MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT
For Every Author Who Wants To Make Their Dreams Come True And Finish Writing Their Book! ...
Friday, February 27, 2009
If you’re a writer, director, composer, performer, producer—you’re an entrepreneur in the most challenging business of all—
The so-called business of self-expression known as “show business.”
But believe it or not, show business is not about you—it’s about your audience. That’s why I tell my clients—and myself—to take the WORK, not YOURSELF, seriously.
RULES FOR SUCCESS
1) Toughen up. It’s the ultimate school you’ve enrolled in, because the rules are always changing and you’re making them. If it wasn’t tough everybody would be doing it.
2) Because it’s a Recession, toughen up even more. The good news is that everyone is feeling it. Only the toughest will survive. What could be more exhilarating?
3) Persist. Endure. Continue. Shaw wrote “Pygmalion” in his old age. Henry Miller didn’t start until his late forties. Dune was rejected 36 times!
4) Dream Big—there are fewer people at the highest altitudes.
5) Redefine your inner circle: Associate with positive people. Stop associating with negative people. Be ruthless about this. Life is too short.
6) Stay off everyone’s “Life is too short” list.
7) Place no deadlines on your career.
8) Follow your instincts.
9) Don’t depend on luck or timing.
10) Take responsibility. No magic thinking. “I never get personally involved in my own affairs”—an actress once told me. Wrong approach!
11) Take charge of your own thinking. You can’t fail at being you so long as you focus and communicate it clearly.
12) Let go of the wrong kind of control. Even the most successful people can’t control everything. Arthur C. Clarke said, “The mark of intelligence is not to resent the invevitable.”
13) Figure out what you really want and start living as though you already have it. Form follows function. A client had gotten her wish: she’d been hired as a staff writer, but she was miserable. She’d forgotten to wish to be a staff writer on an intelligent series—now she was paying for her oversight.
14) Congratulate yourself and celebrate. “Let’s drink a toast to folly & to dreams—they are the only reasonable things.”—Paul Loup-Sulitzer
RULES FOR CONTINUATION
1) Keep moving forward despite your moods. “Never despair, but, even if you despair, work on in despair.”—Edmund Burke. Or as Ray Bradbury said: “Start doing more. It’ll get rid of all those moods you’re having.”
2) When things get tough, take a vacation. Don’t confuse fatigue with depression. No deadlines on your career.
3) The difficulty you are experiencing is normal--and necessary. Tom Hanks’ character to Madonna’s, in “A League of Their Own”: “Of course it’s hard. If it weren’t hard everyone would be doing it. The hard part is the great part.”
4) You’re the one who chose this life. You can do it.
5) Don’t doubt yourself. Lack of self-confidence never goes away. Those who succeed ask as though they don’t have it.
6) Face your fear. Make it your ally. Anxiety is a good sign. Remember what the Cajuns say: “If you ain’t scared, you aint’ doin’ anyting woithwhile.”
7) Try just “coasting” for awhile. Live in the present as much as you can. “If worse comes to worse, I’m happy now.”
8) Exercise—walk—travel—vacation--> regain your perspective.
[revised notes from keynote to South Florida Bar Association, South Beach]
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Lew Hunter's Superior Summer Screenwriting Colony 2008
Dates: June 14-27
You’re brimming with ideas and your fingers are itching to hit the keyboard. You desire – you have to – string your vision into a tangible, cohesive whole. It’s time to write that screenplay.
But where to start? Do you begin with characters or plot? Or you have a beginning but lose sight of your story in the middle and need some help with structure. Or you have the story, but don’t know how it ends. Or you have the whole shebang in your head, but haven’t written it yet!
Boy, some guidance would sure be swell.
Lew Hunter’s Superior Summer Screenwriting Colony, this coming June 14-27, immerses you into that nurturing, fulltime screenwriting experience you desire.
learn more >>
The Superior Summer Screenwriting Colony is designed to provide you with a productive, cocoon environment for your writing where you will be encouraged to progress from story idea, to treatment, to step-outline and finally to complete the First Act of the Screenplay (30 pages).
Ten advanced/pro writers will be in one section, and another ten rookies/"getting their toe into the water" writers will comprise the other section. UCLA Professors Valerie, Stephanie, Brenda or Dr. David will be professing along with Lew.
Lew will facilitate the best writing by creating an atmosphere of constructive feedback for all participants.
The Superior Summer Screenwriting Colony fills rapidly and it is strongly suggested that you submit an application at your earliest opportunity to ensure acceptance and availability.
All skill levels of writing experience are encouraged to apply and to participate. We can easily accommodate the most basic beginner to the most experienced professional. All writers will be respected, honored and supported through the writing process.
This is the complete immersion writing experience that will take your screenwriting and dreams to the next level. Don't put either on hold any longer. Enroll today.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
By Lita Rawdin Singer, Ph.D.
“Five Steps to Relationship Freedom”
Adam Was Trapped Eve Was Framed might not be the sweetest Valentine’s read—but it’s certainly one of the more useful. Part history lesson, part self-help manual, and part eye-opening introspection for anyone who’s ever been romantically involved, the book charts how religion and spirituality have combined to make our modern-day male/female relationships so disjointed and challenging.
Rather than dishing out technical psych jargon, Santa Barbara’s Dr. Lita Singer breaks things down into five easy-to-understand parts, all leading down the road to “relationship freedom.” So for those of us looking for some deeper insight than He’s Just Not the Into You this holiday, Adam Was Trapped has your answers—as well as some nifty factoids and exercises that will actually make them work for you.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
BY KANDACE POWER GRAVES
Novel Benefits Research
Dr. Nicolas Bazan, director of the Neuroscience Center of Excellence at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC), is donating a portion of the proceeds from his novel Una Vida: A Fable of Music and the Mind (Five Star Publications Inc., November 2008, $25.95) to his center's research on Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Una Vida is Bazan's first novel, but he has written 20 books and 800 articles and other pieces in his field of study, diseases of the eyes and brain. Bazan says he called on his professional knowledge in writing the book, set in New Orleans, about a neuroscientist and a street singer who suffers from Alzheimer's.
For more information about the book, visit www.unavidanovel.com.
In Dr. Nicolas Bazan's brilliant first novel, neuroscientist Alvaro Cruz finds himself haunted by a recurring dream of a banjo player in an elusive cornfield that leads him on a personal quest to uncover the mysterious past of a New Orleans street singer known as Una Vida. Stricken with Alzheimer s, Una Vida can only offer tantalizing clues about her past through her mesmerizing vocals, incredible recollection of jazz lyrics, and the occasional verbal revisiting of a fascinating life that s fading quickly and forever into the recess of her mind. As Cruz searches for Una Vida s true identity, he learns profound lessons about the human psyche, the nature of memory and himself.
Buy Una Vida on Amazon
Monday, February 23, 2009
I'm sure you guys know about "podcasting" as a means to distribute books, but I found the link to the Time Magazine article as interesting. Perhaps this is a mini-step for projects to develop a following, and then communicate such "viral" response to the "unpublished" work to attract the main line commercial publishers.
Read the article here: Podcasting Your Novel: Publishing's Next Wave? By Hector Florin
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Saturday, February 21, 2009
How to Escape Lifetime Security and Pursue Your Impossible Dream: A Guide to Changing Your Career: Excerpt
The never-satisfied mind
I was taught to be a perfectionist, but in a practical way. One hundred percent is the goal, but we aim for it with the foreknowledge that we're human and will never reach 100%, or if we do, we’ll maintain it only temporarily.
Yet 100% is a better goal than 88%, because if 88% is your goal you'll never hit 90%. So 100% is a better goal as long as you understand that goals are, almost by definition, unreachable because the enterprising goal-seeker will have set a second goal by the time he accomplishes the first. If your goal is to finance a $30 million film, by the time you've closed your deal for $28.6 million you'll be so busy planning your $75 million dollar film you won't be upset that you "fell short" by $1.4 million.
But the 100% standard is used by the Accountant as a superb sabotage mechanism. The Accountant uses the argument of "quality vs. quantity": "Yes, I know you could rush to production with this new Visionary script. But a million things can go wrong with it down the road and it's better to troubleshoot them all before you make an enormous laughingstock of yourself with an equally enormous liability. Let's do a quality job." So the Accountant proceeds to supervise an endless troubleshooting expedition that tunes, fine-tunes, and re-tunes the script to the point that it's no longer recognizable; or until someone else goes public with the same story. "But I want it to be 100% perfect," it argues when the Mind's Eye scolds it. "We'll settle for 98%," replies the Mind's Eye, realizing that such a compromise is required if we're going to reap the benefits of the Visionary's great idea and escape from “development hell.”
Without losing the spirit of the quest for excellence, the perfectionist, also known as “the judge” or “the critic,” must be tamed if you are to accomplish your goals, objectives, and dreams. How do you know when to stop fine-tuning? You don't. Rewrite can go on indefinitely. You set a deadline, beyond which you will cease fine-tuning and begin pre-production.
Friday, February 20, 2009
By Christopher Campbell
Yesterday, for the second time in two weeks, In Contention’s Kristopher Tapley confessed to being done with 2008 and noted a bunch of anticipated 2009 films. These aren’t necessarily titles he’s looking forward to seeing, though; it’s basically a preliminary jump on next year’s Oscar season. Because apparently this year’s Academy Awards are all but handed out, the winners properly predicted and expected, and now it’s time to think about what will be up for what in 2010. Those titles Tapley lists are Rob Marshall’s Nine, Peter Jackson’s Lovely Bones, Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, Clint Eastwood’s “Mandela“ (formerly The Human Factor), Richard Curtis’ The Boat That Rocked, Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart and the latest from Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Steven Soderbergh (The Informant), Paul Greengrass (Green Zone), Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island) and James Cameron (Avatar).
Thursday, February 19, 2009
(a) Point of view—a grippingly successful use of second-person POV, where the narrator addresses the reader directly.
(b) The fact that a protagonist, like Tarden in this novel, can be sympathetic without being likeable.
(c) The fact that reader’s turn pages because they can’t NOT turn the page. Here the narrator induces in us a combination of voyeurism, horror, and curiosity that compels us to keep reading about this despicable character whose nature is painted in a few short paragraphs:
Although we have known each other for a long time and have spoken often, we have never spoken intimately. I was intrigued by you the first time we met at your party. Since then, I have wanted to see you alone but could never bring myself to ask.
You probably do not recall that, during the party, I headed toward one of the bathrooms, locking your bedroom door behind me. If anyone had tried to enter the room during my inspection if it, I would have explained I had locked that door because I had not been able to lock the one to the bathroom. I opened your closets and checked the proportion of evening dresses to sports clothes, noting their quality and condition. I examined your underwear and the heels and soles of your shoes. Then I flipped through some of the letters I found on your desk, read a few, and glanced over your checkbook, telephone and hotel bills and airline ticket receipts.
In the bathroom, I surveyed your cosmetics and studied the vials of pills in your medicine cabinet. I wrote down the name of each doctor on the label, the prescription date and indicated dosage, than took a sample from every bottle.
That evening, I talked to a couple in their thirties who said they had known you for years. The woman, a bit drunk, said, "look at me, Mr. Tarden. Once, a long time ago, I was soft and moist and supple. It was a time, if you can imagine, when staying thin wasn't a losing battle, when I didn't suffer from lower back pain, when I wasn't on my way to a drying out tank like so many other women. Now my only unique features are my fingerprints, which developed before I was born. When I was in high school, any idiot could foresee the kind of man I would marry, what our children would be like and the sort of home we would live in. Anyone could have predicted than that my life would become as dried out and bleached by alcohol and boredom as my hair and skin are by the sun and wind." She raised her Scotch in mocking salute. Her husband joined her in the toast and they both laughed, displaying their capped teeth, white against their dark tans.
When I returned home from the party, I took out the pills I has stolen from your bathroom and looked through the most recent edition of the Physicians’' Desk Reference, which includes full-sized, color reproductions of all currently marketed medications. I identified the proper chemical name of each of your drugs and read about its composition, use and side effects. For some reason, learning these details increased my desire to know you. The afternoon we met by accident and I drove you home, I wanted to invite you to the apartment I rent as Tarden, the only name you know me by. But I was afraid that, if I did see you alone, you might be upset by what I had to say, by my desire to share my life with you. I did not want to just tell you about my past. I wanted you to relive it.
Buy Cockpit on Amazon.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Now that you have finished your book, and it is ready to be shopped around to publishers (or has already been bought by a publisher!) it’s time to think about what you can do to help promote your book.
Sell More Books!
by Jennifer Minar-Jaynes
Do you want to sell books? Lots of books? If so, you have to become a tireless self-promoter. Not good at self-promotion? Not a problem. You can learn.
The first thing to realize is that there are no guarantees a book is going to sell just because it's well-written. But it is guaranteed to sell if it's marketed well. A tireless promoter consistently contributes to the progress or growth of whatever he's promoting and is constantly coming up with more ways for getting his products in front of potential customers.
As an author you're promoting books. As a tireless promoter, you're always finding ways to get your books noticed. Be your best salesperson. And remember, no one's going to care more about your books than you.
"But my publisher will do this for me," you may say. "I'm an author, not a salesperson or marketer." True, a good publisher will take care of some promotion, but if you're not Grisham or Steele, or any other household name, the person ultimately responsible for selling books is you. If you're the author and publisher, the ball is mostly in your court.
A tactic is a plan for attaining a particular goal. Below are some conventional and guerrilla, or not so commonly used, tactics for marketing your books on- and offline.
Stay Educated & Connected. Educate yourself about the industry. Read books and articles; attend conferences. Learn what is working for other authors and use this information when developing your own marketing campaign.
Visit writing-related web sites and read as many articles as you can. Talk to other writers, join trade and social associations, attend conferences, book fairs, and writer's groups.
Network, network, network.
Not only can other writers become part of a support group for critiques and bouncing ideas off of, knowing them can open many doors. For instance, you can find writers who might be interested in co-publishing a newsletter or who would be interested in developing co-op ads and cross-promoting. Find writers who share your interests and keep in touch often.
Gather testimonials. Compile testimonials you receive from readers and experts. Use them in newsletters, in ads, on your web site, and in media kits. Testimonials are powerful. They can give a potential customer the extra confidence he needs to buy your books and will encourage retail buyers to take a second look.
Launch a Press Release Campaign. Find an angle and write a short press release. In fact, write many. A well-written press release about a powerful story will raise reporters' eyebrows. Distribute the release to local media and through one of the wires. It doesn't cost much and the results can be amazing.
A few to research:
Get Reviewed. Constantly seek out reviews. Reviews and testimonials can be invaluable. Moira Allen provides tips on getting your book reviewed at WritingWorld.com.
Keep in Touch with Decision-Makers. Retail buyers and potential customers are decision-makers. 1001 Ways to Market Your Books (Open Horizons, 1998) author John Kremer suggests that authors start a promotional newsletter that can be sent to this audience. Send it to wholesalers, retail buyers, past customers and prospects.
Write Free Articles. We've published several articles on WWW.WritersBreak.com about the advantages of submitting your articles to other web sites and publications that offer a generous byline. In the byline, you'll want to include your site URL and information on your books. "But why should I give my articles away?" you may ask. Two words: free exposure. Exposure leads to awareness. Awareness sells books.
Create a Web Site. Though it can be a time-consuming venture, a web site is a great way to give readers and people in the industry the opportunity to get to know you and your work better. A good web site can open many doors. Not only can you sell more books with a web site, you can swap ads and barter space.
Do Interviews. Accept interview requests no matter the size of the publication. Not only will you get better at giving interviews, your books will receive more exposure. Again, exposure leads to awareness. Awareness sells books.
A guerrilla, by definition, is one who carries on, or assists in carrying on, irregular warfare. The below can be considered guerrilla tactics because in this business, they're seldom used.
Sell Books in Person. Selling books in person can be very lucrative. In his book, Kremer gives the example of how author/publisher Gary Provost began selling his book, The Dorchester Gas Tank. He'd work a busy Boston corner every day and peddle his books, selling 20 to 25 books a day--more than most books sell in a single day.
Kremer also mentions another author who managed to sell 70,000 copies within ten months by loading her van and visiting grocery stores, gift shops, and health clubs.
Remember, though, when face-to-face with your audience, to convey professionalism and passion for your book. If you do, your prospect will be more likely to buy.
Create an Affiliate Program. Affiliate programs give web site and ezine owners the incentive to help you sell more books.
Have Magnets Made. Do you commute long distances? If so, you may want to get automobile magnets that read "Visit www.yourwebsiteaddress.com" or "Check out MY BOOK'S NAME at Amazon!" How many drivers see your bumper every day? If you're like me, thousands. Talk about some cheap exposure! Plus, if you're commuting during the same hours each day, the same people are seeing your ad over and over again. At some point, these people will become curious enough to visit your site or Amazon's.
Leave Review Copies. Leave copies of your books in doctor's waiting rooms, in libraries, at tanning salons, hair salons, the county tax office. You never know who will pick it up and begin talking about it. Also, give copies to clerks at bookstores. If they read it and like it, they could create a buzz with their higher ups.
Use Promotional Tools in Untraditional Ways. Have bookmarks, flyers, and business cards made. Stick bookmarks or business cards in with your monthly bills. Leave them with tips at restaurants. These tools are low-cost items, and you never know whose interest you'll generate. Have your friends and family do this, too. Again, the idea is exposure.
Leave Bookmarks in Best-Sellers. I recently read a thread about this on one of my online writer's news groups. Approach the manager at a local bookstore and ask if you can stick a bookmark in each of the store's bestsellers. If the manager is amenable, you may want to find out if you can also stick them into books of your genre. You already know a few things about the person on the other end. He buys books, and in the latter case, he buys the types of books you write. Visit local entrepreneurs. Ask if you can leave an attractive bowl somewhere in their store and place a handful of free bookmarks in it. Everyone's a potential customer or knows potential customers.
These are just a few tactics for selling more books. Some may be good options for you, some may not. Try a few. Good luck! And here's to selling more books!
Named a 'Best Web Site for Writers'
by Writer's Digest magazine, 2005-2007
Read part five
Read PUBLICIZING YOUR BOOK Suggestions for Success from the beginning.
Monday, February 16, 2009
[guest post from David Angsten’s blog]
the new game in town--blaming America for causing the global financial crisis. However just or unjust this may be, it's certainly understandable, especially with the American Bernard Madoff parading as the new poster boy for greed run amock.
In 2005, Americans gave $260.28 billion to scores of religious, environmental, and health organizations—$15 billion more than in 2004.
In 2006, Americans gave nearly $300 billion to charitable causes, setting a record and besting the 2005 total that had been boosted by a surge in aid to victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and the Asian tsunami.
Warren Buffet pledged to donate $37 billion to charity.
About 65 percent of households with incomes lower than $100,000 give to charity.
The U.S. government gave about $20 billion in foreign aid in 2004, while Americans privately gave $24.2 billion.
Americans per capita individually give about three and a half times more money per year, than the French per capita. They also give seven times more than the Germans and 14 times more than the Italians.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
cordially invites you to attend
With special guest speaker
PRESIDENT OF DICK CLARK PRODUCTIONS
An accomplished producer of dozens of network and cable productions, Orly will share her unique perspective of the television business, including her breakdown of what specific companies buy, as well as her view of the international marketplace from her perch as executive producer of the Golden Globes.
Wednesday, February 18th, 2009
7:45am – 9:45am
Writers Boot Camp presents to our community the people who truly know the business. Join us every other Wednesday at our Bergamot Staion headquarters to network and to learn where the work is in the entertainment industry.
Check in and networking start at 7:45, and at 8:30am, founder Jeffrey Gordon will introduce our guest speakers for a brief interview and Q&A, emphasizing professional trends, net opportunities, and emerging markets. The breakfast consists of eggs, pastries, fresh fruit, juice, and coffee.
SPECIAL DISCOUNT FOR INFOLIST.com!!
Mention INFOLIST.com when you register, and get $4 OFF - that's $16 in advance (normally $20!), or $21 at the door (normally $25, on a space-available basis) for a moring of networking with a top Hollywood executive.
TO RESERVE YOUR SEAT:
Be sure to mention you heard about this from Jeff Gund at INFOLIST.com to get your discount, and contact Cameron Graham at:
(310) 998-1199 x329
or email your NAME and contact PHONE number, with "INFOLIST RSVP" in the subject line, to:
Event to take place at:
Writers Boot Camp
2525 Michigan Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90904
Take the 10 Fwy or Olympic Blvd to Cloverfield Blvd.
from Cloverfield Blvd., go east on Michigan
(Michigan Avenue is between the 10 Fwy and Olympic)
go to the end of Michigan, and turn Left into the Bergamot Station entrance
Park inside the lot and walk to the SW corner, Bldg i
For questions or more information, please call Writers Boot Camp at:
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Visit the Un-Dead website.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Now that you have finished your book, and it is ready to be shopped around to publishers (or has already been bought by a publisher!) it’s time to think about what you can do to help promote your book.
Exploit the Internet!
The Internet is chockfull of opportunities to get attention to your new book—and you can do it from the comfort of your desk. But start at least six months before your book comes out. Contact websites like:
www.dearreader.com --“the Oprah of the Internet”
www.imdb.com (especially if you want to get film attention)
www.pennyterk.com – sign up for your own web page!
Here’s a service that’s very promising, FSB Associates:
Thank you for your inquiry to FSB Associates! Attached is a brochure of our services which outlines basic costs of our web publicity campaigns as well as ball park costs for our website development program. To summarize, our typical, and most popular campaign, runs for 2 months at a cost of $5,000. There is an additional cost of $250. for the shipment of 50 books to various reviewers. However, we provide a wide array of services at a variety of lengths ranging from $5,000 - $10,000. The difference in cost depends on the amount of time you wish your campaign to run.
All of our campaigns include book reviews, blog outreach, Podcasts, excerpt placements, content syndication, and forum postings with the possibility of interviews, features and online chats. You can read some additional information on placements in the brochure. Before moving forward, we would like to take a look at the title you wish for us to work on. Please send us a copy to the address in my signature. Thank you again for taking the time to contact us! If you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Teach a class at the Learning Annex, AEI Client!
Does your nonfiction book have something educational to share? The Learning Annex is always looking for new teachers. This avenue is a great way to share your knowledge and contribute to the world. There are Learning Annex locations in many cities across the U.S., and their bi-monthly catalog (a good place for ads!) reaches 2 million people. But please note, only the serious need apply. If you are scheduled to teach a class and do not show up, that’s it. All ties with you and this association will be severed. This policy is strictly enforced.
What we need to make this happen:
(a) You study the most recent Learning Annex catalog (call us if you can’t find one on your own); and
(b) Construct a 1-page “catalog copy” proposal that can be forwarded to Learning Annex program directors. Note that the title of all successful classes is 90% of their success. It must be crystal clear, focused on what the student will get out of the course, and practical.
Go after Corporations!
Corporations have deep pockets, and it’s easier to make sales to them than you might imagine! They’re always looking for ways of endorsing or sponsoring worthy messages—and multiple copies of an innovative new book often fill that bill. AEI’s sister company, Originaliti, Inc., specializes in “Brand Media” endorsements and will automatically get involved in seeking corporate opportunities for your book if your book lends itself to this direction.
But nothing can take the place of your own associations, ideas, and efforts in this regard. One recent client got a major corporation to advance-order 25,000 copies of his book—which led to a much more favorable publishing deal than we might otherwise have made for him.
Keep Us in the Loop!
Please make sure that you, and your publicist, copy us on all email and news about your book (firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com). We will, for starters, post the latest developments on our sites, and link our sites to yours—but we will also look for synergies that can advance the cause of sales.
- Writers’ Conferences—Get yourself invited, and they will automatically order your book to sell at the conference bookstore.
- Place products in your book and make a deal with the company that makes them to cross-promote your book (see attached story, “Product Placement Deals Make Leap from Film to Books”). See How Stuff Works for great detail.
- Make personalized postage using your book cover, and ask all your friends to use them as stamps (available at stamps.com among other places on the Internet).
- Make decals for your car—and all your friends’ cars--of your book jacket. Available at McKeown Signs (via The Writer’s Lifeline).
- Put ads on buses and subways in cities where you think your book has its most likely audience.
- Buy billboard space.
- Print up fancy bookmarks and send 50 to every bookstore you can get the address for.
Greenleaf book group is a consulting firm and distributor for small and independent publishers. They distribute books to bookstores and libraries nationwide through wholesalers, online, direct to retailers, and direct to consumers. They help authors and publishers produce, distribute, and market top-quality products-while making the publishing venture profitable and enjoyable. With their knowledge, contacts and experience, they level the playing field and make it possible for small and independent presses to compete with the larger, more established publishing houses. One of their innovative ideas is an animation spam for your book, that they will send out to email lists. Ask AEI for a referral to them!
Free Publicity Sites
BookCatcher.com is a website offering free book publicity for book writers and book publishers.
Discussion forum: This is a forum- good place to post re: WL etc.
The Open Press, Inc. is not just another free press release portal. We have done our homework and market research and have spoken with journalists and industry professionals to get their feedback. We exact industry standards for press releases and we will NOT allow unprofessional press releases to be submitted through our services. All free press releases must comply with our press release guidelines.
PR LEAP is a free press release distribution service to major search engines, web sites and newswires, since 2003.
PR.com press-releases is a revolutionary Free Press Release Distribution Service where each business also has a full company profile to promote everything about its business. Submit news and press releases via our global online news and press release distribution service with powerful distribution points such as NBCi News, AskJeeves News, Lycos News, Excite News, Topix News, MSN News,
24-7 PressRelease.com is a free press release distribution service with the small to medium size Company in mind. 24-7 PressRelease.com has recognized the need for affordable press release distribution. That is why 24-7PressRelease.com offers a free news release submission service, with the option to contribute funds for higher recognition and placement. 24-7 Press Release Newswire is a leading provider of both paid and free press release distribution services.
Publicity Sites with Fees (fees quoted here may have changed)
EzineTrendz Services. We are an established business with expertise in Ezine Publication, specializing in Business Article Submission Service. This service is World Renowned and the Leading Source for Article Submission of Business and Marketing related Articles. We are a professional service that provides you with a broad spectrum of needs that is required of any business operating online.
Per Article: $50
Price is based on a random per article service rate. No monthly payment involved.
Twice a Month Submission:
$30 per article
One article every other week will be submitted as per the service agreement. You will be billed once a month for this service at a per article rate of $30, which concludes to a $60 monthly billing cycle.
Once a Week Submission:
$20 per article
One article per week will be submitted as per the service agreement. You will be billed once a month for this service at a per article rate of $20, which concludes to a $80 monthly billing cycle.
Internet News Bureau (INB) is a conduit for the distribution of press releases and is not a news wire service.
- $275 for Primary Press Release Distribution (for the 1st media list, all additional media lists are $80 each--fees may have changed)
- Your Press Release is emailed to journalists as early as the next Business Day.
- Releases are distributed by Internet News Bureau (a Jupitermedia Corporation site)
- We post your Press Release to the INB website for additional exposure
- In addition to Journalists, your Press Release is included in the Internet News Bureau Newsletter which reaches 6,000+ business professionals
- Additional Benefits
If you are a Non-Profit Organization, PR Agency or Reseller and you are purchasing any of our services for the first time, please contact the INB team at 1-800-887-2702 (US only) or 1-203-662-2868.
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Here's how you benefit from an annual membership with the Yearbook of Experts, Authorities & Spokespersons®:
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Read Author 101. Million-Dollar Rolodex by Rick Frishman
Planned TV Arts 1110 2nd Avenue, NY, NY 10022
To be continued.
Read part four
Read PUBLICIZING YOUR BOOK Suggestions for Success from the beginning.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
For many local filmmakers, 2008 was a busy year. 2009 should be no different. 210SA caught up with some of the city’s creative people making movies in San Antonio to find out what to expect from them in the upcoming year. Here’s a look:
The Gonzales-born filmmaker who won a 2008 Film Independent Spirit Award for his first feature film, “August Evening,” spent the last part of 2008 promoting the movie during its limited theatrical run.
He says San Antonio’s warm reception of the film, especially the sold-out shows during its opening weekend, helped the film get released in other cities, including Houston, Kansas City and Portland, Ore.
“August Evening,” which premiered here in September, came out on DVD on Jan. 13. Look for the film in Blockbuster Video and Wal-Mart stores later this month.
Eska is starting work on his next feature film, which he describes as a suspense thriller.
The San Antonio-based filmmaker who wrote his first feature film, “Garrison,” a military drama based on the 2002 killings at Fort Bragg, N.C., is getting ready to promote the film again.
The movie, which Valderrama screened at film festivals across the country and abroad in 2008, is set to make its DVD premiere in March, says Valderrama, who sold the film’s distribution rights to Peace Arch Home Entertainment, which has offices in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto.
“Garrison,” which gets its title from a military term for a body of troops, chronicles the hunt for an AWOL soldier and touches on post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers.
The movie, shot in San Antonio in 2007 with a mostly local cast and crew, made its local premiere during the San Antonio Film Festival last summer. Look for “Garrison” in Blockbuster Video and Wal-Mart stores this spring.
The filmmaker says he’s busy putting the final touches on his fifth film, “The Boys of Ghost Town,” which Véliz and his crew filmed in Houston and San Antonio last year.
The film, starring veteran movie tough guy Danny Trejo, is tentatively scheduled to make its local premiere this spring.
“I’m really excited about it. It’s a really special film,” says Véliz, who made the gritty crime drama through his San Antonio-based production company CineVéliz Inc.
“Boys” is scheduled for a DVD release this summer after a small theatrical run, Véliz says.
Look for trailers of the film and updates on its premiere at cineveliz.com.
Melissa Rentería | 210SA contributor
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
Because I'm a writer, I love books. Borders cannot point to me and say I am the reason their bricks and mortar stores are having problems. I cannot keep my house stocked with enough bookshelves to house all the books I own. And I have passed this love on to at least one of my children as well.
One category of books where I own more than my fair share is that of How-to writing books. It goes with the territory, I suppose. These are the books I can write off on my taxes as a business expense, right? But I can tell you unequivocally, there are some very good books in this category, and some books that I probably shouldn't have wasted my money on.
In keeping with my "no criticism" mantra, I will not go into the books it's not worth buying. Instead, I here present my list of ten books I think every writer would want to own. They are in no particular order in this listing. But I think they're worth every penny of your hard-earned cash:
1) WRITING DOWN THE BONES, by Natalie Goldberg. I bought this book shortly after I graduated from college and settled down into marriage, during a writer's block time for me. By the time I finished reading the preface, I'd put the book down and picked up a pen. I use it with my writing classes.
2) THE ARTIST'S WAY, by Julia Cameron. I've mentioned this book several times in my blog. Every writer should go through this program at least once in their careers.
3) A WRITER'S TIME, by Kenneth Atchity. An organizing book for writers. This book is another one of my oldy-moldies, but I still go back to it from time to time. Most valuable for me is the section about balancing more than one writing project at a time.
4) THE WELL-FED WRITER, by Peter Bowerman. Mark Terry mentioned this one in his blog recently, which made me go back and reread it. It's an empowering book about making a go of things freelance, but his methods are not for the faint of heart.
5) PLOT, a Writer's Digest book, and sadly, I don't remember the author's name. This is a great book outlining how to create story arcs. It's indispensable, not just for those who are new to the craft.
6) SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder. This is actually a screenwriting book, but his plot devices can be modified to create gripping, winning plots for novels, too.
7) THE THIRTY MINUTE WRITER. Again, I can't remember the author's name, but she explains how to make money writing during little periods of time you can carve out during your day. This is another empowering book, a little like Bowerman's book for people who just want to get their feet wet.
8) HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL, by Michael Larson. This book has a step-by-step plan for creating non-fiction book proposals, and includes a good section on how to write query letters.
9) WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, by Donald Maass. This book I hesitated to put on the list. It's a great book that outlines what goes into making breakout fiction that will sell. The biggest problem is that I feel overwhelmed when I try to put all his ideas into implementation.
10) Actually, I lied. I'm just going to give nine books today, because, frankly, I'm running out of time before I post. But this opens up a slot in case anyone wants to get in on the conversation. Is your favorite BIRD BY BIRD? Or A WRITER'S BOOK OF HOPE? Or John Gardner's THE ART OF WRITING FICTION? You tell me...
And the 10th Book Is...
Sorry that I had to exit so abruptly last time, mid-list. My tenth book I think every writer should have a copy of is THE WEEKEND NOVELIST, by Robert J. Ray. My first copy of this is so dog-eared that I have had to reassemble it with scotch tape twice, and it's due for another renovation.
I have used this book to successfully complete three books so far. I use it to teach my writing students how to create a novel as painlessly as possible. The original version of this book has it all, from how to create realistic characters to how to shape an Aristotelian plot, and how to revise several times to create a polished product.
Since my copy was so abused, and since he just recently updated and revised this book for publication, I bought the new version, as well. This is also a good book, but it is VERY different from the original. If you can find the old one, buy both.
He also has THE WEEKEND NOVELIST WRITES A MYSTERY, and while it didn't make my top ten, I would say this book has some great advice, too, especially for fellow mystery writers.
Christine Cook's Blog
Sunday, February 8, 2009
I love to teach because the process of helping writers realize their screenplays and novels is thrilling. As a writer myself, who has made every mistake at least twice, I love helping writers past the pitfalls and challenges and watching them create their stories.
In my "Finish Your Script" class, my students spend the 9-week session writing a first draft or working towards a final one. In each session, we complete a full draft, and students often repeat the session until they have completed their final draft. There is equal pleasure for me in seeing a student get the story that's in their head out on paper, as when they eventually finish their final draft.
During each session, I pair up each student with one of their fellow writers and it's the partner's job to help the other make dates to write, etc. Also having someone to brainstorm with who knows your story is a tremendous boon. The biggest thrill for me is when I discover that my students have continued to collaborate for years.
Here are the 5 Principles of Screenwriting my students use to finish their scripts fast:
1) When you begin, create for yourself first. Be your own first fan.
2) Don't get it right -- get it written! Just get it down on paper, warts, missing parts and all.
3) All good writing is rewriting. So get that first draft written.
4) Tell the story from beginning to end. Never get caught up in what you don't know yet! Just keep going.
5) Make appointments to do the work. And stick to them.
MARILYN HOROWITZ offers classes and consulting services for screenwriters of all levels.
REGISTER TODAY and FINISH YOUR SCREENPLAY!!!
WRITING THE TREATMENT - Marilyn's FIRST LIVE Seminar of 2009!
DATE: Saturday, February 7, 2009
LOCATION: ArtMar Training Institute, 60 W. 71st Street, #1A, New York, NY 10023
PRICE: $30 for OTF members; $35 for general public.
EVENT DESCRIPTION: This rarely taught skill is invaluable both for the creation of new material, to analyze and improve current scripts and a compelling way of getting your ideas read. The treatment can be more difficult to write than the script so let Marilyn show you a foolproof method for writing a strong treatment every time. REGISTER NOW at: firstname.lastname@example.org
LISTEN to a FREE audio sample of the seminar.
BUY a DVD of "Writing the Treatment."
READ a FREE copy of Marilyn's article "The Treatment."
APPLYING THE FOUR MAGIC QUESTIONS OF SCREENWRITING TO STAR WARS - FREE Teleseminar!
DATE: Tuesday, February 10, 2008
TIME: 8:45pm EST
LOCATION: FREE Telephone Seminar (TELESEMINAR) is available to everyone (everywhere!)
EVENT DESCRIPTION: Join award-winning NYU professor Marilyn Horowitz for a FREE 45-minute teleseminar. In this cutting-edge class, Marilyn will use the classic film Star Wars and her revolutionary new method of structuring a screenplay to help you structure your script. These techniques were first presented at the 2008 Screenwriting Expo. Whether you are beginning a first draft, or rewriting a current script, these powerful ideas will help you move your work to a whole new level.
FOR MORE INFORMATION visit: www.marilynhorowitz.com/teleseminar
THE CREATIVE BUSINESS OF SCREENWRITING - Marilyn's 1st NYWIFT Seminar of the Year!
DATE: Thursday, March 12, 2009
LOCATION: NYWIFT, 6 East 39th Street, Suite 1200 New York, NY 10016-0112
PRICE: $35 for non-members
EVENT DESCRIPTION: This informative seminar will show you how to accurately assess the market for your script, who the players are, and what you need to do to establish contacts and productive working relationships. You'll learn to write a great logline and query letter, how to make better industry contacts and pitch to them effectively on the phone, in print and in person; and how to protect yourself legally, tax-wise and story-wise. The workshop includes a complimentary workbook. SIGN UP NOW at: www.nywift.org
LISTEN to a FREE audio sample of the seminar.
BUY a DVD of "The Creative Business of Screenwriting"
HOW TO WRITE YOUR BEST ACT II EVER - EXCLUSIVE to NYCScreenwriter.org!
DATE: Saturday, March 28, 2009
LOCATION: 400 W. 43rd Street, Ellington Room, New York, NY
PRICE: $15 for NYCScreenwriter.org members
EVENT DESCRIPTION: Many screenwriters agree that the "long middle" of the screenplay is one of the hardest parts about writing a script, and is usually the difference between writing a an original, professional quality, commercially viable screenplay versus a 60-minute story with filler. But now, in this intensive two-hour seminar, exclusive to NYCScreenwriter.org, award-winning NYU professor and writing coach Marilyn Horowitz, will teach you her revolutionary method of writing a compelling Act II and how to:
-Dramatize and expand the basic conflict of Act I
-Approach the action of Act II as a nightmare that leads your main character to a new adventure by employing the perfect plot points for your genre
-Maximize the action and sustain momentum throughout your screenplay
-Build a plot that is organic, original and easy to rewrite
JOIN THE SEMINAR TODAY.
FINISH YOUR SCRIPT! - JOIN Marilyn's PRIVATE CLASS!
DATE: April 1, 2009 (Wednesday class) or April 2, 2009 (Thursday class)
LOCATION: ArtMar Training Institute, 60 W. 71st Street, #1A, New York, NY 10023
EVENT DESCRIPTION: Get across the finish line. Whether you've got a polished first draft, a project that's been"sitting on the shelf, or you're about to launch a query mailing, this class can help. In-class exercises delve into analyzing producer's notes and coverage, solving long-term structure and character issues, and improving dialogue and pacing. At the end of 9 weeks, Marilyn will read each script and provide a FREE detailed 45-minute script consultation (a $900 value). Applications for the winter semester are now available.
ONLY THREE SPOTS STILL AVAILABLE - REGISTER NOW at: www.marilynhorowitz.com/classes.php
CLICK HERE for FREE Screenwriting TIPS, EXERCISES and ARTICLES!
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Now that you have finished your book, and it is ready to be shopped around to publishers (or has already been bought by a publisher!) it’s time to think about what you can do to help promote your book.
- Get everyone you know to review your book on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Though the impact of webstores on overall sales is negligible, they have helped launch countless titles because of its pervasive influence on book-browsers as well as booksellers. AEI can help you do this effectively if you sign up with www.pennyterk.com and agree to give free copies of the book to the first xx visitors who agree to read it and post a review.
- Whether you do it through your publisher, your publicist, or your own personal sweat equity, make sure “galley copies” (aka “Advanced Reading Copies, or ARCs”) go to book review editors at, as appropriate:
- Kirkus Reviews
- Publishers Weekly
- Book List
B & N.com
American Way Magazine (in flight Magazine for American Airlines)
Chicago Sun Times
Wall Street Journal
Time Out NY
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Dallas Morning News
Contra Costa Times
LA Daily News
San Diego Union Tribune
San Jose Mercury News
Minneapolis Star Tribune
NY Daily News
Orange County Register
Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel
Fantasy & Sci Fi
several major freelancers such as Tom Nolan, Merle Rubin, Dick Adler, Harriet Klausner
Others as appropriate to your particular title—e.g., Today’s Black Woman, Black Star News, Black Reign magazine, Ebony, Black Essence, etc.
One of our star clients, Larry Thompson, came up with the idea of contacting an airport bookstore distributor directly—and succeeded in setting up several in-airport signings—moving 85 books at one! See the following email exchange:
From: Richard Lotti [mailto:Richard.Lotti@THEPARADIESSHOPS.com]
Sent: Thursday, June 26, 2008 3:18 PM
To: Larry D. Thompson
Subject: RE: Book Signing
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Our Book Store Manager, Sosena Girma, will be contacting you to arrange for the best time for you to do a book signing.
From: Larry D. Thompson [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Thursday, June 19, 2008 10:20 AM
To: Richard Lotti
Subject: Book Signing
Good morning, Richard. I am the author of So Help Me God, a courtroom thriller that your shops around the country have been carrying for the past two months. I have done successful book signings at OKC and DFW. We sold about 85 books at OKC (not a major airport as you know) and about 125 at DFW (I invite you to contact Lynn Allmon there for a recommendation, both as to my performance and the book, which he very much enjoyed). Now, I would like to schedule a book signing at one of your highly trafficed locations at LaGuardia on a Friday. If that is feasible, please contact me to coordinate a mutually convenient date. I will bear my own expenses. All you will need to provide will be a table and the books. Thanks.
Larry D. Thompson
713 857 5940
Here’s a service offered by Kirkus that we believe is well worth the money:
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Kirkus Discoveries is a paid review service that allows authors and publishers of overlooked titles to receive authoritative, careful assessment of their books.
Here's how it works:
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- The review is then posted on the Discoveries website (www.kirkusdiscoveries.com), which has a niche audience of agents, rights representatives, booksellers, librarians and film and TV producers. At the request of the author or publisher, the review may be withheld from the website.
- Reviews are eligible for inclusion in the monthly Kirkus Discoveries monthly eNewsletter, which highlights the best submissions to the program, at no extra cost. That HTML newsletter goes to a targeted base of subscribers, most of whom are looking for the rights-including both print and film-to books and unpublished manuscripts.Click here to signup for the free monthly Kirkus Discoveries eNewsletter!
Sign up for Google Alerts, they are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. You can see who's talking about you and post comments for them and their readers. It's a great way to network!
Continue reading part three
Read PUBLICIZING YOUR BOOK Suggestions for Success from the beginning.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Tim Palen wants his core audience to feel that a film is theirs, one marketer says: “He gives them content that feels bloggy and street.”
Letter from California
Inside a movie marketer’s playbook.
by Tad Friend
One night in mid-October, as the movie executive Tim Palen looked on with panoramic vigilance, a roar from jostling photographers seemed to freeze Josh Brolin’s grin in place. Brolin plays George W. Bush in Oliver Stone’s “W.,” a Lionsgate film that was having its première, and he was making such halting progress down the red carpet outside Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Theatre that he seemed to be still in character. Palen, who is Lionsgate’s co-president of theatrical marketing—the studio’s resident promotional genius—had been working for months to make people care about “W.,” a film that didn’t have an obvious audience; indeed, the film’s subject, in the intense focus on the Presidential election and the economic crash, had all but disappeared. This evening would be a kind of sardonic resurrection: a few yards away on the red carpet, James Cromwell (who plays George H. W. Bush) was slyly telling an interviewer, “I play Dennis Kucinich,” and Richard Dreyfuss (Dick Cheney) was posing in a green velvet jacket that made clear he was no Republican.
When Brolin spotted Palen, his fixed grin became a real smile. He mimed opening a magazine with an expression of amazement, then rushed over and gave the marketer a hug. Brolin and Oliver Stone had taped an appearance on “Charlie Rose” earlier that day, and Rose had surprised the actor with a photograph that showed him yawning, flamboyantly, across a full page of the latest Newsweek. Palen, an accomplished photographer, had taken the picture in a session that also produced the film’s posters. Newsweek ran a lengthy essay about “W.,” which concluded that the film was, “surprisingly, more or less fair.” This had been Oliver Stone’s goal—and was now Tim Palen’s problem. His job was not to encapsulate the film’s artistry but, rather, to insist to a busy, jaded, and suspicious audience that “W.” would really stir them up. As Tom Ortenberg, Lionsgate’s president of theatrical films, told me, he had said at a marketing meeting, “Who wants to see an evenhanded editorial think piece from Oliver Stone?”
Publicity is selling what you have: the film’s stars and sometimes its director. Marketing, very often, is selling what you don’t have; it’s the art of the tease. A première lets the marketing and publicity teams join in a final effort to “eventize” a film, to move it to the top of the nation’s long to-do list. Many premières feel slack and dutiful, but this one had the fizz of a genuine event. Lionsgate, which, together with “W.” ’s other investors, spent about three hundred thousand dollars on the début—three times its usual outlay—later reckoned that coverage on “Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood” and in dozens of other outlets was worth more than a million dollars in advertising.
Palen, in silence, watched the parade of stars until Thandie Newton, the British actress who plays Condoleezza Rice, came by and he reached out to clasp her hand. “I’m such a groupie,” Palen sheepishly acknowledged after Newton glided on. “I’m a fourteen-year-old girl. But having a girl’s viewing habits”—he is devoted to “The Hills” and “Project Runway”—“actually comes in very handy.”
Palen, who is forty-seven, has a shaved head, a graying beard, and the bulging, tattooed arms of a steamfitter. Usually he wears jeans and a hoodie, but this evening he was in a black Prada suit, a black Prada shirt, and black Prada shoes: his première outfit. His uncommon mixture of traits—he is warm, incisive, competitive, loyal, and catty—makes him fun to be around, even at premières, where he often feels anxious and out of place. When Michael Pitt, an actor who was in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” ambled past in a ratty military jacket, Palen said, “I see he got dressed up. Headache and the Angry Itch.”
You have to have some of that spitballer’s attitude to do Palen’s job; you have to love a ruckus. Even as movie attendance has dropped nineteen per cent from its peak of 1.6 billion theatregoers, in 2002, the number of films released each year since then has increased by thirty per cent. A dozen new films—three of them big studio releases—now vie for attention on any given weekend. To cut through the ambient noise, major studios spend an average of thirty-six million dollars to market one of their films. “Most of a movie’s opening gross is about marketing,” Clint Culpepper, the president of Sony Screen Gems, says. “You can have the most terrific movie in the world, and if you can’t convey that fact in fifteen- and thirty-second TV ads it’s like having bad speakers on a great stereo.” At Sony, executives ask, “Can we make this seem ‘babysitter-worthy’? Will it get them out of the house?”
Lionsgate, smaller, scrappier, and stingier than the six major studios, has released such distinguished films as “Crash,” “Monster’s Ball,” and “Away from Her,” but it has made its reputation with edgy, low-budget action and horror movies, particularly the five “Saw” films. In August, the company opened a new production division to make a broader range of films, including romantic comedies. The studio has also declared itself willing to make an occasional big-budget “tent pole”; it has cautiously begun to take on the big studios.
These changes will place a greater burden on Palen, not so much of additional work—the line in Lionsgate’s marketing division is that every job already includes “D.F.E.,” or “Do Fucking Everything”—as of adapting his sensibility to new audiences, and of curbing his instinct, usually couched behind a restless politeness, that he knows best. Many Hollywood marketers construct their campaigns in slow-motion groupthink; Palen strikes so quickly that one of his regular poster venders calls him “the Cobra.” He believes that if you express a strong opinion, fast, others will fall in line. But he also has a pitiless eye. At another Lionsgate première, for “Saw V,” in Las Vegas, he glanced at the romantic-kiss photo on the Paris Hotel’s marquee and remarked, “I don’t like that fingernail.” It became impossible to look at the marquee and see anything but the woman’s lurid white-tipped nail against the man’s neck, glowing like the evidence of a murder.
Palen’s campaigns, which have won many of the movie industry’s Key Art and Golden Trailer awards, are witty and pugnacious, particularly the ones that are borderline pornographic. For the gory 2006 hit “Hostel,” Palen created a poster from his own photo of a giant chainsaw springing out of a nearly naked man’s lap. For his “Rambo” poster, last year, Palen chose a dripping stencil of Sylvester Stallone’s face which called to mind the famous Che Guevara image. “A lot of people wouldn’t have had the nerve to do a piece of street art that subliminally sampled the Che poster,” Stallone told me. “Studios usually crowd everything in, hoping to reach you with something—I’ve had posters with nine overlapping images. But Tim’s was a piece of art.”
Paul Haggis, the writer-director of the 2005 film “Crash,” says, “I came in thinking Tim was doing everything wrong. He made the poster Michael Peña screaming over his daughter, rather than selling Brendan Fraser or Matt Dillon or Sandra Bullock. I worried that the trailer, a mood piece about how people have to crash into each other to feel alive, was going to seem like overly significant claptrap. Then Tim and Sarah”—Sarah Greenberg, Palen’s co-president, who handles publicity—“came to me and said, ‘We’re going to go for an Academy campaign.’ I really, really thought they were crazy: this was a little six-million-dollar film.” For the cost of three full-page ads in the Times, about two hundred thousand dollars, Lionsgate sent more than a hundred thousand DVDs of the film to every member of the Screen Actors Guild—pioneering a now common saturation technique. In a huge upset, “Crash” beat “Brokeback Mountain” and “Munich” to win Best Picture.
“W.,” an earnest drama that punctuates George Bush’s struggle to emerge from his father’s shadow with satiric sequences set in the Situation Room, was rejected by several of the larger studios before Lionsgate agreed to make it. “We took ‘W.’ because of Oliver Stone, pedigree, and built-in controversy—controversy leads to marketing,” Michael Burns, Lionsgate’s vice-chairman, told me. Palen said, “I don’t know if everyone here loved the concept of ‘W.,’ but we felt we could kick some ass on it.”
Stone, in an early meeting to discuss the film’s marketing, told Palen, “I know you’re good with ‘Saw,’ but this isn’t ‘Saw.’ ”
Palen replied, “It’s also not ‘Crash,’ and it’s not ‘3:10 to Yuma’ ”—two of the studio’s hits. “It’s its own movie, and we’ll treat it as such.”
Marketers and filmmakers are often quietly at war. “The most common comment you hear from filmmakers after we’ve done our work is ‘This is not my movie,’ ” Terry Press, a consultant who used to run marketing at Dreamworks SKG, says. “I’d always say, ‘You’re right—this is the movie America wants to see.’ ”
To reëngage moviegoers with a dormant President, Palen spent twenty-three million dollars trying to tie the film to the long-awaited end of Bush’s term and to tap the same appetite for political ridicule that feasted on Tina Fey’s impersonations of Sarah Palin. Most of the movie’s trailers and TV spots were in the rollicking spirit of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which the studio also distributed: they featured Bush driving drunk, mouthing malapropisms, and looking confounded. At the close, Palen wanted to run a new banner ad on Internet ticketing sites and political blogs: “Sitting President,” a photo that he’d taken of Brolin as Bush on the toilet, posed like Rodin’s “The Thinker.” Stone vetoed it: he was concerned that Palen’s materials made his film seem giddy and trifling. “Josh on the toilet, that one I didn’t go for,” the director told me.
“I sympathize,” Palen told me. “Oliver Stone has the President taking a shit—how disrespectful. But from the marketing perspective we needed some teeth. Moritz Borman”—one of the film’s producers—“told me, ‘I don’t want to know about “Sitting President,” and if Oliver finds out and yells, I’m going to yell at you, too. But you have to do it.’ ” So Palen did. And Stone didn’t find out. (Borman says that he didn’t authorize the ad.)
Yet a number of Hollywood observers believed that no amount of marketing could save “W.” from being a “feathered fish”—a film whose target audience thinks it’s for someone else. “They made the movie look like ‘Animal House,’ a Judd Apatow film, and that audience won’t be going because they know it’s about Bush and politics,” one film-marketing consultant told me. “When the reviews reveal that it’s shockingly fair, the ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ crowd will stay away. And the people who like Bush are out once they hear it’s Oliver Stone. I think the film opens at five million”—disaster.
When Palen saw Stone on the red carpet, the men smiled and tapped each other on the wrists. Then Stone mischievously stuck out his tongue. “These are the duties,” Palen murmured as he watched the filmmaker move on. “We say ‘Hey!’ ” In effect, Palen had now passed the baton back. His work in selling what the studio didn’t quite have—a brisk, playful romp—would now begin to give way to what the movie really was. But not before the verdict on Palen’s marketing became clear, three days later, when the film opened.
One afternoon in June of 2001, Andrew Fogelson, a longtime Hollywood executive who had run marketing divisions at Columbia and Warner Bros., was driving down Olympic Boulevard in Santa Monica when he saw a billboard advertising “The Fast and the Furious,” a forthcoming film about street racers. The billboard showed only a streaking yellow sports car. Recognizing it as a Universal Pictures film, Fogelson picked up his cell phone and called his son, Adam, then Universal’s senior vice-president of creative marketing, at his office. “Adam,” he said, “what the fuck is this car movie, and why would anyone go see a movie about hubcaps?”
“That’s why I’m here, and you’re on Olympic Boulevard,” Adam Fogelson replied.
“What are you hoping for?” his father asked.
“If that opens at twenty million,” Andrew Fogelson said, “I’ll eat it.” The picture opened at forty million. “My father saw a car, and not a particularly special car, at an angle on a billboard,” Adam Fogelson, who now runs Universal’s marketing department, says. “And he thought, How would that motivate? For us, that image was simply a graphic, readable reminder—an exclamation point—on a very expensive campaign of trailers and TV ads that had already got our target audience excited. If you’re my dad and you say, ‘What the hell is that?,’ it wasn’t for you in the first place.”
“In 1970, when I started,” Andrew Fogelson told me, “marketing was called ‘advertising and publicity,’ and it was a totally unrefined art that consisted of making posters that tried to capture the essence of the movie and said ‘Starts Tomorrow.’ ”
The business began to change in 1973, when “Billy Jack,” about a rebellious ex-Green Beret, was reissued by its writer and star, Tom Laughlin, after a Warner Bros. release fizzled. Laughlin’s company, Taylor-Laughlin Distribution, saturated the airwaves with television spots aimed at twelve different demographics—“carefully calculated overkill,” as one Taylor-Laughlin executive put it. When the film grossed a then enormous seventy-five million dollars, the studios suddenly understood that television ads really work. And if you’re going to spend a lot of money on advertising, they realized, you need to be in more theatres to amortize the cost. “Jaws” opened “wide” in 1975, on four hundred and nine screens, at the time a large number; big studio films now open everywhere on more than four thousand. And if you’re in that many theatres you need huge audiences as soon as a film opens—so you need a movie that sells itself. And then you need to sell the hell out of it.
One of the oldest jokes in the business is that when a studio head takes over he’s given three envelopes, the first of which contains the advice “Fire the head of marketing.” Nowadays, though, former marketers, such as Oren Aviv, at Disney, and Marc Shmuger, at Universal, often run the studios. “Studios now are pimples on the ass of giant conglomerates,” one studio’s president of production says. “So at green-light meetings it’s a bunch of marketing and sales guys giving you educated guesses about what a property might gross. No one is saying, ‘This director was born to make this movie.’ ”
A studio film costs an average of a hundred and seven million dollars to make and sell, so merely having the germ of a brilliant movie is by no means enough to get a green light. The producer Brian Grazer, whose films include “Frost/Nixon” and “A Beautiful Mind,” mentioned a potential remake of a James Dean film: “I have the book ‘East of Eden’ and a script by Paul Attanasio”—an A-list screenwriter—“but I don’t know how I’d ever make it, because I don’t know how I’d sell it. With this material, I can’t reach you emotionally, tell the story, or be visually transcendent in a thirty-second TV spot. And there’s no ‘Holy shit!’ moment for the trailer.” (Grazer is continuing to develop the project, with a new writer.)
Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who’s in them—gone are lavish adult dramas with no stars, like the 1982 “Gandhi.” Such considerations account for a big role being written for Shia LaBeouf in the most recent “Indiana Jones” (to attract youthful viewers as well as Harrison Ford’s aging fans). They also account for the virtual absence from the screen of children between the ages of newborn (when they appear briefly, to puke on the star for the trailer) and that of the Macauley Culkin character in “Home Alone.” Why have a four-year-old character, when one who is ten will prompt ten-year-olds to find him “relatable,” and four-to-nine-year-olds to look up to him? “If we weren’t making decisions based on marketability, John Malkovich would be in every movie,” a top studio marketer says. “Great actor, but not someone you want to see half-naked in the sheets next to Angelina Jolie.”
Modern campaigns have three acts: a year or more before the film débuts, you introduce it with ninety-second teaser trailers and viral Internet “leaks” of gossip or early footage, in preparation for the main trailer, which appears four months before the release; five weeks before the film opens, you start saturating with a “flight” of thirty-second TV spots; and, at the end, you remind with fifteen-second spots, newspaper ads, and billboards. Studios typically spend about ten million dollars on the “basics” (cutting trailers and designing posters, conducting market research, flying the film’s talent to the junket and the première, and the première itself) and thirty million on the media buy. Between seventy and eighty per cent of that is spent on television advertising (enough so that viewers should see the ads an average of fifteen times), eight or nine per cent on Internet ads, and the remainder on newspaper and outdoor advertising. The hope is that a potential viewer will be prodded just enough to make him decide to see what all the fuss is about. It’s the “belt and suspenders and corset and parachute harness” approach.
“What I’m doing now is a totally different activity from what my father did,” Universal’s Adam Fogelson says. “We have to yell loud and long enough to perfectly inflate the balloon on the day of release—and yet not so loud that we pop it.”
It is often said in Hollywood that no one sets out to make a bad movie, but the truth is that people cheerfully set out to make bad movies all the time. It is more accurate to say that no one sets out to make a movie without having a particular audience in mind. Many studio executives argue that films can’t objectively be categorized as “good” or “bad”: either they appeal to a given demographic—and make the studio at least a ten-per-cent profit—or they don’t. “Most critics are not the target audience for most of the films being made today, so they’re not going to respond to them,” Sony Screen Gems’ Clint Culpepper says. “How a fifty-six-year-old man feels about a movie aimed at teen-age girls is irrelevant.”
An unexpected corollary of the modern marketing-and-distribution model is that films no longer have time to find their audience; that audience has to be identified and solicited well in advance. Marketers segment the audience in a variety of ways, but the most common form of partition is the four quadrants: men under twenty-five; older men; women under twenty-five; older women. A studio rarely makes a film that it doesn’t expect will succeed with at least two quadrants, and a film’s budget is usually directly related to the number of quadrants it is anticipated to reach. The most expensive tent-pole movies, such as the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, are aimed at all four quadrants.
The collective wisdom is that young males like explosions, blood, cars flying through the air, pratfalls, poop jokes, “you’re so gay” banter, and sex—but not romance. Young women like friendship, pop music, fashion, sarcasm, sensitive boys who think with their hearts, and romance—but not sex (though they like to hear the naughty girl telling her friends about it). They go to horror films as much as young men, but they hate gore; you lure them by having the ingénue take her time walking down the dark hall.
Older women like feel-good films and Nicholas Sparks-style weepies: they are the core audience for stories of doomed love and triumphs of the human spirit. They enjoy seeing an older woman having her pick of men; they hate seeing a child in danger. Particularly once they reach thirty, these women are the most “review-sensitive”: a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend’s gross by five million dollars. In other words, older women are discriminating, which is why so few films are made for them.
Older men like darker films, classic genres such as Westerns and war movies, men protecting their homes, and men behaving like idiots. Older men are easy to please, particularly if a film stars Clint Eastwood and is about guys just like them, but they’re hard to motivate. “Guys only get off their couches twice a year, to go to ‘Wild Hogs’ or ‘3:10 to Yuma,’ ” the marketing consultant Terry Press says. “If all you have is older males, it’s time to take a pill.”
Studio marketers have a few rules for making their films seem broadly “relatable”:
Can’t we all get along? In “Stomp the Yard,” which was about an urban street dancer who goes to college, the poster showed the African-American hero with his back turned, leaving his race indeterminate. The campaign for “Bring It On” portrayed the story as a rivalry between white and black cheerleading squads, even though more than eighty per cent of the film was about the white squad. The first marketing materials for Fox’s X-Men franchise showed only an “X.” Why exclude half your audience?
If the poster shows a poster child, the movie is for kids. Posters are intended to tell you the film’s genre at a glance, then make you look more closely. Horror posters, for instance, have dark backgrounds; comedies have white backgrounds with the title and copy line in red. Because stars are supposed to open the film, and because they have contractual approval of how they appear on the poster, the final image is often a so-called “big head” or “floating head” of the star. Every poster for a Will Smith movie features his head, and for good reason: he is the only true movie star left, the only one who could open even a film about beekeeping monks.
Everybody’s a comedian. Any drama with at least three funny moments in it will be portrayed, in the trailer and TV spots, as a comedy. The trailer for the 2005 film “The Squid and the Whale” conveyed a measure of the film’s delicate unease, but it was basically a series of wry exchanges. A joke, particularly a pratfall, is self-contained, whereas a sad or anxious moment is hard to convey briefly and out of context.
If it’s called “The Squid and the Whale,” it’s somebody else’s problem. That movie was produced by Samuel Goldwyn Films, an independent studio, and grossed seven million dollars—quite good for a small film, but not for a studio release. If a movie’s title and stars don’t tell you almost everything you need to know about a film—“Get Smart,” starring Steve Carell, say—marketers worry. Fox had to spend a little extra to sell “The Devil Wears Prada,” because casual moviegoers wondered what Meryl Streep was doing in a horror film. When a movie underperforms, an awkward title is often seen as the culprit.
Always cheat death. People die in movies; they almost never die in trailers. They are courageous (“The Express”) or missing (“Changeling”) or profoundly alive (“Revolutionary Road”). “If a movie is completely, one hundred per cent about death, then it’s also about life, right?” Fox’s co-head of marketing, Tony Sella, told me. The only thing marketers can’t pull off, Sella acknowledged, is “selling old to young”—persuading kids to see a movie like “Driving Miss Daisy.” “You can try with”—he adopted a baritone voice-over—“ ‘You don’t know where you’re going, but here’s what it’s going to look like when you arrive.’ But they usually say, ‘Screw you, I’ll wait.’ ”
T wo days after the “W.” première, Tim Palen and Sarah Greenberg were sitting in a theatre in Sherman Oaks, California, thumbing their BlackBerrys before a test screening for “Chilled in Miami,” when they were visited by Paul Brooks, the film’s producer. A romantic comedy starring Renée Zellweger, “Chilled in Miami” was to be released in late January. Zellweger plays an eager executive in a Miami-based conglomerate who flies to a small town in Minnesota to figure out whom to fire at the local plant. An earlier screening had had mixed results. “We made all the changes the last screening suggested,” Brooks said, “so if the film tests for shit, it’s NRG’s fault.” (Nielsen NRG, which conducts test screenings, is one of Hollywood’s leading research companies.)
Everyone smiled, a little carefully. Palen had explained the film to me earlier by saying, “Did you see ‘Baby Boom’? It’s that. It’s that without the baby.” He had been working to make a compelling trailer, using David Schneiderman, at Seismic Productions, who cut trailers for “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Sex and the City.” Paul Brooks wanted the trailer to be primarily comedic, but Palen felt that it needed an emotional through-line, “the stuff that tugs on the ovary.” Schneiderman says that Palen’s reaction to his first pass “was the worst: ‘Where’s the Mary Tyler Moore?’ He said, ‘This girl goes to this little town in Minnesota and she’s a cold person, and they warm her up, right? More warmth, more style, more “Devil Wears Prada.” ’ And I said, ‘I don’t know where that is in the movie.’ And he said, ‘Create it.’ ”
Palen often uses a jokey shorthand to convey the sort of campaign he wants; his internal name for “Chilled in Miami” was “The Devil Wears Patagonia.” He referred to “Good Luck Chuck,” a critically lambasted R-rated comedy starring Jessica Alba, as “There’s Something About Jessica,” and cut the TV spots to emphasize Alba’s tumbles and mishaps. “We cheated it and got the film open, which was kind of a feat,” he says. “America likes cheese.” (When I e-mailed Palen to tell him that I’d watched the film, he replied, “Can you get workman’s comp?”)
Each maneuver and ad buy in Palen’s campaigns is detailed in a confidential playbook. For marketers, much of the science of marketing is determining which old movie your new movie is most like, so you can turn to that movie’s playbook as a rough guide. Much of the art of marketing is developing a campaign that reassures moviegoers that the new film is very similar to (or at least “from the director of”) another one they liked. The top-ten-grossing movies of the last decade were all “pre-awareness” titles: movies like “Spider-Man” whose stories the audience already knew from another medium, or sequels. Familiarity breeds comfort until it suddenly breeds contempt. “Will Ferrell did great doing the same sports comedy over and over,” a leading marketing consultant observes. “And then ‘Semi- Pro’ was one movie too far. Unfortunately, you only learn that afterward.”
The big studios’ average marketing budget of thirty-six million dollars is one-third the total cost of making a film; Lionsgate’s average marketing budget is twenty-two million dollars, about two-thirds of the film’s total cost. In other words, Lionsgate is making much cheaper films that rely disproportionately on their marketing. “Fox probably spent fifteen million dollars more marketing ‘Transporter 2’ than Lionsgate spent marketing ‘Transporter 3,’ ” one of the action-film franchise’s producers, Steven Chasman, says. “But Lionsgate did just as good a job, because they take more care in lasering in on their targets.” “Transporter 2” grossed forty-three million; “Transporter 3” grossed thirty-two million but—when DVD sales and other ancillary revenues are factored in—will ultimately net Lionsgate about ten million.
Thrifty campaigns epitomize the studio’s abiding financial caution: it often sells off foreign rights and defrays production and marketing costs by teaming up with outside investors. As a result, Lionsgate, which has been in business for twelve years, has never lost more than ten million dollars on a film. (It has also built a thriving business producing such television shows as “Weeds” and “Mad Men.”) But its biggest earners, “Monster’s Ball” and the first “Saw” film, each netted a relatively modest forty to fifty million dollars, and its distribution deal for Tyler Perry’s comic melodramas—sizable hits, all six of them—has made the studio only about a hundred and twenty million dollars in all. The larger studios can lose more than a hundred million dollars on a film fairly easily, yet their occasional tent-pole blockbusters can generate six hundred to eight hundred million dollars in profits. And tent poles spawn sequels that give the studio some assurance of profitability in years to come.
Lionsgate’s vice-chairman, Michael Burns, acknowledges that the studio will have to refashion its marketing hooks as it begins fishing in bigger, murkier waters. “The wider the potential audience, the more difficult it is to find the comfort zone for how we’re going to market it,” he says. “I think we can do well with ‘Chilled,’ but it’s not in our historical sweet spot.” Some at the studio worried that the film, while funny and pleasant, wasn’t distinctive enough to establish Lionsgate as the new home of the “rom com.” No one could quite agree on a title that would improve upon the gloomy “Chilled in Miami.” And though some of Palen’s favorite films are comedies about strong women—“Working Girl” and “The Women” (the 1939 version)—he had no playbook for a PG-13 romantic comedy about a strong woman.
After the October test screening, Joe Drake, the head of Lionsgate’s motion-picture group, said to Palen and Greenberg, “Is it just me, or did that play really well in the room?” The scores seemed to bear Drake out: the percentage who thought the film excellent or very good, the so-called “top two boxes,” went from sixty-five at the earlier screening to seventy-four—in other words, from worrisome to respectable. (Studios love to see scores in the eighties.)
Yet testing is fraught: it rewards comedy, narrative, and familiar stars or plot elements, and often undervalues the new. Executives’ testing stories take divergent paths to the same punch line. Either they decided not to tamper with a “Pulp Fiction,” despite testing results invariably described as “the lowest scores in the studio’s history,” or they were confounded when an “Akeelah and the Bee” faltered commercially despite “the highest scores in the studio’s history.” In both scenarios, the numbers lied. “Testing is a sham,” one marketing consultant says. “All you’ve learned is what people thought of a movie they didn’t have to pay for. It does not mean they’re going to go pay for it.”
After the screening, Palen listened carefully to the focus group. Then, on the escalator down from the theatre, he said, “They weren’t talking about Renée Zellweger, but she was the reason they came, because she’s a movie star. So if we’re out on Super Bowl weekend as counter-programming—trying to get women—the trailer has to be about her and be all shellacked and lacquered. Though I wonder if ‘Fargo’ meets ‘Baby Boom’ might be more relatable, with the downsizing everyone’s experiencing.” I mentioned that Blanche (Siobhan Fallon Hogan), Zellweger’s administrative assistant at the plant, had got many of the biggest laughs. “Droll and folksy reads as quaint, reads as art house,” Palen said. “I love Blanche, but I can’t sell her.”
Like most comedies, “Chilled” lacked a huge trailer moment: the fabled five seconds that can open a film, such as the head of the Statue of Liberty bouncing down the street, in “Cloverfield.” So its trailer would be a standard three-act journey: where the Zellweger character has been, the world she’s in now, and where she’s going—all in two and a half minutes. The voice-over star Don LaFontaine, who died in September, was revered for his ability to quickly situate the audience with such trademark phrases as “In a world where . . .” and “From the bedroom to the boardroom.” Current trailers often achieve the same narrative shorthand with two-second establishing shots separated by dips to black accompanied by whooshes of sound. Of course, rapid cuts can create unease: what are they hiding? So a way to signal genuine quality is to “stop the trailer down” and let a scene play out for ten or fifteen seconds.
The marketing advantage that studios have over other industries is that they can give out free samples of a movie as advertising—promotional material that feels like content. But filmmakers object when a trailer reveals too much of the story, or their best fireball, or their funniest joke. Tony Sella, the Fox marketer, wanted to end his trailer for “The Simpsons Movie” with Homer walking his pet Spider-Pig upside down across the ceiling and singing his Spider-Pig song. “The writers told me, ‘Absolutely not, you can’t use it,’ ” Sella recalls. “I said, ‘O.K., we can not use Spider-Pig, and the theatres will be three-quarters full, and the audience will be tremendously amused when they see it. Or you can have lines around the block, and half the people will be saying, ‘Wait till you see Spider-Pig!’ to the other half.” Spider-Pig stayed in.
Another problem with free samples is: what if the product isn’t particularly remarkable? “How many great movies are there each year?” the trailer cutter David Schneiderman says. “We’re in the business of cheating, let’s face it. We fix voice-overs, create dialogue to clear up a story, use stock footage. We give pushup bras to flat-chested girls, take people’s eyes and put them where we want them. And sometimes it works.”
P alen grew up in Northglenn, Colorado, not far from Boulder, where his father ran a Texaco station and his mother was an administrative assistant for a cheese manufacturer. He was the middle child in a churchgoing Catholic family, bracketed by two sets of sisters, all of whom ended up married and living within thirty miles of their parents. Palen knew by age five that he was attracted to boys and even before then that his future lay elsewhere. “I always felt like a fish out of water in northern Colorado,” he says. “Uncle Jim had been Clark Gable’s stunt double on ‘The Misfits,’ and I wanted to be on that plan—to get out.”
He left college before graduating and wound up in Los Angeles, where he met his partner of the last twenty-one years, an entrepreneur named Abel Villareal, and began work as a marketer for Sony and then for Destination Films. He came to Lionsgate in 2001, and his first campaign there was for “Monster’s Ball,” which won Halle Berry an Oscar. But, like many marketers, he discovered that his skills are most needed on less accomplished films. The week after “W.” opened, Lionsgate released “Saw V.” The “Saw” series, refreshed every Halloween with an increasingly thin yet convoluted story line, would with this installment become the highest-grossing horror franchise ever. At its heart is a soft-voiced madman, Jigsaw, played by Tobin Bell, who kidnaps bad people and forces them to “play a game,” according to the videotaped instructions of his Jigsaw doll, that usually ends in their messy dismemberment.
Palen has showcased the films’ torture porn with inventive zeal, developing a “Saw” blood drive featuring S & M nurses, and putting a clip of one of the first film’s head-smashing “traps” online, with the tagline “How Fucked Up Is That?” For “Saw IV,” he slipped five-second “blink” ads into a pod of commercials on MTV: the screen filled with static, and then the creepy Jigsaw doll suddenly appeared, scaring the bejeezus out of viewers. “Tim recognized that you want the core audience to feel, for a while, that the film is theirs,” John Shea, the head of integrated marketing at MTV Networks, says. “So he gives them content that feels bloggy and street—like they’re behind the curtain. Then they become barkers for your film.”
Palen has always believed in being polarizing, always been willing to alienate much of the audience in order to motivate his core. Other studios thought, not without reason, that Lionsgate was sometimes flouting industry rules. For “Saw II,” Palen made the “II” a pair of severed fingers, then released the poster without seeking the approval of the Motion Picture Association of America, which forbids ads that show “dismemberments, mutations, or mutilations of bodies,” along with such objectionable elements as “people or animals on fire” and “sacrilege.” (To qualify the film for an M.P.A.A. rating, Palen later recast the poster so you couldn’t see the fingers’ nubs.) “Horror posters are usually a girl with big boobs running from a guy with an axe, and Tim has a beautifully composed image of freaking severed fingers,” Michael Kahane, who produces some of Palen’s trailers and posters, says. “We all thought, How did he get away with that?”
“Saw V,” buoyed by Palen’s poster—a haunting image of a brooding man wearing the severed face of Tobin Bell, attached by metal clips, atop his own—opened that weekend at thirty million dollars, bested only by Disney’s “High School Musical 3.” (Palen promptly took out ads on ticketing sites declaring “High School is for pussies.”) Yet the quick-and-dirty series has constrained Lionsgate’s reputation in the industry. Jeremy Zimmer, a board member at United Talent Agency, says, “You can’t grow without spending real money on movies. Eventually, you have to look into the eyes of a relatively untested filmmaker like Zack Snyder and say, ‘Fuck it, let’s do it—let’s make “300.” ’ You have to take the Big Gulp.”
“We now have a rule, as a department, that we don’t mention ‘Saw’ to other filmmakers,” Palen told me. “It’s self-aggrandizing, it minimizes the movie we’re working together on now, and it makes us look old.”
On October 17th, “W.” opened on two thousand and thirty screens. Opening Fridays are always tense: at Fox, they used to call the long hours “the Vigil,” and Universal’s Adam Fogelson says that openings are “an exciting, nauseating thrill ride best enjoyed with a piña colada far away.” If a film doesn’t find its audience the first weekend, exhibitors pull it from their best theatres, and eventual television-licensing fees and DVD sales fall correspondingly. Lionsgate’s movie executives spent the day at their headquarters, a bland, red-brick building in Santa Monica, anxiously awaiting updates on the grosses. During the wait, Oliver Stone called to thank Palen for his work; Palen said that it was one of the nicest calls he’d ever received from a filmmaker. “I’m only disappointed Oliver never threw something at me,” he added afterward. “I was hoping for that, almost, just to get to see a piece of the legend.”
The reviews were generally pretty good, which always helps “prestige” films, but Lionsgate’s hopes really rose when NRG’s tracking for “W.” jumped after the film’s première. Marketers pay particular attention to how many people volunteer knowledge of their film—if the numbers are low a few weeks out, they will tweak the campaign—and “W.” ’s “unaided awareness” had risen from two per cent that Monday to a healthy eight per cent on Thursday. The three main research companies use their tracking data to predict the opening weekend’s gross, and their predictions for “W.” were in the eight-to-nine-million-dollar range. These forecasts can be astonishingly accurate—or way off. Palen has found that the tracking for Lionsgate’s hits routinely underestimates their audience: people who are slightly outside the mainstream. (At the studio, they call these party crashers “the freak factor.”) NRG predicted that Tyler Perry’s first film for Lionsgate, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” would open at four to six million dollars, and it opened at $21.9 million. Tracking studies are conducted among people who’ve seen at least six movies in the past year, but Perry’s films have proved to be wildly popular with churchgoing African-American women. Other hidden pockets of interest made “The Passion of the Christ” and “Sex and the City” even bigger hits.
Kevin Goetz, president of the worldwide motion-picture group at the research firm OTX, says that his company, knowing it can’t track all of Perry’s audience, simply inflates the “unknown variable” segment of its predictive model by twenty to twenty-five per cent for his films. Often, then, the algorithm of box-office estimation, which is itself the algorithm of marketing efficacy, is actually the algorithm of the informed hunch.
At 5:30 P.M. Friday, Lionsgate’s distribution department sent an e-mail estimating that, based on strong early attendance in the East, “W.” would open at about twelve million dollars. Palen hates to make box-office predictions, but at the end of the afternoon he murmured, “If the number doesn’t have a ‘teen’ in it, I’ll be disappointed.” On Saturday, he e-mailed me to say that he hoped the film would stay in second place, behind “Max Payne,” so “I can break out the Bush on the toilet for next week with a huge ‘WE’RE NUMBER TWO!’ message (kidding . . . sorta).” When the film wound up a close fourth for the weekend, at $10.5 million, he pronounced himself “relieved and a little depressed.”
Given the industry-standard multiplier for ultimate box-office—two and a half times the opening weekend’s gross—this meant that the film was expected to gross about twenty-six million dollars. (It wound up at $25.5 million.) By late afternoon Friday, then, the entire success of the filmmakers’ years of work on “W.” was clear, and Lionsgate knew to a fair degree of certainty that it would ultimately net between three and five million dollars. For a tricky film, this was a satisfying result.
That Monday, Palen was back at work on the four other films the studio would open before the end of the year. He was particularly taken with “The Spirit,” the studio’s first wide release at Christmas and its first to have a thirty-million-dollar marketing budget. “The Spirit,” based on an obscure Will Eisner comic strip from the nineteen-forties, was Lionsgate’s attempt to build a tent-pole franchise. Frank Miller, the celebrated comic-book author, had written and directed a moody, snowy, sumptuous film about a masked charmer with a self-healing body who lives to protect his city. Palen produced a crescendo of three trailers, and everything from “Spirit” trading cards to snow globes to iPhone applications.
In November, Palen and his team met with the film’s producer, Deborah Del Prete, and her team to discuss his outdoor campaign. Del Prete enthusiastically seconded all of Palen’s plans; in this case, the producer and the studio were equally excited about the film’s prospects (and they were equally crushed when the film got swamped in the crowded holiday season, grossing only eighteen million dollars in the first two weeks). Often, however, such meetings are the final collision between the mutually aggrieved marketers, who feel the studio has been handed a worse film than they were originally sold, and the filmmakers, who suspect they’re being sold a cheaper campaign than they were led to expect. “Basically, the code is this,” a prominent agent says. “ ‘We will show you thirty pumped-up people, so you will go do the junket and go on “Letterman” and fucking perform with a sense of enthusiasm.’ It’s the same meeting we were having five years ago, except now there’s a girl in a sweater who does the Internet.”
The marketers go around the table, describing the campaign in a salmagundi of “rating points against the target,” and “owning fifty per cent of voice on Yahoo,” and “MySpace reskins.” The producer Brian Grazer admits, “I can’t say I one hundred per cent understand what the media buy really means. Though I might not say ‘What?’ in front of thirty people.” Another prominent agent says, “If you say the creative is no good, they say, ‘We love it and the testing supports it.’ If you say the release date is bad, they say, ‘No, it’s good,’ and show you that a bunch of similar films did well on similar dates. So the only thing that’s discussable is how much money they’re spending—which they totally lie to you about.”
“I can take a puny media buy and make it sound like the Second Coming,” Andrew Fogelson, the former head of marketing at Warner Bros. and Columbia, says. “I’ll say, ‘We’re going to own the two weeks leading up to your movie: we’ve got thirties here, fifteens there—you’re not going to be able to turn around and not see your movie.’ If you know enough, you then say, ‘What about the four weeks before that?’ And I then reply, ‘We feel this movie is really going to benefit from an ultra-concentrated effort at the end.’ The alternative is to say, ‘Joe, you made a shitty movie. And I work for a public company, and I want to keep my job. So we’re dumping your film.’ ”
The Renée Zellweger comedy wound up being called “New in Town,” a title no one actively disliked. And Palen wound up with a different campaign from the one he’d initially sought. Dissatisfied with his working poster—Zellweger shivering against a backdrop of townsfolk—he finally flew the star to Los Angeles one weekend and photographed her himself. Now she sits atop a Vuitton suitcase in the snow, wearing a knowing smile (and the red “Devil Wears Prada” shoes). “Renée was super dreamy,” Palen says, “and she agreed that having her shivering and miserable seemed less appealing than having her strong.”
As for the trailer, he told me, “Now it’s more fish out of water: it includes the little moment where she says ‘Kay?’ to the workers after her heel catches in the factory grating, and her running into a door, so she’s klutzy, out of her element, more relatable.” He deleted a joke about a barfing cat, and the moment when Zellweger’s character points out that her co-star, Harry Connick, Jr., has beer in his beard—the testing audience didn’t like them. In the end, Palen took out everything polarizing, and a voice-over supplied the warmth that he was looking for: “She may not be where she expected . . . but she’s warming up to the possibilities.” The trailer, in fact, became what Paul Brooks had originally suggested: a graceful string of jokes. When it was tested in “mall intercepts” of shoppers, it scored a seventy among young women and a seventy-five among older women—very good numbers. The new trailer made me want to see the movie, even though I’d already seen it. It looked like fun.
Yet Palen remained uncertain. The first two of his end-of-the-year films had done as well as he could have hoped; the second two had bombed. A campaign is only as good as the box-office proves it is—yet so much remains beyond a marketer’s control. “If you want to be depressed,” one marketing consultant says, “go stand in front of a multiplex on a Friday night, and watch all the people who come by to look at what’s playing, and then walk away. Look at all the empty seats at a wedding, where people told you they were coming and knew you were spending three hundred dollars on them.”
Many film marketers grow disillusioned with their jobs, with the lying and the cheating. But when I asked Palen whether the job had affected his understanding of our primary levers—of the human eagerness to give way to laughter, fear, sorrow, and passion—he looked at me sharply and said, “I hope not. Because owning the secrets of cattle mentality is not aspirational. I love my job, I love being a part of all this, of staying fresh and young.” He was thinking aloud, not his favorite mode of self-presentation. “I mean . . . my mom still listens to Patsy Cline. I have this—not a fear—but she stopped at a certain age, and I don’t want to stop, to get old.”
The last test screening I saw with Palen, on a perfect Southern California night in the Valley, was “Game.” Made by the same directing team that shot “Crank,” a low-budget adrenaline ride that turned a modest profit for Lionsgate, “Game” stars Gerard Butler as a death-row prisoner in the near-future who becomes a real-life avatar in a first-person-slayer video game to the death. His goal is to escape and find his wife, a hooker avatar in another game. The film struck me as brutal, occasionally vivid, and wildly incoherent. Palen, usually chatty after a screening, was stroking his beard. Yet th
e focus group, most of them youthful gamers, seemed genuinely excited by it. This made me feel old.
One of the film’s directors, Brian Taylor, a restless-seeming man with a shaved head, caught up to Palen in the hall and said, “So, I think it played pretty well in the room.”
“Yeah, it’s always great to see it that way,” Palen said.
“There’s a lot of candy for the trailer,” Taylor continued, with more assurance. “So many action sequences, man. Should be easy. So, what I was thinking is, this guy named Doobie cut together the battles and the battle-in-the-rave scene, and he’s, like, scary—sick fast, cuts it in two days with sound design. Like, he’s just off. And so we’d like him to take a pass at the trailer?”
“We can definitely
talk about that when we meet,” Palen said, agreeably. “Cool.”
He shook hands and moved on. When one of his colleagues asked how he was doing, he said, “I’m managing my stress that they want a guy named Doobie to cut the trailer.” (When Taylor followed up by e-mail,
a few days later, Palen assured him that he was already “deep into a cut.”) Outside, in a nearly empty parking lot, Palen said, “All the Doobieness is totally not the way you want to go with the trailer, which is more accessible, more ‘He was; she was; together, they were . . .’—straight out of the America-loves-cheese playbook.” Still, he said, brightening, “It has all the raw materials for a great action trailer. I think it’ll be easy to sell.”