A poster/flyer board along Main St. during the Sundance Film Festival
Stephanie Allen recently retired from her co-executive VP of marketing job at Fox Searchlight to focus on an MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College. Allen spent 10 years at Searchlight conceptualizing and producing award-winning ad campaigns for films such as Slumdog Millionaire, Little Miss Sunshine, and Sideways. Her eclectic career path has included gigs at Rolling Stone, TriStar Pictures and Orion Pictures.
The problem with film marketing—and I do believe it is a problem—is that it has become so important, so vital to the business of film distribution, key in fact to gaining any return on investment in the film business, that filmmaking trails behind film marketing in importance. I say this without sarcasm or glibness, and also, with a deep feeling of sadness.
I got into movie marketing because I needed a job and a family friend introduced me to a man who had a boutique agency that designed posters for movies. I was 20 and got hired because I didn’t blink during the interview. The movie poster business at that time was a relatively new creative business—it was the ’70s—and the work seemed to always be in service to the movie itself. Or so it seemed to my starry-eyed idealistic self.
In recent years, I had the privilege to work for an successful movie company releasing movies that were simultaneously award winners, critical darlings and audience favorites—a filmmaking trifecta. But as social media and online media and tighter budgets and changing habits and less and less newspapers and too many emails have taken over the business of releasing movies, movie marketing has become the king of the hill of the business.
Movie marketing has become the king of the hill of the business.
Advertising materials are tested and retested. That process helps make for more responsible spending of the millions of media dollars necessary to break through media message clutter in order to attract enough attention to any one movie for the public to even be aware that movie is coming out in the theater. Testing costs lots of money. Marketing spends lots of money. How do you reconcile the value of spending $150,000 on a song for a 30-second TV commercial with a $50,000 music budget for the entire feature? The P&L reconciles it, that’s how.
As the business itself gets riskier it seems that both distributors and audiences want to play it safer. We want to know everything before we go to the theater and sometimes we know so much we eliminate the experience of discovery and surprise.
Love of movies is what I optimistically believe brings most people into the movie business. Love of marketing may regretfully be what will keep them in it. Because those that stay in the movie business realize quickly enough that the hours are long and hard, the competition fierce, the work often tedious, sometimes boring, even (on occasion) demeaning.
But it is worthwhile to pause and remember there would be no movie marketing without the movie itself. Well, who knows? I guess there could be. Sometimes a movie comes and goes so fast in one weekend it feels that all there was to it was the marketing. But creativity takes time, getting a movie financed and making that movie take time.
I wish we as the ticket buying audience and as the movie making business could be more patient and more generous and give movies time to find their audience. A little more time, a little less marketing.