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True Hollywood Marketing Stories™ vol. #1

It's part of the job that you get projects that are fun to work on for one reason or another (big movie, classic, something you really liked, etc.) and then there are projects that aren't so much fun (the studio is basically dumping this title, Pauly Shore movies, etc.). A while back, I was given one of the latter.

The studio had been going round and round with the primary star of this particular movie. They were trying to get a key art* approved. This was a dog title. It had sat on the shelves for something on the order of 2 years. There's generally one reason for a movie not getting a release: it sucks. There are occasionally other reasons, but the when it doubt, it's this one.

This movie didn't have the makings of an out and out suckfest. The primary star is a well-known comedic actor, was teamed up with another well-known and liked comedic actor, co-starred an major award-winning actor and was directed by an award-winning director. On paper it looked good. But its tomato meter is below 10%.


So the studio has gone countless rounds with the star, trying to get them to approve something. The star doesn't have contractual approval rights, but this star has another hit movie out as well as more projects in the pipeline with the same studio and they want to keep the star happy. They've given the star something on the order of 100 versions. So far, no good.

They call us up to basically have someone to take a fresh stab at it. We're given the direction that the star wants something more sophisticated. Said star doesn't want it to look "sophomoric".

I get the idea that the star has never seen the finished movie. It's not Gigli-bad, but one thing it is not is sophisticated, in any way.

So we get to work on it. There is another issue with this title: there is practically no photography and half of what we have is of such poor quality as to be unusable. Joy.

So we put together about 8 really cool designs for our first round submission. There's a couple that would have really stood out on the shelf. Good stuff. We submit, wait a litttle, and get feedback from the client. They want to go further in one direction. This continues for a few rounds and all of a sudden we're in the 20's.

At this point, some (or maybe all, I don't know) of the designs are passed by the star. Apparently the star likes them, but has now decided that they don't want to be on the cover of the box at all.

So we pick up our jaws off the floor and get to work doing layouts with only the co-star. We do some wild, cool stuff. We're getting graphic with some of the designs, no photos. At the home entertainment end of the spectrum we generally don't get to flex our chops so much, so in some ways this has become a cool project. We finish more designs and submit to the client for approval. Pretty soon we are in the 60's.

Then the client calls. The studio has decided that because this movie was such a turkey, it would be unfair to the co-star to have the DVD's success on their shoulder's alone, so we are to come up with some more designs without. any. stars.

So now we have two names and a title that has no value attached to it. All we do have is some concrete direction from the client as to how to proceed, so we manage to get an approved design (after crossing the 80 mark).

Now we're getting into finishing the art, which means that our retouchers work on it so that it looks as good as possible when it gets printed. This is generally this easiest part of a project.

But not this time.

We wind up doing about 20 versions of the "approved" key art, as the client tweaks two elements ad nasuem. We have to shoot (photograph) people from the office daily for about a week until this one is put thankfully to rest.

So a title that bombed at the theaters goes to around 200 designs for the DVD cover and has not one, but both stars cut out of it. (And no, my 100+ designs were not a record for me.)

It's stories like these that make me think that the studio assertion that movies don't make profits might be true.


But this story was all true.

*'Key art' is the term used for a movie's main poster. When it comes to the home entertainment side of things, 'key art' comes to mean the front of the DVD/VHS package. Sometimes this is the same as the movie's theatrical poster, but a lot of times it is a new or a derivative design (generally for marketing purposes.)


Latigo Flint said…
Sir, your true hollywood tale is bitchin'! (The first line of my comment underwent 1 revision - the addition of "Sir".)

I quelled my frenzy of curiosity over which movie it was by driving a staple through the back of my hand. Yep, that's gonna get infected.
Zach Pennington said…
Thank you, Latigo. I apologize for the self inflicted wound, but I cannot do more than I have already done. The clues are there.

I hope that the infection doesn't affect your quickdraw too much.

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