By DONALD PORTER
If you were running a business -- a multimillion dollar corporation, let's say -- and you had invested millions of dollars in a new product, wouldn't you try to market it, to recoup your money?
Well, not if you're calling the shots at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the motion picture studio. If you're the individual who makes distribution decisions for the financially troubled movie factory, you decide to take a perfectly pleasant, entertaining, fresh comedy called “Some Girls” and dump it into a few dollar theaters in remote locations for a week before shoving it out on videocassette.
Local moviegoers were treated to this very scenario last week, as “Some Girls” opened in a second-run theater, the Newgate Cinemas, for a dollar per person and one screening nightly, at 9:40 p.m.
This is a good example of several things: the ruthlessness of the movie business, the willingness to write off millions of dollars as a loss without even trying to market a film and the horrifying effect a booming videocassette rental industry is having on Hollywood marketing decisions.
When “Some Girls” was screened at the United States Film Festival in Park City two months ago, producer Michael Hoffman expressed doubts the film would receive any distribution. His fears, he said, were based primarily on recent management changes at the studio. As is so often the case, one regime will approve financing for a film and see it through production, only to be fired on or about the completion date. The incoming executives, not wanting to have any of their predecessors’ films do well, intentionally downplay or ignore the films and put their efforts into creating a brand new slate of pictures they can call their own.
I would have thought “Some Girls” might not fall into that danger zone, given that Robert Redford was the executive producer of the film. The fact that MGM was willing to dump a project Redford was associated with indicates to me that the studio is experiencing major difficulties; three-piece suits usually try to avoid offending powers like Redford.
The studio has been rumored for months to be a possible target for a Japanese purchase, with the likely buyer being Sony Corp., which reportedly has been looking to buy an American movie studio for some time. MGM hasn't had a hit -- or released many movies -- for a long while. I'm no marketing executive, but “Some Girls” was a fine film with real potential. It's sexy, funny and smart -- fairly atypical qualities for many comedies these days.
Anyway, it's gone from the Newgate now. There were about 50 people at the screening I attended Monday night, and people laughed a lot. If you missed it, “Some Girls” is due out on videocassette April 18. I suppose MGM will recover its original investment and then some from the sales to video, cable and network television. It's a pity more people couldn't see it on the big screen.
And speaking of marketing decisions, Terry Gilliam's new movie, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” is scheduled to be released next week. Gilliam previously directed “Time Bandits” and “Brazil.” And, once again, his studio doesn't seem to know how to sell his movie.
In the March issue of American Film, the director said he disagreed with the scientific method used by the market-research team. The team ignored the differing reactions of blue-collar and white-collar workers in the test audiences.
“Anybody in the theaters listening to the two audiences knows that (the white-collar crowd) liked it more,” Gilliam told the magazine. “Yet, the scientific method didn't distinguish. Both of (the separate groups’ reactions) looked pretty bad, so the panic level was rising. They may as well get witch doctors to shake bones or cut a sheep open and look at its entrails.”
Market research is “a way of avoiding individual responsibility, it seems to me,” Gilliam said. “It gives everybody an out. If the film doesn’t work, it’s not their fault. The scientific method showed that people didn’t like it” even thought the white-collar crowd sounded as if they were enjoying themselves.
In two weeks, when the box office reports are in, we’ll see who was right.
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