity campaign have saved Teenagers, or any bad film for that matter? In the 50's there was some healthy competition in the movie business from independently owned production companies and movie theaters. And those companies and theaters made a profit, even if the films were crap; people knew the films were bad but they saw them anyway. But there's no competition to be had nowadays, and no possible salvation for a film like Mr. Brooks ...

1 gargon specimens:

Dara said...

Thanks for writing this.

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