Adolescent boys not the only audience
There’ s more to movie marketing than short skirts Sandy George and silly scripts, writes
DO dumb and dumber decide what is on at the movies? A cursory look at what is playing at the local multiplex certainly seems to indicate that Hollywood makes films designed to appeal to a lowest common denominator of adolescent boys.
But things are not as grim as they appear. For a start, the noise used to sell films to male teens and young men is just one factor behind the common assumption that they are catered for better than anyone else.
According to Mike Baard, managing director of Universal Pictures International Australasia,
The manner in which we market to men is more ‘‘ likely to be visually driven and focused around big action sequences on television. Think back to the way the White House was blown up in Independence Day : for males you could encapsulate the film in that one sequence.
But if you have a film with an overtly female ‘‘ appeal, which is perhaps more story- driven, that does not lend itself to a 15- second TV spot, you are compelled to market it in a different manner. ’’
The advertising spend might instead be concentrated on the dozens of celebrity- driven women ’ s magazines. People who go through life never buying these publications or reading them in the supermarket queue never see how much film advertising they carry, and they are less likely to have heard of a film advertised in this way rather than via dramatic commercials on the box in the lounge room.
But there is more to this than just advertising noise: there is no doubting that what appeals to young men puts many bums on an enormous number of seats.
Young males don ’ t so much have a direct ‘‘ influence but they are a huge target audience, ’’ says a key executive from one of the big US studios in Los Angeles. The relationship between young men and film seemed like such an
The Australian started innocuous topic when asking exhibitors and distributors about it, but here and in LA there was a great reluctance to talk about it on the record.
There are two aspects to this. As a group they ‘‘ are studied, polled and analysed in terms of tastes and trends and movies to be made. We ask what they want in terms of story, character, cast, dress and music.
And then a great amount of time and thought ‘‘ and money goes into how to market to them. We ask where they are, what they watch and who and what influences them, ’’ says the executive.
For movie marketers young males is also a relative term. According to the Australian head of one US studio, If the principle is true that men
‘‘ never grow up, then films for 16 to 24- year- olds are as applicable to 24 to 49- year- old men. ’’
Think about this in terms of Angelina Jolie. She brought to life one of the most widely known video game characters in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life , and with her appearance in Beowulf she has become this decade ’ s poster girl for women in action films. Jolie added human flesh to Lara ’ s comic- book bones but in her role as the monster
Beowulf , she turns into Grendel ’ s mother in seductive blow- up doll. She has already extinguished all memory of her character Marianne, the widow of journalist Daniel Pearl — who was murdered by terrorists — in A Mighty Heart .
One of the reasons Lara Croft, the video ‘‘ game and the movie, was so big with males was because of the short skirts and big boobs,’’ says Shane Abbess, a keen gamer and the maker of the recent stylish Australian action film Gabriel . If
‘‘ boys played with Barbies when they were kids and girls played with GI Joes, then maybe films would be different. ’’
But because what Hollywood really wants is to make money, the industry grail is one- sizeappeals- to- all films that reach many more people than boys of all ages.
Says Sydney- based Ian Sutherland, former senior vice- president of distribution and marketing at MGM in LA, I have sat in meetings about
‘‘ a male- skewed quadrant movie ’’ ( the quadrants are male and female, under and over 25) and the
‘‘ head of the company will ask, How are we going
‘ to get the girls in?’ You want to say, Well, you’ re
‘ not, it’ s all blokes, it’ s all slashing and bashing. ’ But you sit there and work out a way to try and target women. ’’ Consider the five most successful movies
Harry Potter and released last year in Australia: the Order of the Phoenix , Shrek the Third , Pirates of the Caribbean: At World s End , The
’ Simpsons Movie and Transformers . Harry Potter and Shrek grew out of books and the other sequel, Pirates , has its origins in various attractions at Disneyland theme parks. The Simpsons Movie was the long- awaited spin- off of a cult TV series, and the origin of Transformers was a line of Japanese toys. There have been other incarnations too.
Every one of these films is as much a brand as a film. The studios don ’ t even have to tell potential audiences what they are, just that they are coming to a cinema screen nearby. And, while they pull in young men, they also appeal to everybody else in the family.
Sure, the budgets are big but the subject matter is sufficiently well known to attract big audiences, and once the DVD and merchandising revenues flow in, all is forgiven, whatever the filmmaker spent. Besides, their release improves the environment for a sequel in the near future.
Films are also seasonal. Family movies screen at Christmas. Quality adult fare will be at its most abundant early in the year, in the lead- up to the Academy Awards. Distributors pack romantic comedies close to St Valentine ’ s Day. Australia gets a lot of the big, robust action pictures midyear, mainly because they are released for the American summer. And so on.
But movie distributors also try to make sure there is something for everyone at all times: in the trade it ’ s called counter- programming.
Even though it might not look like it at the multiplex, there is simply not enough money to be made by pitching a film to a single segment of the market, no matter how much its members go to the cinemas.
But young people do go a lot. In 2006, 85.2 per cent of 14 to 24- year- old Australians went to the movies at least once, according to Roy Morgan Research data. The figure falls to 75 per cent for 25 to 34- year- olds and drops further for older age groups. Teens and people in their early 20s also go most often, seeing an average of nine films at the cinema each year.
However, while the audience is young, it ’ s not all male. If dumb is a boy his friend dumber is just as likely to be a girl, who sees the same films he does. She is either second- guessing his wishes on his Saturday night preferences — and remember, they are not as time poor as older audiences, so they are less fussy — or she likes the same films he does.
Saw IV was the most In October, horror film popular movie on the weekend it opened in the US and there were more women than men in the audience. Audience exit polling hardly happens in Australia but there is no reason to think the trend wasn’ t the same here.
Why women love on- screen horror is not widely discussed. According to LA- based Australian actor Radha Mitchell, here in November to promote her crocodile chiller
Rogue , thrillers and horror movies hugely appeal to women. You
‘‘ can project your own anxieties and tensions on to the characters when watching these kinds of films, without having to live them out in the real world, ’’ she says. These days many young women also flock to comedies full of fart jokes and sexual innuendo, such as Superbad , Knocked Up and anything starring Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell or Owen Wilson, laughing themselves stupid at how dumb- arse the male characters are in these films.
Trish Lake, president of the Screen Producers Association of Australia, one of the producers of the very blokey Australian film, Gettin
’ Square , says she took her two teenage daughters to see Knocked Up, which is more or less about what the title implies, for its educational value. She thought the filmmakers had tremendous insight into how men find secret women ’ s business a minefield and how men and women don ’ t understand each other and probably never will.
I wanted to impart to my teenage daughters ‘‘ that life is always going to be challenging because both men and women find it very hard to see each other ’ s point of view, ’’ Lake says. That film laid
‘‘ the truth out fairly and squarely in all its crassness with genuinely funny, earthy humour ’’.
Abbess also points out that a lot of young women loved the Lara Croft movies because they strongly identified with its kick- butt, take- no-
Alien movies prisoners feminine hero. Ditto the because of Ellen Ripley ( played by Sigourney Weaver), the Matrix sci- fi flicks because of Trinity ( Carrie- Ann Moss), and The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day because of the character Sarah Connor ( Linda Hamilton).
James Bond would be a shadow of himself without a love interest but sticking women like this in action films excites the gentlemen and the wannabe women.
More films that appeal to both sexes, albeit for different reasons, will only arrive if there is a significant shift in Hollywood, in the executive offices and on the sets, says Abbess. Not surprisingly, he’ s more comfortable talking about this sort of thing than are the blokes in executive roles.
But don’ t count on such films arriving any time soon, at least while producers can make films for men that young women are also willing to watch. Last week I had a very engaging conversation about cinema with the funky 19- year- old who was waxing my legs. She told me she sees more than 100 films a year. Like Mitchell, she is a big fan of horror and particularly likes the ones that scare her out of her wits.
I asked her why she didn ’ t resent the way women were often depicted in film. She didn ’ t understand the question at first and I had to explain that I had been thinking about the many times female characters are just decorations or the target of sexual violence. Films just reflect
‘‘ real life, ’’ she eventually said with a shrug.
She hadn ’ t yet seen Quentin Tarantino’ s new movie,
Death Proof , but a friend had downloaded it illegally from the internet and she was looking forward to it. I wondered whether she and her boyfriend would see it as one giant car chase rather than the ultimate chick revenge flick, which is how I saw it. ( She and I were scathing about the kind of films commonly described as chick flicks, epitomised by romantic comedies.) Death Proof s story is simple: Stuntman Mike
’ ( Kurt Russell) kills women, women kill Stuntman Mike. Think Thelma and Louise on speed. Few chick revenge films are released and few are as good as this one. Dutch film A Question of Silence , which opens with the murder of a boutique proprietor, stands out. Last year there was the independent US movie Hard Candy. In each of these films a man does bad to one or more women and one or more women take revenge. If their response is out of proportion, the message is that this is just payback for the way women have suffered at the hands of men since time immemorial. Everyone in the audience understands this, but a female of my generation is more likely to rail against it than someone of my legwaxer’ s age.
A key to the success of films is to address big universal questions, so here ’ s a beauty: why aren ’ t there more chick revenge films? The reason is a lot more complicated than blaming it all on the taste of adolescent boys.
Ready for action:
Angelina Jolie took Lara Croft into the world of curves in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Hollywood and busts