Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Following is a Symptom of What's Wrong with Indie Film...

From The Guardian via Denis:  

The Uma Thurman film so bad it made £88 on opening weekend

Motherhood's disastrous performance at the box office provokes bitter confrontation between producer and UK distributor.

Over its opening weekend, no more than a dozen people went to see Motherhood, a semi-autobiographical account of stressed-out Manhattan parenting written and directed by Katherine Dieckmann. The film made just £88 on the weekend of Friday 5 March. On its debut Sunday, box office takings were £9, meaning one person bought a ticket.
The disaster has now degenerated into a bitter confrontation between Metrodrome, responsible for marketing the film in the UK, and producer Jana Edelbaum, who blames the company for Motherhood's atrocious performance.

Edelbaum is adamant that Metrodome must be to blame, and insisted that she would demand a full explanation. "Think how much crap succeeds at the cinema," she said. "Motherhood is not bad. It's a very decent movie. I've seen movies that are not half as good."

Now, I am skipping over some details here, that are covered more fully in the Guardian article. Please read it thoroughly because it will season the meat of the matter that I am about to cut into.

People ask me all the time to take a look at their film and tell them what's wrong with it.  Actually, they don't say that so much as they want me to lavish praise on all their hard work,  pat them on the back and send them on their way armed with the secret handshake that will get them into the distributor's wallet so they can brag about how their movie got picked up by [insert name of distributor here]  at their local coffee shop.

It sounds stupid to you too, right?

In dealing with the specifics of the article I have to lay blame at the feet of two parties in this disaster:

1. The Producer.
2. The Distributor and its marketing team.

I 'blame' them both because I really don't see the need for this movie to exist in the first place. A movie that the reporter describes as a " a semi-autobiographical account of stressed-out Manhattan parenting" sounds boring, pretentious and exclusive.  If I live in the UK (or even in the US)  what possible reason would I have to think that I can relate to the problems of motherhood in Manhattan?  Let me tell you something - the only people who care about Motherhood in Manhattan are mothers in Manhattan, and that's an extremely small audience.

Let's go beyond that: If I were a Manhattan mother and wanted to go to the movies, don't you think I would want to see something beyond what I deal with in my everyday life?  If I'm going to spend $20 for a movie ticket you better thrill me, make me laugh or seriously make me cry.  And if  I cant get Manhattan mothers to go see the movie, how can I expect people in the UK to pony up hard-earned pounds to go see a movie like that?


But wait, Bill! What about Uma Thurman? Certainly she gives good box-office doesn't she?

Yes, in movies where she is kicking ass, getting bloody or doing something unusual. Namely, PULP FICTION - KILL BILL VOLS. 1,2 - and  GATTACA.  Movies that guys want to see as much as their girlfriends want to... seriously.

(Let's not get into the fact that anecdotally I have been in 3-4 conversations about Uma Thurman movies, and the first words out of most women's mouths on the subject are, "I don't think she's all that hot.")

So let's boil it down to a poor choice in subject matter for a movie and poor casting.  This isn't to reflect on Ms. Thurman whose movies I've mentioned above I quite enjoy, think she's extremely good in,  and count as classics.

Then we have the abysmal choice of words from the producer, "Think how much crap succeeds at the cinema," she said. "Motherhood is not bad. It's a very decent movie. I've seen movies that are not half as good."

Not exactly a bell-ringing endorsement of the product she produced is it?  Sort of a " Well at least it's not government cheese"  comment.  Fuck me sideways, but if I don't believe in something then I don't waste my time trying to make it.  If I like something I hang in there to the end. I don't make excuses.

(And by saying "I"  I am actually saying "You as producer" )

Metrodome's faults lie in a poor marketing and distribution strategy that thought exclusivity was a good thing.  In this instance they excluded everyone by communicating a poor selling point to the movie, and went further by not knowing where Uma Thurman's fans reside in the marketplace.  I don't even have to see the movie to understand that - the reporter has communicated the complete lack of any clue as to how to sell this movie to the general public.  I truly don't even know what genre the movie isn't stated in the article.

And therein lies the problem.  Neither the producer, the creatives nor the distributor realized they actually had to get out there and sell the movie.  They had a "build it and they will come" strategy that never works.  They let ego rule the roost instead of figuring out what they needed to do - a better trailer targeted at her fans.  A complete re-edit of the movie, a gag order on the producer from speaking to the press.

Because like it or not,  you're going to have to sell your movie to someone:  To the distributor who will pick it up and continue your sales pitch that convinced him to acquire it. To the press who will communicate that pitch to the mainstream. To the diehard fans as to why they absolutely, positively must see this movie (and buy the book).

But that sort of commerce-forward thinking is poison to these artist types who just want to make their movies... excuse me, "films."

And $5 million +  later, everyone is left holding the bag and looking for someone to blame:

But Edelbaum defended the film: "Our effort was noble. It's a love letter about how difficult it is to be a mum and an individual, and have an identity outside of that. I think we have proved that mothers are too busy to have fun. That they are overstretched and overburdened by the difficulties of their job."

Others, however, disagreed. "It's a yummy-mummy newspaper column splurged onto celluloid, like baby sick on your best cashmere sweater," said Ellen E Jones on film review website, Total Films. "This whiny drivel makes me ashamed to be a woman," said Wendy Ide on the website Rotten Tomatoes – which gave the film a rock-bottom 20% Tomatometer success rating.

Indie film? Get over yourself.  We're just not that into you...


Emily Blake said...

A movie about "how mothers are too busy to have fun" sounds like a movie of a mom cleaning dishes and doing laundry. I can get that by watching reality TV for free, or by going over to my mom's house. How boring is that? She even says it's not fun.

Cunningham said...

I had the thought that you could remake the trailer along the lines of something like:

"You've seen her in PULP FICTION"

(Show car crash, needle plunging in heart)

"She kicked ass in KILL BILL."

(show bloody battle scenes with plenty of blood spray...)

"Now, Uma Thurman takes on her greatest battle ever..."

(Show baby crying, puking, pissing, spilling milk,...Uma arguing with others, falling down... make it funnier and funnier, fast cuts like an action movie)


Credits...then cap it off with a scene of a funny line. Uma saying something funny, or another character asking her, "Do you really want to do this?"

Even if you couldn't use the footage from her previous films you could still create something action-oriented then subvert expectations by showing it's about being a mother.

But seriously, you have to bring the FUNNY to something like this to make it a universal theme. It CAN'T be about MANHATTAN moms because no one outside Manhattan wants to hear their whining.

Jon Molly said...

Be fair. There's a market for serious movies about mothers in Manhattan. There probably isn't a five million dollar market for them, mind you...