Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why Didn't "Knight and Day" Make Tons and Tons of Money its Opening Weekend? The LA Times Does Some Real Journalism to Find Out!

The new Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz movie "Knight and Day" has made what seems to me a respectable $29.5 million since opening last week. That's a lot more money than I've ever made for any of my films. I'd be happy with it.

But then, I'm not a big superstar like Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz. So people are wondering why this movie opened so "disappointingly." It came in third against the new Pixar movie, "Toy Story 3" (I haven't seen this one yet, but I hear one of the new toys is a vibrator -- that kid is growing up!), and the new Adam Sandler movie "Grown Ups" (which also involves a vibrator in some way, probably).

It's probably just a case of people wanting to see the new Pixar movie, or wanting to see the new Adam Sandler movie, more than they want to see either Mr. Cruise or Ms. Diaz. That happens. I'm not going to go back over the histories of Pixar, Sandler, Cruise, or Diaz grosses. We are also going through a recession, and people are probably being more careful how they spend their "disposable income." If they're not highly motivated to see a film, they'll wait for the DVD, or cable showing. But that apparently isn't enough for Hollywood. There has to be some concrete reason, and it must relate directly to "Knight and Day."

So over at the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein is attempting to come to grips with this important question.
So it's no surprise that all of the industry buzz over the weekend has focused on the rocky opening for "Knight and Day," the supposed sure-thing romantic action comedy that did a belly flop at the box office, barely topping $20 million for the three-day weekend (giving it $27.8 million in five days of release).
Remember, this is the Los Angeles Times. This is the big, for-profit advertising delivery pamphlet for one of the largest cities in America. And in that paper, a movie that made $27.8 million in five days of release is said to have done "a belly flop."

That seems a bit harsh to me. Some context as to why $27.8 million in 5 days is considered a "belly flop" might be nice.

But there's no time for that -- the blame game begins in earnest:
In Hollywood, when a movie fails to open, the blame game begins in earnest. Many in the media thought the problem started with Cruise, who did tons of press for the film but couldn't pull moviegoers into the multiplexes. Many in the industry, including several people close to the film, were privately pointing fingers at Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman, who picked the movie's title, its release date and micromanaged its marketing campaign, down to approving stills and press kits for the film.

Also coming under fire was Tony Sella -- Fox's co-president of marketing, who is viewed as one of the best in the business -- for having done a poor job of positioning the $117-million film, the studio's third consecutive dud of the summer, after "Marmaduke" and "The A-Team."
Is it still a bit early for a journalist, writing in a newspaper, to declare a film a "dud," after only five days in release? Does this man have the ability to see the future? Who knows how much money this movie is going to make over the course of its theatrical run (domestic and foreign territories, where Mr. Cruise is still a very big star), its DVD run, pay-per-view run, pay cable run, broadcast run?

A "dud"? After five days? It's just too much fun to play the "blame game," than to do any actual thinking about what you're laying blame for. Even the journalists who write for the newspapers do it!
Those close to the film contend that the movie's title was off-putting to younger moviegoers, saying it evoked wheezy, 1980s-era action films like "Tango and Cash."
I think the title was pretty bad, actually. It should have been called "Knight and Daye," with one of the characters named "Tom Knight," and the other named "Cameron Daye." With an "e." That would have been more clever. "Knight and Day" is only half as clever as my suggestion.

But it could have been worse. They could have put an "ampersand" in the title. Whoever decided not to put one of those atrocious and irritated little squiggles in the middle of the title has my gratitude.
They were also surprised to see Fox running posters and outdoor advertising that didn't have any images of Cruise and Diaz, opting instead of silhouette style cutouts of the actors -- if you're going to pay multiple millions to movie stars, why not get your money's worth from using a sexy photo of their images in the campaign?
Do these people really believe that the poster confused people? "I ain't gon' see that there movie! It sez Mr. Cruise an' Ms. Diaz 'er th' stars, but I don' see ther' purty faces nowheres on th' poster!"

It wasn't the poster. The poster is actually kind of interesting, in a stylized sort of way.
Sella found himself in a classic marketer's quandary. He'd been running an offbeat campaign to make the film feel unique. But once the audience registered its confusion with his campaign, he found himself simplifying the message, which created a new set of problems. "Once we decided to change the message to be as literal as we could be -- to help moviegoers understand the film -- then people started to say, 'Oh, I've seen that movie before. It's 'Mr and Mrs Smith' or it's 'True Lies.' And that was exactly what we'd tried not to do, to make the movie feel like something you'd seen before."
The audience was "confused"? I'd like to see the actual reports on that. Why doesn't the journalist, Mr. Goldstein, bother to actually tell us about the tracking, instead of taking the Fox representative, who has a vested professional interest in making himself look good after (remember) three consecutive "duds"?

Is it that the audience was confused, or that they just didn't care? As Sella himself says, once they made the campaign less "offbeat," the audience started to say "Oh I've seen that movie before."

That is a pretty bad sign.

The Thin Man trailer. That is a daring campaign. Compare it to Knight and Day's trailer:

More bad signs from Mr. Sella:
"If you're over 40, this movie was a rock star -- the whole concept, the Nick and Nora of it all," says Sella. "It's a grown up film. That was the whole theory behind selling the film, that it was a cool, adult movie, hence the poster and the graphics behind it. We wouldn't have called it 'Knight and Day' if we weren't going for an adult audience. I guess that if I'm guilty of anything, it's that I always believed an adult movie could work, even in the summer."
The "Nick and Nora of it all"? As in Nick and Nora Charles, from The Thin Man movies? Is he serious? He's going all the way back to the 1930s to justify his 2010 marketing campaign?

If you're going to bring up the Thin Man to justify yourself, why not just go ahead and rip off the poster? It's a great one. And William Powell and Myrna Loy were not the massively popular stars that Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are.

I love the Thin Man movies (actually, I love Myrna Loy; the Thin Man movies are decent not great) but I am what you might call eccentric. Or idiosyncratic. If you're trying to appeal to me, you've probably lost your cause.

I swim outside the mainstream.

And how is calling it "Knight and Day" in any way supposed to show you're going for "an adult audience"?

And then that bit about being "guilty" of believing an "adult movie could work, even in summer." Was Mr. Sella shaking his head wearily as he uttered those tragic words?

For crying out loud it is the fault of the marketing! You are "guilty" Mr. Sella! You tanked this "rock star" "Nick and Nora" movie!

Why did the Fox marketing guy have to sully the sexy and witty and delightful Myrna Loy and the witty and urbane and delightful Mr. William Powell in his defense of his marketing techniques?

Knight and Day poster pic source.
Thin Man poster pic source.
Thin Man pic source.

1 comment:

shampoo said...

i thought he was talking about nick and nora's infinite playlist. hehe i wonder, how does just the words knight and day say "this is a film for adults"?

there is definitely the recession and lack of disposable income as well as competition from other movies along with the fact movie tickets are at an all-time high. some people MIGHT have preferred to see this, but had to take their kids to see toy story or whatever. that's a portion of the grown up audience.

but... i wonder... how many screens was it on? was it on the main screen(s) or the smaller screen(s)? how many showings per day? matinee available or no? typical theaters now have about three different sizes of viewing rooms. a big opener should be in at least two of the biggest room playing about five times per day. but, i feel pretty strongly, this movie wasn't on those screens. toy story was. so, there's less tickets available. without the right screen support, is it even possible to put up the big numbers they want in a weekend?