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The Blockbuster Strikes Back

An analysis of the impact of blockbuster film productions.
by

Spencer Darr

on 25 April 2010

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Transcript of The Blockbuster Strikes Back

Double click anywhere & add an idea Merchandise Marketing Stars Cultural Impact Gone With The Wind MGM hired major star Clark Gable to be the male lead in their much anticipated film "Gone With The Wind," but had trouble finding a female lead. Many major female stars lobbied for the role, including Bette Davis, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, and Katharine Hepburn. David O'Selznick was opposed to these actresses, some because of their personal lives, and, in the case of Hepburn, he said he couldn't see Clark Gable chasing her for 10 years. Hepburn shot back "I may not appeal to you, David, but there are men with different tastes!"

The role of the iconic role of Scarlett O'Hara went to British newcomer Vivien Leigh, who Selznick felt audiences would find both attractive and relatable. Star Wars Since "Gone With the Wind," hiring relative unknowns to star in major blockbusters has become commonplace. In fact, being famous can actually hurt your chances of being cast in some cases, as it happened with Orson Welles. George Lucas originall envisioned Orson Welles as the voice of Darth Vader, but later decided that his voice would be too recognizable, and went with James Earl Jones.

Blockbusters can be star vehicles. There is hardly a better example than with Harrison Ford in "Star Wars." While Ford had previously starred in George Lucas' "American Graffiti," he had yet to become a major star. After playing Han Solo, his career soared, and went on to star in other major blockbusters, including the Indiana Jones series. Unfortunately, co-stars Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher did not see the same big screen success following the "Star Wars" franchise. Avatar James Cameron's latest blockbuster, "Avatar," was an instant success, and following tradition, did not have a major actor in the lead. Sam Worthington, who was perhaps most recognized for his role in the fourth "Terminator" movie the summer before. The studio wanted a major actor in the lead, and had Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal in mind, but Cameron was insisted on going with Worthington.

The film did manage to cast several recognizable faces, however, including Zoe Saldana, who starred in the "Star Trek" blockbuster the same summer as "Terminator Salvation" and Michelle Rodriguez, perhaps best known for her role on the "Lost" television series.

Like Harrison Ford had starred in Lucas' film before "Star Wars," screen veteran Sigourney Weaver had previously starred in James Cameron's "Aliens." Defining Merchandising in the Film Industry "Translating a movie's title, icon or brand to other products on an exclusive basis; merchadndising also refers to raising awareness at the retail level, such as creating outposts in a store to promote these products and attract customers" It may better known in simpler terms as "Consumer Products" Today, licensing for film merchandise needs to be announced years before the film is released
Studios need to be selective about how many licenses they distribute

Merchandising and advertising go hand in hand
Purpose of merchandising is ultimately to advertise and create awareness for the film, "The Profits from licensing, spinoffs, TV sales, sequels, and merchandising from a smash. . . can easily top $1 billion" Gone with the Wind The highest grossing movie of all time (when adjusted for inflation) was folliowed by a variety of merchandising strategies
Dolls, plates, apparel, clocks, etc Even today, new merchandise is being invented In 1993, Ted Turner was able to sell Rhett and Scarlett neckties for $28 apiece in retail stores across the United States Merchandising for the film can be better categorized as collector's items Products were purchased not for their entertainment value like action figures and other toys available today Star Wars Summer brings out the most money in merchandising and Star Wars was released in summer 1977 Action figures, toys, apparel, accessories. . .the list is endless Franchises were set up for films that were introduced in series
in order for a franchise to be successful the film has to have the potential for long-term interest and theproducts had to appeal to all ages Revenue from Star Wars merchandise was HUGE
Kenner Products alone sold $100 million . . .and in 1999, PepsiCo struck a deal with LucasFilm for $1.25 billion. . .the largest promotion deal ever Avatar After Star Wars, merchandising became a regular practice for anticipated blockbuster hits. The more expensive the film is to make, the greater the need for merchandising became. Avatar was released during the major holiday season, another prime time for film merchandising. . .the the merchandise that was manufactured for Avatar was equally as huge Action figures in McDonald's Happy Meals catered to children and more sophisticated memorabilia was manufactured for adult fans of the film In general, merchandise today is geared towards kids and fast food restaurants are most closely tied to merchandising and product placement for major motion pictures Gone With the Wind "Gone With the Wind" had the benefit of being made three years after the wildly successful book was published. The book had such a large and positive reaction with the general public that any move that was made in the movie in regards to production was like a marketing campaign in itself. From the start all eyes were on any major move that the movie made, especially when it came to who was going to be cast as the characters of the movies. So the book's success lead into a much easier marketing campaign for them. Besides the book and stars rumored to be attached to the movie, major advertising for the film was also the theatrical trailer. In today it is very likely that a movie as a large as "Gone With the Wind" was back then would be heavily advertized on television through commercials. Back in 1937, though, television commercials were nonexistent so "Gone With the Wind" had to use a much different approach to the way that it went about advertising. Theatrical trailers were the main way for a movie to market itself. Avatar Avatar had an interesting marketing problem for director James Cameron. Unlike most current Hollywood movies, the science fiction story was not based on a comic book and it was filmed in 3D with motion capture technology. So it was costing a lot of money but potential viewers wouldn't yet be familiar with any characters and it stars pretty low-key actors such as Australian Sam Worthington. So compared to "Gone Withe the Wind" it did not have the benefit of having the audience prepared for what the movie was going to be about. What is different for "Avatar" and many other blockbusters that have come out in recent years is that they can use marketing through different outlets. One of the outlets that "Avatar" used that has been common for many years now is joining with fast food chains to help promote the movie. "Avatar" joined together with Mc Donnalds and Coke Zero in its marketing campaign. They added a twist onto it though by incorporating the internet and modern computer capabilities. During their campaign, with a Coke Zero can or bottle, you could log on to their Web site and hold the Avatar graphic off the side of the Coke can or bottle up to your web cam and it unlocks a virtual 3D Sampson helicopter on your screen. How do you sell an action movie when there is no franchise? Fans have no idea what the plot of the movie is when there is no book or videogame or TV show that it's based on. Blockbuster films, while made up of so many parts, would amount to nothing without the audience. No matter how large the marketing scheme or the budget, the audience will eventually be the ones to decide if a blockbuster succeeds or fails. Several blockbuster films have served as technological and culturual landmarks in the film industry and that is a major part of their significance in film history. Classical Hollywood:
Gone With the Wind "Gone With the Wind" is a film as massive in scope as it is in running time. Its release was hugely anticipated, culminating in a three day festival preceding its release in Atlanta, GA. They redecorated the entire downtown area to resemble antebellum south. Upon its release it not only met the expectations, but exceeded them, instantly heralded as one of the greatest films of all time. "Gone With the Wind" set out to be a landmark production from the earliest stages of developement, headed by the eccentric D.O. Selznick. He believed when producing movies that they required attention to detail and you could not produce ten movies in a year, as many producers in the studio system were doing at the time, while maintaining a quality product. So when Selznick had the opportunity he secured the rights to Margaret Mitchell's hugely popular novel for an unprecedented $50,000 and set to work. "Gone With the Wind" was instantly a major success, setting a box office gross record that would stand for 25 years, without adjusting for inflation. It also set the mark for the most Oscars awarded to one film at 9. The Oscar for supporting actress was the first given to an African American. The film immediately impacted society, revitalizing nostalgia for the "Old South," while distracting its audience from the modern problems of economic depression and a growing world conflict, that eventually led to WWII. Several largely successful re-releases of "Gone With the Wind" has secured its place among the few timeless classics in American Cinema, still garnering huge audiences over 50 years after its original release. The New Blockbuster:
Star Wars "Star Wars" was released a few years after "Jaws" and further qualified the blockbuster as the new heavyweight in Hollywood production. It was delivered at just the right time, injecting a feeling of hope and awe into a population desperately looking for just that amidst economic recession and political controversy. Even before its initial release Star Wars made an impact in the film community by advancing special effects capabilities for the first time in decades. Upon release "Star Wars" was an instant hit, with its total box office gross, when adjusted for inflation, at a comfortable second. The audience reacted and interacted with the franchise in a way thats yet to be replicated. This has led to the massive "Expanded Universe" which is a collection of books, video games, and TV shows spun off from the Star Wars Universe as established by the films. "Star Wars" set the template for current major summer blockbusters a few ways. One of them was bringing a large youth audience, with many teens revisiting the film multiple times upon its release. Another was aiming blockbuster film's style towards massive special effects productions backing up an epic story, such as seen in Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, or Pirates of the Caribbean. Further, Lucas's empire reached beyond film and into massive merchandising, for which he was given all rights by Fox for a smaller cut of the film's gross. A massively short-sighted error by Fox that has cost them literally billions in revenue. "Star Wars" also pioneered the practice, and success, of the trilogy. Sequels had been tried before, but never with the commercial success of Star Wars, which raked in over $200 million in box office sales with each release. When adjusted for inflation that puts each film from the "Originial Trilogy" in the top 15 grossing movies all-time. This practice was quickly imitated with films such as "Indiana Jones", "Back to the Future", and "Spider-Man." Even though all three of those trilogies were successful, they all struggled to maintain a consistent level of quality for all three films. A task "Star Wars" accomplished easily "Star Wars" impacts on the film industry will obviously forever be felt. To some this was a step in the wrong direction such as when Peter Biskind claimed, "When all was said and done, Lucas and Spielberg returned the 1970's audience, grown sophisticated on a diet of European and New Hollywood films, to the simplicities of the pre-1960s Golden Age of movie... They marched bachward through the looking-glass." The Modern Blockbuster:
Avatar Amidst the most severe economic recession since the 1980s and the most unpopular war since the Vietnam Conflict, "Avatar" emerged at just the right time. The similarities between the culture "Star Wars" was released to and "Avatar" is striking, and both will undoubtedly be rembered as similarly massive events in not only the film culture but American mass culture. "Avatar" was special from the moment of its release. In order to accomplish his vision, director and writer James Cameron, had developed cutting edge technology allowing him to film 3D footage in high definition quality. He also pioneered a system with which he could view what he was filming live against a blue screen, digitally with rough cuts of the special effects that would later be added. The movie was also renowned for its crippling budget that was reportedly nearing $300 million, easily surpassing the budget of any movie ever made to this point in history. "Avatar's" lasting impact is already obvious. There has been a massive surge in 3D films following its release, to an absurd point. For example Sam Worthington, the star of "Avatar," plays the lead role in the upcoming "Clash of the Titans." This movie was shot with regular digital cameras, but following the incredible success of "Avatar," the studio went back and digitally crafted the movie into a 3D experience. This must be attributed to "Avatar's" massive impact as well as the new practice of tacking on at least $3-$4 per ticket when screened in 3D. "Avatar," following a massive marketing scheme, blew up upon its release. It displayed a gorgeous fantasy world, while rehashing a traditional and familiar storyline. Fans immediately identified with it in a way not seen since "Star Wars." There have been numerous reports of the "Avatar effect," where viewers claim to be depressed or contemplating suicide because they cannot travel to the imaginary world from "Avatar," Pandora. For example on Avatar forums people have claimed "When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed grey. It just seems so meaningless." Or even more absurd, "I still don't really see any reason to keep doing things at all. I live in a dying world." "Avatar" impacted society not only with its beauty, but its environmental awareness. The native people from Pandora live in harmony with nature, while the white Americans from afar are determined to exploit their natural habitat for its natural resources. This has helped bring the issue of global warming more to the forefront of the national consciousness as weather patterns grow more unpredictable. When Joe Letteri was awarded the Oscar for achievement in visual effects he addressed the impact "Avatar" had on the social and environmental consciousness during his acceptance speech saying, "What we did with Avatar, if you really look at it, we took things that are out there in the world every day, we just made them bigger shinier... But all our inspiration comes from the real world. So if you really look, you can see all those things around you, and I would just encourage people to get out and look for it." June 20th, 1975 the blockbuster was formally introduced to the masses in the form of Steven Speilberg's "Jaws." This film defined the business model and success level major studios strived for from that moment to this very day. Most studios bank the majority of their income on the the movies they release from May to August. The blockbuster is not simply a large budget studio production or large earner, but a massive event made up of many parts. Blockbuster movies entail intricate pre-production and enormous marketing schemes leading up to highly anticipated releases that aim to pack theaters across the country. Some films epically succeed, while others stupendously fail.
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