Jennifer Lawrence once showed me a cell phone snap of herself dressed in a fierce black leather outfit.
She was hot off the success of her Oscar nominated work in Winter’s Bone and used the photo as part of her audition for a role that every actress of a certain age in Hollywood clamoured for in 2010.
She didn’t get the part of Lisbeth Salander, the pierced and inked computer hacker star of David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—the producers thought she was too tall—Rooney Mara did, but not before auditioning five times and beating out better known hopefuls like Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Anne Hathaway.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was 2011’s big literary adaptation, ripe with star making possibilities and lucrative franchise potential. It didn’t pan out that way but Hollywood hasn’t given up on bringing bestsellers to the screen.
This week there are high hopes for Fifty Shades of Grey. Calling the story of college graduate Anastasia Steele and BDSM enthusiast Christian Grey a “literary” adaptation might be a stretch, but with 100 million books sold (including parts two and three) there are great expectations.
So, actors should be crawling over one another to star in the film, right? Think again. Unlike Dragon Tattoo, young Hollywood has not exactly been whipping themselves into a frenzy over Fifty Shades. Shailene Woodley apparently had no qualms about performing the film’s explicit bondage scenes, but was already tied up making the Divergent movies.
Emma Watson did have qualms. “Who here actually thinks I would do Fifty Shades of Grey as a movie?” she wrote on twitter.
In the end Dakota Johnson, better known as the daughter of Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith than for her work on the cancelled sitcom Ben and Kate, won the role and while it might make her a star there are dangers involved with a project like this. Just ask Elizabeth Berkley.
Berkley was a wholesome teen model and star of the sit com Saved by the Bell when a role in Paul Verhoeven’s 1995 sexploitation flick Showgirls left her career in tatters. As the untested star who bared her soul and body in a big budget film she took the hit for the film’s failure.
Almost twenty-years later she was still emotional about the backlash she suffered. After a performing an erotic dance on Dancing with the Stars she tearfully said, “it reconnected me to when I was just a young woman and took a risk creatively and did Showgirls. With that came a lot of doors being slammed in my face.”
Will Johnson be the next Berkley? According to ticket-selling site Fandango Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest selling R-rated title ever, so Dakota may yet be spared a tearful breakdown in Dancing with the Stars in 2035.
Sony went through an interesting few days the other week as their Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trailer leaked, though many thought the studio itself was responsible (they said no, and eventually removed the R-rated trailer from the Web before officially releasing a nudity-free version). Meanwhile, the next Batman movie is already heating up the Internet with its viral campaign, even though the movie won’t be out until an entire year from now. Add to that the clever ad schemes for Super 8 and the new Muppet movie, and there’s an argument to be made that you can no longer market a movie with junkets and trailers … you have to have secrets and mystery. In this week’s Culture Club, the Post’s Ben Kaplan asks whether studios can keep people guessing.
This week’s Culture Clubbers
– Dr. Doris Baltruschat, author of Global Media Ecologies: Networked Production in Film and Television and an instructor in the film department at the University of British Columbia.
– Richard Crouse, film critic and host of In Short on Bravo!
– Barry Avrich, founder of Endeavour Marketing and the director of Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project.
Doris Viral marketing for feature films hasn’t “peaked” yet because we’ve only seen cross-media advertising strategies for certain genres such as adventure, sci-fi and action movies. We’ve yet to see a campaign that engages viewers from ages six to 60. This brings up the question of whether viral marketing could be successfully applied to other genres such as family, drama and even art-house films.
Richard I agree with Doris that viral marketing hasn’t come close to peaking, but I question how effective some viral campaigns have been. Snakes on a Plane and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World are two examples of movies that ate up their fair share of Internet space and yet still under-performed at the box office.
Barry So far, there doesn’t seem to be a direct correlation between the amount of interest online and the box office.
Doris It’s likely that viral marketing will become more popular in the future, especially when the gaming aspects of campaigns move beyond the current “solve this mystery” to get access to a movie’s trailer or poster.
Richard Is it possible that for certain kinds of movies — like sci-fi and horror — viral marketing is simply a tool to alert fanboys (and girls) that there’s a new movie out there to download instead of checking out in the theatre?
Barry Love it or hate it, there’s no playing with the volume with regards to viral marketing. As both a filmmaker and marketing guy, this is a game of swallowing swords. It’s dangerous, but you can get a ton of attention. Ultimately it’s an awareness tool with the potential of imploding a film as you can’t lower the volume on a dud.
Doris This brings up the question of costs, as well as skills, for rolling out a marketing campaign. Considering the million-plus budget for the Dark Knight campaign by 42 Entertainment, which involved a team of marketers and lasted for a year, how can independent filmmakers in Canada remain competitive?
Richard I don’t think it’s realistic to think that Canadian or American or any other independent filmmakers can compete with the bottomless pockets of the studios. It’s more a question of having to figure out a cost-effective way to make yourself heard. It’s impossible to predict what kind of marketing will go viral; despite its digital imprint, success on the Internet is still an organic thing that must happen naturally, so indie filmmakers must rely on their wits rather than their pocketbooks. The trick is being heard above all the cyber noise.
Barry While I usually agree with my much taller friend Richard, I must beg to differ. You can’t compete or out-spend the majors on a TV or print buy, but if you’re provocative and creative, you can make way more noise than studios who are faced with endless levels of approvals and branding rules.
Richard I hadn’t figured in the endless layers of approvals, but I’d also add that big corporations are less likely to be as provocative for fear of alienating Gladys in Peterborough or their stockholders. Indie artists have the freedom to push the envelope in a way the majors don’t.
Barry The lesson here is: don’t blend in and be provocative even if you offend Gladys.
Ben Is it only with marketing or has the Internet also changed the way we make films?
Richard I’d say it’s eroded people’s attention spans to the point where movies aimed at young Internet-savvy users are more concerned with pace than story, or character arcs.
Barry Long before the Web, the VCR and the DVD machine did enough damage by turning movie theatres into giant living rooms where people are free to talk loudly, eat like pigs and bump my seat. I think more people are watching movies as a result of the Web and Netflix.
Richard Maybe so, but they’re watching them differently. I hate to think that the next generation’s idea of “going to the movies” is ordering from Netflix and eating pizza while the movie unspools on an iPad.
These days it seems there are almost as many movies set in Sweden as there are Billy bookshelves in college dorms. The original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo books and movie series kicked off a thirst for all things Scandinavian.
Headhunters, a Norwegian noir, was a big hit recently at the Toronto International Film Festival and Let the Right One In placed vampires against a snowy, stark white Swedish backdrop.
This weekend the Americanized version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo opens, starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in the roles Swedish superstars Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Repace made famous. Shot in Sweden, the movie promises open landscapes, the crunch of snow underfoot and even the odd fjord.
Suddenly, it seems people are hungry for movies from Sweden, Norway and Denmark, but there has always been a smorgasbord of cinema available from that part of the world.
No discussion of Scandinavian cinema can be complete without mentioning Ingmar Bergman. Woody Allen named him “the greatest film artist since the invention of the motion picture camera,” and Francis Ford Coppola called him “my all-time favourite.”
If you haven’t seen The Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries, you should; they are both classics. But you have undoubtedly seen movies inspired by or parodying Bergman’s work.
His famous Seventh Seal scene of Death playing chess has been mimicked in everything from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey to Woody Allen’s play Death Knocks, which features a man playing gin rummy with Death.
More recently a Norwegian mockumenary called Troll Hunter earned praise from critics all over the world. One writer said this Blair-Witch-style story of cave-dwelling trolls and the government-sponsored hunters who track them was “destined to be a classic of its kind.”
Another said, “You’ll want to catch this clever movie before Hollywood ruins everything with a dumb remake.”
Denmark has a thriving film industry. Since 1956 they’ve entered 40 flicks for Best Foreign Film consideration at the Academy Awards.
At last year’s Oscars Susanne Bier’s drama In a Better World beat Canada’s entry Incendies to take home Best Foreign Film.
The best-known Danish films of recent years have been made by Lars von Trier, the distinctive and controversial director of Breaking the Waves and this year’s Melancholia. As well known for his depressed behaviour as he is for his films, Von Trier once said, “Basically, I’m afraid of everything in life, except filmmaking.”