Ado­les­cent boys not the only au­di­ence

There’ s more to movie mar­ket­ing than short skirts Sandy Ge­orge and silly scripts, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

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

Hit:

Hol­ly­wood and busts

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