Nobody Knows Anything (Still)

[I have evidently written about this topic before.]

So says William Goldman about what makes a film successful. The same is evidently true about film marketing. Yet, I wonder how hard people have tried, because when I see a film, it’s usually quite obvious to me whether it is good or not. And as for market, I frequently decide not to see a film in the theater because of the way it has been marketed, yet I frequently see films later that were much different than what I expected from the marketing.

Earlier that year, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” was released. I remember seeing it in the theater and hating it. I probably should have been tipped off by the shitty soft-focus effect they used in those days to cover up bad CGI, and, well, the title. I only went to see it because there was nothing else playing that weekend, and that’s the reason it topped the box office its opening weekend. It had a $70m budget, its domestic gross was $38m, and worldwide it only made $58m. The question that tantalizes me is, how long did they not know that the film sucked?

They must have known before it was released in theaters. Presumably they didn’t know when they were spending the $70m budget. Could they have known sooner? I remember that it was completely unengaging, but was that because of bad writing, or did production failures force a bad edit? I’m not going to read the script to find out. Reading the Wikipedia article about the film, I can see that the film was written and directed by an unknown, and not backed by any major studio. I imagine they were only able to scrape up $70m because of the actors who were interested in the project, and it appears that all of those people were interested only because the greenscreen + dieselpunk elements. Which just goes to show that technology can’t save a bad story.

In this case, I suspect that technology distracted investors from evaluating the story. As in, “if we make a film this way, it will inevitably be successful.” They were so convinced of this that they didn’t consider the script, didn’t read the script, or financed the film anyway despite having a bad script. Or perhaps they didn’t know a bad script when they read it. The major studios knew. That’s why they didn’t finance it.

I have written before about “Trumbo”, a great script that somehow resulted in a lifeless film.

On the topic of marketing, my favorite example is “Fight Club“. An awesome film that was marketed as a film about fighting. Of course it flopped in the box office. Who wants to see a film about fist fights? The log line is, “An insomniac office worker and a devil-may-care soap maker form an underground fight club that evolves into much more.” That’s so much better than any of the ads I remember seeing. The trailer up on IMDb is a little more informative than what I remember seeing. Maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention to the marketing, and I tuned out when it seemed to be about fist fights.

The trouble with film marketing is a huge factor in the constant sequels, series, remakes, and reboots we are subjected to. If Hollywood could figure out how to market films, we might all live better lives.