Posts Tagged ‘Film’

Mulholland Drive and Art Cinema

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When I watched Mulholland Drive on my own the other day, I noticed that the DVD came with a viewer’s guide:

David Lynch’s 10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller
1. Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.
2. Notice appearances of the red lampshade.
3. Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?
4. An accident is a terrible event… notice the location of the accident.
5. Who gives a key, and why?
6. Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.
7. What is felt, realized and gathered at the club Silencio?
8. Did talent alone help Camilla?
9. Note the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkies.
10. Where is Aunt Ruth?

Because I had never seen Mulholland Drive before, I was immediately cued for interpretation and investigation. Knowing David Lynch, that was not surprising. But I wonder: Does Lynch’s 10 cues contradict or reinforce the film’s art cinema tendencies?

On the one hand, this is perhaps the most explicit form of authorial address. Some of the questions (where is Aunt Ruth?) point to certain ambiguities and ask the viewer to hypothesize about them. On the other hand, the author is literally telling us what to think about. Art cinema, while soliciting a higher interpretation, is often not made to be figured out, solved, or “unlocked.” As Bordwell writes, “narration is more complex than art can ever be, the only way to respect this complexity is to leave dangling and unanswered questions.” So what is the usefulness of these questions when many of the answers remain ambiguous? Art cinema is supposed to be about unfocused gaps and less stringent hypotheses. Do we really need to find answers to these questions or can we allow them to be unanswered and dangling? It is possible that directing the viewer how to unlock the film may render certain interpretations while limiting others.

Thus, while Mulholland Drive deals with dream logic, loose causal relations, a self conscious style, and heavy interpretation, it still calls on the viewer to, as Murphy says, “piece together the various strands of what has been deliberately constructed to be a mystery.” But does playing detective fit with the mode of art cinema, where narrative comprehension is not the primary concern?

Objective vs. Subjective Reality in Barton Fink

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Barton Fink’s unique style and texture certainly made it aesthetically pleasing. I particularly loved the Shinning-esque hallway, the slow pan following Charlie when he first bangs on Barton’s door, the whoosh every time the door opens or closes, and of course, the character Lipnick. But beyond admiring some fantastic mise en scene, acting, and sound design, I couldn’t help but wonder: What was that movie about?

To help me with the question, I found an article called “Barton Fink, Intertextuality, and the (almost) unbearable richness of viewing” by Michael Dunne. The article mentions a number of theories on how to interpret the film; Barton Fink could be an allegory on creativity, a satire of Hollywood, or a piece about a man who sells his soul and goes to hell (aka the Earle Hotel).

Ultimately, Dunne concludes that reducing Barton Fink to a single interpretation does the film an injustice. For it is a film that blends the aforementioned theories in interesting ways, never completely confirming or disconfirming any of them. Thus, Barton Fink is a film less about the intentions of the author and more about the perceived meanings by the viewer. Dunne writes:

In keeping with these critical insights, we may understand that to encounter a film like Barton Fink, to feel conscious of parallels and contrasts to our prior aesthetic encounters, to feel uncertain just how it all fits tidily together, and to accept this uncertainty happily as part of this cinematic encounter-is to experience the (almost) unbearable richness of viewing.

The main uncertainty in Barton Fink is the question of what is real and what is not. So I’d like to run with this a little bit. George Wilson talks about the impersonal subjectivity in his essay, “Transparency and Twist in the Narrative Fiction Film.” He defines impersonal subjectivity as “non-POV shots that are subjectively inflected but do not share their vantage point with the visual perspective of any character in the film.” Sometimes, as is the case with Fight Club, the viewer may consider such subjective impersonal shots to be objective, especially when there are no explicit narrative cues to tell us otherwise. These impersonal shots are a subjective representation motivated by some psychological significance, like a character’s thoughts or emotions.

In Barton Fink, it is hard to pick out the impersonal subjective shots (that aren’t POVs) as there is no clear distinction between reality and fantasy. Upon first viewing, all events seem to be objective because they make logical sense within the story: Barton is given the assignment to write a screenplay and he works on it in his hotel. But how real is the hotel, really? It seems to be more like an artificial hell than a realistic place. The entire atmosphere is eerie and ominous. The seemingly friendly neighbor turns out to be a serial killer. The slogan of the Hotel Earle is “For a day, a lifetime.” And the fire doesn’t burn anything nor does it concern anyone in the hotel. But we don’t question the authenticity of any of these things because we attribute them to the “as if logic” of an eccentric place. That is, until the perplexing ending.

The pleasure of this film, as Dunne noted, is indeed hypothesizing (on subsequent viewings) which scenes, events, or characters are real or not real. If I were to pick out instances of impersonal subjectivity in Barton Fink, I would probably choose almost all of the hotel scenes. Why? Because every conversation, object, and character in the hotel could have some psychological significance to Barton’s feelings or thoughts as they exist outside of the hotel.

For example, Charlie’s deceptiveness-his transition from someone who wants to help Barton to someone who ruins his life- parallels Barton’s experience with Lipnick. Audrey’s confession to Barton may represent a hidden desire of Barton’s: he doesn’t want to admit that the author he respects is actually a drunk. The mosquito on Audrey may represent W.P. Mayhew’s parasitic relationship to her. As for the painting on the wall, Dunne projects that it “is probably intended to represent everything Fink lacks-sex, beauty, social acceptance, innocence, the healthy outdoors, the appeal of the West Coast.” So I think it’s reasonable to suggest that everything in the hotel is a manifestation of Barton’s consciousness or unconsciousness; all of it is subjective.

I don’t know what any of this means, (and I won’t attempt to analyze it in light of Dunne’s analysis) but I do think that in order to clear up the relationship between the subjective and objective, we must draw on our understanding of Barton’s psychology and personality. I guess what I liked so much about this film, and I usually hate feeling confused, is that the viewer must add subjectivity in the way they feel most appropriate (as oppose to Fight Club which reveals the objective truth in the end). This film would be a great candidate for the video essay. I’d like to alter how we perceive subjectivity in the film-what if the last scene in the movie came first?

Update: Leslie wrote a great response to this post so I’ll post my comment here:

Perhaps the beauty of Barton Fink is that it counts on our natural and involuntary tendency to read the film like we read The Singing Detective–to separate the objective fabula from the subjective. But in Barton Fink, such a task is impossible. Ultimately, because we can’t distinguish between reality and the fantasy, we may consider the entire film to be subjective. Perhaps the message, if there is any, is that all filmmaking is subjective and that it is the role of the viewer to construct objectivity from it. Even though there are always filters and slants in film, we still consider impersonal shots to be truth. (unless we know for sure that the character is dreaming, thinking, or hallucinating)

Distinguishing between the real and the not real is important to me, no matter how fruitless, because it changes how I construct the objective truth and the fabula at large. And I need to find some shred of objective truth. I can’t consider the whole thing to be imagined because I’d feel cheated. (like discovering it was all a dream) So I find it very intriguing to make a hypothesis about the film and then find proof to support it. (like the process of viewing any film) The film’s meaning may be indecipherable, but I refuse to write it off as such. Frustrated that I can’t get all the answers from Barton’s mind, I’m forced to speculate about the minds of the Coen brothers. I depend on the author (and my perception of their intentions) to help me find meaning in a text; I simply cannot rely on the text alone. Thus, for me, it is virtually impossible to enjoy the film without making some effort to figure it out.

The Dark Knight: Transmedia Brilliance Part 3

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The Dark Knight ARG took just over two months to return after Heath Ledger’s death. When it did, perhaps as a response, the game shifted dramatically from the Joker and his pranksters to Harvey Dent’s political campaign.

In March, Ibelieveinharveydent.com was updated so players could submit contact information. And again, the game did not slouch on realism. Harvey Dent’s page resembled a politician’s homepage in every way: detailed descriptions of why to vote Harvey, his trademark slogan “take back the city,” downloadable campaign materials, a road map of the Dentmobile, a van that toured the county and held rallies (much to the chagrin of the actual police), hundreds of photos of Harvey Dent and his supporters, and dozens of videos promoting the Dent campaign.

Hear Harvey Dent introduce his campaign:

Watch the Harvey Dent campaign team:

As Dent’s campaign expanded, so too did his opposition. The site Concerned Citizens for a Better Gotham attacked Dent as arresting innocent officers to gain media publicity. The site sent members of ibelievinharverydent.com a half-burned Dent campaign button in the mail. (furthering the allusion to two-face).

Later in March, through more issues of The Gotham Times, new websites emerged: Danaworthington.com (Dent’s competitor), Trustgarcetti.com (the incumbent DA) Maidenavenuereport.com, JosephCandoloro.com, Citizensforbatman.org, Rossisdelicatessen.com, and Gothamcablenews.com.

It wasn’t until April Fool’s Day when the Joker would make his full return. Owners of the Joker cell phones descrambled a secret letter, which brought them to a new scavenger hunt on Clowntravelagency.com. The hunt called for players to go to bowling alleys around the country and collect green and purple bowling balls.

See the news report: (warning…worst lead-in EVER)

The Joker then directed his followers to Acmesecuritysystems.com/delos. However, the site turned out to be a police set up. Once the player submitted his/her information, James Gordon busted them:


James Gordon then sent the player an email which launched Operation Slipknot. The mission: work for the Gotham Police Major Crimes Unit and hunt down the corrupt cops (who also organized the ConcernedCitizensforaBetterGotham website). Players called The Gotham Hotel and re-routed packages intended for the cops. As a result, 27 of the 30 officers were arrested. Gordon rewarded the players with a personal phone call.

The Joker, not to be out done, sent an email to his mailing list to not worry about Gordon. He also distributed a new whysoserious link displaying Jokerized political figures. Then through more scavenger hunts in major cities, players unlocked the new movie poster, the second theatrical trailer, and the Jokerized film reel.

At this point in the game there were three story lines running. Harvey Dent’s campaign, supporting Dent in his run for DA; Gordon’s Operation Slip Knot, following intel and various clues to catch the remaining criminals, and the Joker’s campaign of chaos, helping the Joker terrorize the city. Here the ARG really took off and it is impossible for me to go through it all but here are the major happenings:
-Players found a Citizens for Batman Underground forum within a Gotham Pizza website. The forum members discussed becoming vigilantes themselves. The pizza website contained a hidden link to Whysoserious.com/Myhero, containing a first glimpse of Two-Face.

The Gotham Cable News launched the show Gotham Tonight, which asked people to submit photos or videos of Batman. Later, these submissions were posted on the show. Gotham Tonight ran for six episodes.
-In early July, Joker cell phone owners went to another whysoserious site. A game of “operator” between the cell phone owners began, with one player calling another with a code word, that player calling another player, and so on. When the puzzle was finally solved, the new poster for the Dark Knight was revealed.

Through the information on a variety of sites, participants then decoded the organization of an event on July 8th in Chicago and New York City. Sure enough, on that day, the bat-symbol appeared on the Sears Tower and the Woolworth Building:

Web users were able to see it through live-streamed video. Two days later, Joker cell phone owners were pointed to a word puzzle. Beating the puzzle depicted a bomb, which days later, exploded on the Internet, Jokerizing every website in the game. Even the bat signal was not spared:


Finally on July 14th, Joker cell phone owners were rewarded for their participation with free tickets to the Dark Knight film. For other players, the final episode of Gotham Tonight led directly up to the movie’s explosive beginning as Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhert himself) discovers on live TV about a bank robbery. And. here. we. go!

As I have said before, part of the reason for the Dark Knight’s success was its meticulous attention to detail and dedication to realism. Exploring the ARG’s videos, websites, and storyline all confirm that hypothesis. People were completely immersed in Gotham because it meshed so seamlessly with the real world. For a movie that prides itself on its grittiness and moral complexity, the game supplemented it perfectly.The Dark Knight was certainly a powerful, authentic experience, but does it hold up as successful transmedia storytelling? Let’s return to Chapter 2.

1.) The domination of mainstream media outlets by corporate conglomerates makes maintaining a crossover market relatively easy. I counted this statement as a potential advantage although I recognize this process only works in theory, not in practice. Time Warner utilized its control over the mainstream media to promote the movie across multiple platforms. From the cell phones to the branded widget to the HBO special, The Dark Knight took center stage. Promotional partnerships with Dominoes, Kmart, General Mills, Got Milk, Comcast, Xbox, and MySpace also added to the publicity. Even the media seemed to be part of the campaign as they ran story after story: Can Batman live up to the hype? Is Heath Ledger’s performance career defining? Is this the best superhero movie ever? Apparently, if a news headline is in question form, it’s news, not advertising. But that’s for another blog post.

In the midst of all the mainstream hype, the ARG provided an alleviating alternative. Fans were able to actively participate in the marketing campaign, instead of passively consuming its branded content, and Warner Bros. profited immensely as a result. Hopefully, other major blockbusters with existing fan bases will learn from the Dark Knight and balance their overwhelming promotions with original, engaging experiences.

2.) Transmedia stories cater to fragmented audiences, increasing the chance advertisers will reach their target consumer.
Comcast, for example, acted as the creator/distributor of Gotham Cable News and Gotham Tonight. Advertisements on these sites read “GBC: A Comcast Network.” The Gotham Tonight episodes, chronicling the campaign of Harvey Dent, were available online and broadcasted to Comcast subscribers’ TVs. Thus, the Internet service company was able to advertise within the diegesis of the story. Comcast not only presented itself in a non intrusive manner, it actually enhanced the fictional world by adding its brand. In addition, players (who spend a lot of time on the Internet and TV) may even begin to associate Comcast with Batman.

3.) Transmedia stories offers different entry points, expanding the potential market. As I will continue to emphasize, transmedia storytelling is the process of world building. Consumers have entered the Batman universe through many different platforms – the TV show, comics, movies, merchandise, and now the ARG.

A successful transmedia story is a delicate process of asking questions, providing answers, and then asking questions again. One transmedia text I have not covered yet was the animated movie that came out before the Dark Knight.

The Batman: Gotham Knight anthology went directly to DVD and featured six animated shorts. These stories occur between the events of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Unlike the Animatrix however, the DVD was not required viewing in order to understand the movie; instead, it added depth by providing back stories and new characters. I have not seen the shorts so I can’t comment on how canon they are, but seeing as how they are PG-13 for bloody violence and injury, I suspect they fall in line nicely with the gritty films.
Additionally, the animated shorts were well received. One fan wrote on the World’s Finest Online:

“The writing found in Gotham Knight is some of the sharpest and darkest pieces to come out of the Batman world. On top of the writing is some of the most visually stunning animation that you’ll likely ever see the Batman character take part in.”

Watch the trailer for Gotham Knight:

Clearly the beauty of the Batman franchise is that a consumer can enter through whichever platform they prefer. The anime fan can watch the Gotham Knight. The ARG player can play the Dark Knight. And of course, the film buff can see the movie. When these people become intrigued by the story, they are more willing to seek out other transmedia texts and increase their emotional and financial investment in the franchise.

4.) Expanding platform for content also brings in a larger global audience. Unknown. I don’t know how many people followed the ARG overseas but I do know that the movie cashed in 128 million worldwide so far.
5.) Transmedia storytelling facilitates collective intelligence and enhances fan involvement. Here’s where the Dark Knight shines. I hope it has been clear how involved fans were in the Batman universe. The ARG was the perfect way to facilitate active engagement. But beyond a meaningful interactive experience, players saw the story from the ARG correspond with the movie beautifully. Their discoveries from the game were not wasted, not part of some marketing ploy, but interconnected with the film. The ARG wiki highlights all the intertextual references here. Although the Dark Knight film was the primary point of interest, the ARG and the DVD acted as jigsaw pieces to the same puzzle. For niche audiences, each text made a distinct and valuable contribution to the world of Batman. For mass audiences, each text stood on its own. Here we have the perfect balance between casual and loyal fans; Jenkins’ transmedia storytelling at its best — and box office records as a result.

P.S. As a side note, it has been interesting to follow the reactions to this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal:

\Film

Thompson on Hollywood

Huffington Post

A Step in the Right Direction

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Props to the MPAA. I was glad to read this article from Variety today, in which the Motion Picture Association of America is developing a one-stop website providing links to “purchasing theatrical tickets, buying or renting the DVD and legally downloading the pic.” This much needed Hub of everything movies gives a response to piraters who say, “I don’t know the difference between legal and illegal downloading sites” or “where else can I get online movies.” I hope the site will incorporate IMDB features, where users can rate, comment, and discuss each movie. It would also be a great asset for the site to link to related content in other media (the videogame, comic, novel) and related merchandise (I want my Wall-E stuffed…”robot?”!)

In addition to the MPAA’s site, Sony announced that they will be releasing their movies on their own distribution service BEFORE they are available on DVD. Good move from Sony, staying ahead in the game. All of this sounds very promising. Legitimizing digital distribution is a necessary adjustment in the digital age. The MPAA’s new site represents a shift from aiming to prevent online downloading and preserve their old business model, to respecting new consumers and striving to meet their needs. Instead of fighting our convergence culture, they are starting to embrace it. The movie business may not be headed down the same path as the music industry after all…

Transforming the TV and Film Industry in the Digital Age

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In today’s technologically savvy world, the role of the media consumer is evolving. The availability, mobility, and practicality of media convergence have enabled infinite possibilities in consuming media. No longer is it realistic for the media industry to deliver content through one medium and expect mass audiences to passively consume it. Instead, media executives must cater to a different kind of audience, one that has fragmented into millions of smaller interest communities and one that will not be satisfied in merely consuming, but also producing, sharing, and interacting as well. According to media scholar Henry Jenkins in the MIT Technology Review, “younger consumers have become information hunters and gatherers, taking pleasure in tracking down character backgrounds and plot points and making connections between different texts within the same franchise.” However, despite the strong economic incentives to embrace this “consumer 2.0,” many media companies remain hesitant to launch franchises reliant on transmedia storytelling. Certainly, the lack of a consistent and dependable business model makes constructing and executing a multiplatform story risky. But as long as media companies cling to old production and distribution practices, they will never reap the benefits from delivering more complex, interconnected narratives across multiple media to consumers who demand more involved, engaging experiences.

In this paper, I begin by explaining why the television and film businesses need to transform their business model to adapt new technologies and new consumers. I then argue that transmedia storytelling, when done correctly, successfully fulfills this need and promises many economic advantages. However, while a transmedia story franchise has potential to be highly lucrative, I recognize there are economic and creative challenges that remain problematic. I conclude by exploring what the entertainment industry can do to overcome these obstacles and benefit from everything that transmedia storytelling has to offer.

Chapter 1: Harnessing the technology and the consumer

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Undoubtedly, all of the entertainment industries—dance, theatre, gaming, comic books etc—have had to adjust to technological and cultural convergence. The music industry’s decline exemplifies the power of such phenomena. But the television and film industries, though primed to fully transition into the digital age, have neglected to make the quantum leap for two reasons. First, media executives have viewed the development of new technologies as threats to the industry, rather than gateways for new possibilities. And second, the television and film business traditionally expects the consumption of their content to be passive and non participatory, an assumption which sharply contrasts the socially connected, collectively intelligent, and increasingly empowered audience of today. In this chapter, I apply these criticisms to both the television and film industry.

Within the last ten years, the shift towards digital video, compounded with the proliferation of personal computers, iPods, and mobile phones, has allowed viewers greater autonomy in deciding when, where, and how they want to view their favorite TV shows and movies. A scary thought for television executives. No longer can advertisers be assured that consumers are up-holding their end of a long standing transaction. As Ivan Askwith describes in his MIT Master’s thesis Television 2.0: Reconceptualizing TV as an Engagement Medium:

At its core, the television business has always served as broker in an unspoken, but well understood, transaction between viewers and advertisers, wherein the advertiser provides free television programming, and the viewer agrees to watch commercials. Over time, the models have become more sophisticated, of course (leading to the development of Nielsen ratings, audience shares, viewer demographics, and so on) but this implicit contract has remained at the heart of the television business…Executives, advertisers, and audiences alike are beginning to realize that the conditions that once made this contract possible have all but collapsed. (Askwith, 14)

Askwith re-examines the term television itself ; as shows flow through a range of channels and devices, one must wonder whether we can still categorize an episode of The Office on an iPod as a ‘TV show’ in the traditional sense. With many network executives calling themselves not television producers, but content producers, it seems the television industry is adjusting and even embracing multiplatform technology. Well, partly.

The accessibility of the internet and its high speed, wireless connection has enabled consumers to stream and download content illegally at their leisure. Pirating and illegal DVD burning continues to be a huge concern. And of course, the television industry must contend with the dreaded digital video recorders (DVR). Not only can consumers easily acquire free content, but they can also store TV shows and films for subsequent viewings while dodging advertisements completely. Sounds like the apocalypse for the entertainment industry, doesn’t it? But just as television survived the VCR, so too has it endured DVRs. Jason Mittell discusses the effect of such new technology in his essay, “Narrative Complexity in Contemporary American Television:”

Using the new technologies of home recording, DVDs, and online participation, viewers have taken an active role in consuming narratively complex television…audiences tend to embrace complex programs in much more passionate and committed terms than most conventional television. (32)

To adapt to television as an active medium, franchises like Heroes and Lost encourage fans to seek, collect, and aggregate character and plot information through multiple media platforms. No longer do TV shows have to rely on re-runs and DVD sales for newcomers to catch up. Instead, time shifting technologies allow fans to fill in narrative gaps at their leisure. Beyond that, hard core fans make full use of their DVR or high speed Internet connection by scrutinizing shots lasting only seconds and re-watching crucial scenes. Nothing goes unnoticed. So while new technologies make it easier to tell serialized stories, the need to maintain a consistent narrative becomes all the more important.

To say the television industry has not adjusted to the digital age would be inaccurate: television companies have given consumers access to content via network homepages or iTunes, where they can download shows and movies legally. But rather than competing against DVRs and online downloads to persuade viewers to watch their TV programming in ‘real time’, why not embrace these technologies, utilize them as tools for consumers to explore more complex narratives and share their discoveries with fan communities? Henry Jenkins writes in Convergence Culture:

Right now, people are learning how to participate in such knowledge cultures outsides of any formal educational setting…the emergence of these knowledge courses partially reflects the demands these texts place on consumers (the complexity of transmedia entertainment, for example), but they also reflect the demands consumers place on media (the hunger for complexity, the need for community, the desire to re-write core stories).

Thus, while the framework exists for the television industry to escape their restrictive business model, the industry must experiment further by producing and distributing content which facilitates consumer ‘hunting and gathering.”

Another part of the problem is that networks rely so heavily on quantifying engagement and commoditizing it through one dimensional measurements (i.e. Nielsen ratings), that they fail to recognize the need for a new conceptual model, one more suitable for the multiplatform media environment. As Askwith writes,

The problem is that the industry is attempting to understand, define and express a new concept (viewer engagement) primarily – and in many cases, exclusively – in terms of its ability to preserve an old end (the advertiser-supported model of television). Engagement is not a process that happens in front of a television set. Nor is it a simple description of how a viewer watches television, or feels when watching television. Instead, engagement describes the larger system of material, emotional, intellectual, social and psychological investments a viewer forms through their interactions with the expanded television text. (153-154)

But with the traditional advertiser supported business model, the television industry fails to understand and take into account all of Askwith’s five logics of engagement: entertainment, social connection, mastery, immersion, and identification. Instead, it utilizes misleading definitions for engagement, such as the oversimplified Nielsen Ratings and the inconsistent Ad*VIZR New Media Audit, to determine whether a show is popular or not. Askwith concludes, and I agree, that the industry has largely viewed extensions of television as a means to promote a program’s scheduled broadcast, thus preserving the “old” business model, rather than regarding expanded content as an opportunity to generate new forms of engagement.

The Film Industry

While not as conspicuously in need of a new business model, the film industry certainly has room for improvement. Upon glancing at the MPAA 2007 Entertainment Industry Statistics, it may appear that 2007 was a historic year. After all, the domestic box office grossed a record 9.63 billion dollars. Twenty eight movies made 100 million dollars or over and four posted over 300 million. Yet when the report is examined more closely, other statistics jump out. Ticket prices increased 5% and there was no change in the amount of tickets sold from last year (1.4 billion). Thus, the record setting figures at the box office were not a product of more movie goers, but more expensive tickets. Not only that, it now costs an average of 107 million dollars for a major studio to produce and promote a movie in theaters, a record high. While I understand theater exhibitions are just one line of revenue for a studio, that is a lot of money to pay for a movie no one wants to dish out ten dollars to see.

Certainly I am not proposing that the film industry needs to lower its ticket prices, minimize production costs, or even make better movies. The studios are money bloodhounds. They know how to generate profit off their blockbusters at every level of traditional distribution (theatrical, home video, TV) and at every possible stream of revenue (including merchandise, videogames, book). In this digital age however, the industry has yet to maximize the power of the web community. Many, if not all, blockbusters today are an extension of a franchise with an existing, passionate fan base. (superheroes and children’s books.) I contend that movie studios can do more to produce online content which would generate excitement from die hard fans as well as provide entry points to those who may not be familiar with the story. Thus, just like television, the film industry must adapt to consumers who engage with content in very complex, different ways.

The MPAA Entertainment Report in 2007 revealed the enormous influence of the Internet on movie going:

A forthcoming study conducted by the MPAA and Yahoo! found that 73% of U.S. moviegoers use the Internet to conduct research before going to the theater. Also, moviegoers who research online are more likely to see a movie on opening weekend, go to the theater more often, and see some movies more than once in the theater. (9)

The report provides compelling evidence that the Internet is the primary source for determining whether or not to see a movie. Yet studios have responded half-heartedly, allocating only 4.4% of the ad dollars to Internet marketing. That is too small of a percentage considering that the average person spends more time on the Internet than any other medium, with the exception of TV. (24) This is especially true for people under 30, who are the movie industry’s target audience.

Of course, it would be easy if the film industry just had to pour more money into online advertising. The real problem is that they are funding marketing campaigns which are overly dependent on traditional advertising tactics. Studios toss movie posters and banners on popular websites while sometimes forcing users to watch a trailer before an online video. These display and pre-roll advertisements are too similar to offline forms of advertising (print, TV), which consumers already find annoying. The difference on the web however, is that users have more choices than any other medium and they exhibit little patience for anything that takes away from their desired content. An article from BBC in May, 2008 reported web users to be exceptionally task driven:

Now, when people go online they know what they want and how to do it, [Jakob Nielsen] said.

This makes them very resistant to highlighted promotions or other editorial choices that try to distract them.

“Web users have always been ruthless and now are even more so,” said Dr. Nielsen.

“People want sites to get to the point, they have very little patience.”

As with any marketing campaign, a studio’s goal is to generate word of mouth so that people voluntarily spread awareness of their brand. But unlike the one way street of the old business model, which relied on studios bombarding consumers with advertisements in traditional media, today, a successful viral marketing campaign can best be initialized and sustained via online social communities. Through online social networks, blogs, email, video hosting sites, virtual worlds and many other web related technologies, connecting to an online community is not only incredibly easy, it’s practically unavoidable. These social media make it possible for word of mouth to extend across a local and global platform, where fans can voice their excitement about a brand in public arenas and formulate discussions with total strangers.

Accordingly, to spark ‘word of mouse’, studios have recently realized that their web presence must consist of more than a simple poster, trailer, and website. Such advertisements do not take advantage of today’s active, technologically savvy, information-hungry consumer. Similar to Askwith’s criticism of the television industry, the film industry must improve their understanding of our convergence culture and the new ways in which consumers engage with media.

It is not enough for a studio to produce new media content. Branded content that fails to be compelling will quickly be written off as a contrived marketing ploy. I will tackle what makes a transmedia campaign a success or a failure later, but in general, it is safe to say that there needs to be a sense of discovery for the consumer, either to expand the movie’s fictional world or to reveal a hidden part of it. The content must leave people wanting more so that they search for other branded content, rather than the other way around. Effective viral marketing can only occur when a studio trusts their fanbase to do the marketing for them and generate hype themselves. If studios can provide intriguing content, then fans will gladly discuss, theorize, and report their findings with their online communities, thus forming a word of mouth tidal wave.

Chris Thilk, on his blog Movie Marketing Madness, comments on the remarks of David Kosse, President of Universal Pictures Interntion. While he commends the executive’s instinct to embrace audiences with online tools, he asserts that Kosse is going about it in the wrong way:

Kosse mentions the MySpace site for Knocked Up and a YouTube clip of Rowan Atkinson for Mr. Bean’s Holiday as two ways the studio engaged in a “two-way dialogue” with the audience.

Except that those aren’t really conversational executions. You can tell because while the visitor and viewer can leave comments and “friend” the page or add the clip as a favorite, there’s no reciprocal communication. The studio talks to the audience, the audience has a mechanism to respond and the conversation ends.

That’s not an engaging conversation, that’s call-and-response.

Thilk’s remarks highlight the way marketing has changed in the digital age. The power has shifted from the studios telling consumers what movies they should see to audiences deciding on their own. Imagine if you could communicate with a character of a movie on AIM or Facebook? Or if studios encouraged user generated content and contests for best trailer remix or fan video instead of sending ‘cease and desist’ orders for such work? Studios must engage in an online dialogue to give fans a reason to blog, email, and chat. They must become part of the community.

Perhaps I have gone too far. Communicating directly with fans may be too big a step for movie studios…but upholding their end of the conversation by providing valuable story information is not. To accomplish this, many movies entice fans by blurring the real world and the fictional world. Take for instance, Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Dark Knight. Transmedial content includes the WhySoSerious alternate reality game, The Gotham Times, and the Gotham Cable News. These marketing devices are completely consistent with the film’s realistic and dark tone. The content not only includes the real actors from the movie and sets up the core themes, but it also invites potential movie goers to discover background story information leading directly up to the film’s explosive beginning. In this way, consumers become immersed in Batman’s world; they experience his adventures as a citizen of Gotham City, rather than as passive observers of a fictional place.

Thus, to adapt to the digital age, studios must find a way to reciprocate their side of conversation and provide content which tells the consumer that their efforts to enter a fictional world will be rewarded with valuable background story information or character development. When studios do launch online campaigns, they either become too dependent on old marketing strategies or their new media content is unoriginal and tonally inconsistent, limiting consumer enthusiasm.

Chapter 2: “The Economic Advantages of Transmedia” coming soon…