Archives for indies

Wither the pull quote? On Ratner and Rotten Tomatoes

Brett Ratner hit the news this past week, saying: “The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes, I think it’s the destruction of our business.” He went on to say: “But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”

Now he’s likely just upset that Batman vs. Superman scores so low on Rotten Tomatoes, which most articles pointed out, but he does raise a valid point about the industry that I’ve been pondering as well, but from a slightly different angle: the disappearance of critical reviews and pull-quotes from the marketing of films to audiences.

Working with Abramorama, I recently released a film I produced called Love & Taxes by Jake Kornbluth and his brother Josh. It’s a little movie, with a small theatrical release, but we’ve gotten amazing reviews. We’re happy to be at 100% for the critic’s scores on Rotten Tomatoes, and have gotten heaps of quotes like this one from the NYT’s Ken Jaworoski:”A Minor Marvel.”

Love & taxes poster

It used to be that distributors would tell you that one of the reasons to show films in theaters was to get the critical reviews, so you can put them as pull quotes on your movie poster and then your DVD case (or way back, your VHS box). And they seemed to work, because everyone did this. And you still see it in advertising for movies in newspapers, etc.

But guess where you don’t see them – online, where most audiences watch these films. Go to iTunes, Amazon or Netflix and look – no pull quotes anywhere. Each of these platforms requires film distributors to remove these quotes from their poster art. Heck, Netflix doesn’t even really show your poster art anymore, mainly using images from your set of film stills. Click on a film on these platforms, and you get some extra synopsis, and some cast and above the line credits, but mostly no reviews or reviewer’s quotes.

Heck, Netflix doesn’t even show the Rotten Tomatoes score anywhere. You have to try hard to even get to a details screen where you can see a few member reviews – and who knows how valid their opinions are anyway. Amazon Prime shows the aggregate IMDB score and customer scores, but you have to link away to even look at IMDB, and there’s no RT link at all.  iTunes does show the RT score and does include the top four critics reviews. But even then, we can see that the majority of the marketing of films on the platforms is very limited.

And that’s a problem for smaller indie movies. If you’re a blockbuster or larger film, you can rely on your own marketing spend to gain awareness for your film. You can run that pull quote thousands of times in print and digital and try to get the word out. But for most indies, the majority of their marketing spend has been around their theatrical release and sometimes the beginning of their digital life. And almost all of this marketing goes into building word of mouth and discovery, so that someone seeks out your film, and perhaps helps it to land on the top ten on iTunes, which makes it get streamed more – because most people look on the home screen for their films.

But we have always hoped people would find our films through browsing as well, and might see the critics reviews, and maybe even a great pull quote and take a chance on our films. But that doesn’t work anymore. And even if they heard about our film from its theatrical release, or elsewhere, they might be further persuaded to take a chance when they read a great pull quote. But that’s not possible if it’s not even there at the buying site. Few people are going to go look it up on your site, or in the NYT or on RT.

Now I’m almost ready to blame the platforms for removing the critics or reducing them to a Tomato score, but… they wouldn’t have done that if it didn’t work. They have more data than any of us can imagine, and if showing pull quotes sold or rented more films, they’d be pressuring us to get more of them, and would be displaying them properly.

Or maybe they do work. iTunes after all needs you to spend money and rent or buy the film, and they make a few of them available. Netflix doesn’t care if you watch a title – it just cares that you keep subscribing. And just by having a good inventory of TV and films, you’ll probably keep subscribing even if you don’t read the reviews or watch my film. You don’t need a conspiracy theory about lessening the role of critics to see why it may not matter to Netflix at all.

But it matters to us indie filmmakers. And it means we have to start re-prioritizing our marketing. Your thumbail images need to be that much better. Your poster design (and its pull quotes) matter less. Your marketing spend, especially on Facebook, should emphasize your best quotes even more. And for some people, they’ll have to debate whether a theatrical run predicated on  getting reviews even matters for their film anymore – perhaps that four-wall or service deal money would be better spent on other marketing. Lots to consider in the digital age.

All that said, I think Rotten Tomatoes is not the problem. If you go to their site, you can access a lot more reviews now. But Ratner is right that our reduction of these reviews down to one score, and even worse – the cutting of pull quotes from online sites – is a problem.

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Oh, Really Reed

Jeesh, Reed Hastings, you can really f-up a situation can’t you?! WTF man, as if the whole recent Qwikster debacle wasn’t bad enough, you get the opportunity to clean things up a bit in Sunday’s New York Times interview puff piece with you and you utterly screw that up as well.

Ok, fair enough, you suck at what might be the most important part of your job – public relations, but you did make a pretty cool service. I’ve been willing to forgive you, all along, and I’m still betting your stock will rise, against most pundits in the film world, but… you finally lost me today.

Andrew Goldman, the NYT interviewer, comes down pretty hard on you in the interview. He asks some tough questions, and finally gets to the meat of his argument when he points out that not only is your streaming collection woefully inadequate compared to your DVD selection, but that you’ll be losing your Starz deal soon, which includes Disney content such as Toy Story 3. What can cushion the blow (to his son) of losing Buzz Lightyear? he asks. Your response:

“I watch mostly independent films. I’m not in that particular demo. I’ll send you a list”

Oh, Really Reed. That’s your answer?

So, you defend your current crappy situation by appealing to indie film? That’s pretty ironic, isn’t it?

If you love indie film so much, why do you keep cutting the deals you give to indies? It’s an open conversation these days that you’re not renewing scores of indie film deals. It’s an open secret that outside of a few select indie aggregators, you’ve never paid that much for them in the first place.That’s fine, it is a small market, but don’t act like that’s why you don’t know – as the CEO of a publicly traded company whose very popularity hinges on being a repository of just about all films, indie and Hollywood – some better answer to the question. Jeesh. Yeah, I’m Reed Hastings, so f-ng busy watching indie films that I didn’t realize we’d be losing Toy Story 3, and don’t know why anyone would care.

So, do you really love indie film, or was this your publicist’s brilliant strategy for deflecting the criticism? I can almost hear her/him: “If they ask about Starz and Disney, say you watch indies and don’t know about that. No one watches indie films, but they have stellar street cred. It’s almost like pulling out a f-ing puppy, you become criticism/bullet-proof. People love to support indie films in spirit, but no one watches enough of them to actually call your bluff and point out that our indie selection is decreasing as well. It will be brilliant.”

But it’s not.

Luckily for you, your real customers – the majority – care about Real Housewives and other shows they couldn’t figure out how to DVR, so they need them streaming on demand. Your core customers, the ones you built your business on and who watch indies and classics and obscure titles, don’t realize that you’ve shifted your tactics and these titles are slowly disappearing. Your competitors can’t figure out that having 10K crap titles can’t compete with a mixture of good big/small content (and can’t afford to license it). You can be comfortable in your ownership of this space. You don’t need to change anything. You don’t need to listen to your core customers. You don’t need to listen to anyone. You’ll just do whatever you want while people continue to pay up.

Nope, no need to be strategic here. Once you’re the big kid on the block, who is going to disrupt this situation?

Oh, wait. I’ve heard this story before. This might actually get fun pretty soon.

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