Monday, September 21, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze has been working on his latest movie, Where the Wild Things Are, since 2003. At this point, I've heard so many rumors about how bad it is, how awesome it is, that it's dead, that it's alive, the movie has taken shape in my mind as some sort of impossible, mythical task, with Jonze as Sisyphus.

I expected to forget all about Spike Jonze, gradually, as he edited and re-edited, shot and re-shot the movie behind closely-guarded doors, and slowly grow old. One day in my silver-fox old age, I would randomly hear about his passing, curiously read through the obituary, and hear tale of his "unfinished masterpiece," which some tearful friend or family member, of course, will say "probably killed him, sucked the life right out of him."

At this point, the similarities to Charlie Kaufman's directorial effort, Synecdoche, New York--about a director whose last play is a life-consuming spiral into the depths of his own mind--are startling, if also, thankfully, a bit premature.

You see, after numerous script difficulties, technical problems, battles with studio executives, cost over-runs, re-shoots, and rumors...Where the Wild Things Are is finally set to be released October 16, 2009--six years after Jonze signed onto the project.

Curious how Warner Brothers is approaching the marketing of this potentially mind-blowing/sleep-inducing art film that has almost no plot and actually made kids cry in a test screening? Dig into this:
Where the Wild Things Are seems sure to appeal to the sensibilities of a certain cohort of urban young adults — the type who read comic-book novels and wear skateboard sneakers; who might concur with a note I saw one day scrawled on a legal pad in Jonze’s office: “There is no difference between childhood and adulthood.”

Finding an audience beyond that demographic, though, may well pose a challenge to Warner’s marketing department, which is trying to position the movie as a family-friendly film for kids of all ages. They have adopted a broad-based strategy to lure children into the theater, buying advertising on Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network. They’ll also be making a special effort to reach what one executive described to me as “hip, tastemaker” kids: Ugg will be selling a special “Where the Wild Things Are” kids’ boot, and Urban Outfitters has a collection of “Where the Wild Things Are” T-shirts and shadow puppets. [emphasis mine]

Uggs, overpriced Urban Outfitter T-shirts, and shadow puppets? That's the extent of their guerilla advertising operation? Uggs? Really? The only I could think of more stupid than that would be shadow puppets.

Damn, those marketing dogs over at Warner Brothers are clueless. Just because some 12 year-old girl's wearing stopped-being-cool-years-ago boots with the title of a weird kids' movie stamped on them does not make anybody want to go see that movie. Some dorky kid playing with shadow puppets by himself in his room is not going to convince anyone to see that movie. People will go see the movie if it looks good.

What some people fail to understand, despite the fact that they are often well-paid professionals who studied marketing in college, is that name recognition and appeal are two very different things.

Commercials, newspaper ads, billboards, bus-shelters, decal-wrapped train cars, entire buildings painted like a poster, napkins at Starbucks, battery-operated toothbrushes shaped like the marketing machines would rather spend $100 million to bully cultural weaklings into seeing a movie than spend that money to make the movie better, or to make three other movies that might be worth making, might earn them a dark-horse hit.

If the film business is a gamble--and it most certainly is--then you're better off throwing as many darts as you can at that board, rather than one really expensive one with a high risk of hitting the box office public like a big turd in the face.

But what do I know? I'm just a mook. See you at the theater. Maybe.



LiteralDan said...

Hallelujah, and amen.

I hope that movie is good, just because I like Spike Jonze and because the movie is so unusual in concept and execution that it's interesting.

Dick Couffe said...

"[Spike Jonze] is also part owner of skateboard company Girl Skateboards with riders Rick Howard and Mike Carroll, which will be releasing a limited series of skateboards featuring the monsters from his film adaptation Where the Wild Things Are."

oh sweet. maybe they'll have a special slurpee flavor too.