I'm a Better Dad Than Him. . .

Revisiting the Collective: When Marketing and Hype Forget the Actual Movie

(CS: Many long-time film journalist have been moaning that their industry has just turned into a giant marketing blitz for major movie studios as most of their time is spent writing about the latest trailer or casting decision, which is free publicity designed as an article. Now, there have been a few sites like Collider that in the last year have been great at doing deep-dives into older movies or exploring themes from current releases. 

I wrote about this shift away from film journalism way back in 2014, and wanted to see if anything has changed.)

One of the furious debates I often see between film writers/critics is the current state of movie “journalism.” If one checks out several of the popular movie news sites, there is a strong chance the major headline will either be about a trailer to the latest hotly anticipated special effects extravaganza or a recent list of a major studio’s release dates for their major blockbusters over the next 8 years (with such exciting titles like Untitled Marvel Project). A huge amount of the news that appears on these sites are less from any stringent investigation but rather a PR company’s press release, and even more often the case, news taken from another website. (CS: After several really big flops in 2015 and 2016 for would-be new trilogies, it appears most studios have slowed down on revealing film slates years ahead of time with announcements for a bunch of sequels to movies that haven't been released yet.) 

It isn’t hard to see why some veteran film journalist and critics bemoan the state of film writing on the internet. The constant headlines of “exclusive” reports that are nothing more than a bunch of studio authorized set stills or announcements that a movie without any script, director, or cast might get made in 2020 (but hey, it should be awesome). It is lot less journalism and much more marketing. At times it can feel like free advertising for motion pictures that definitely don’t need it. (CS: I never get the 'exclusive' label when to comes to things like set stills or trailers, because that is almost definitely something sent out by the marketing team. It isn't like some journalist found the trailer secure in a vault after following several leads and avoiding secret government agents.) 

This isn’t going to be one of those “oh no, the world is ruined and I want everything to be the way it used to be.” The reality is the explosion of writing opportunities on the internet has opened the door to some great writers and fascinating websites on movies. Sites like The Dissolve (RIP) and RogerEbert.com provide comprehensive and thoroughly researched explorations into classic movies and eras in film. They use an extensive knowledge of film history to measure the impact and relevance of current movies. They cover a wide range of movies and look into every genre, and offer spotlights to films that may have been forgotten. These aren’t the only sites that do this, and there are many wonderfully talented writers who dissect and analyze pictures to discover not only their importance in a social, political, and artistic context, but also dig deep into what inspired, motivated and essentially lead to the formation of specific pictures. (CS: Since this article, Collider has become my favourite movie site.) They help explain all the aspects that make a film resonate with an audience including the less thought about things like cinematography, shot composition, and colour and song use. Art is one of the most important aspects of what makes us human, and so articulate and entertaining discussions about them are crucial. 

But still, it is unfortunately much easier for sites to extensively detail every single rumour and casting change going on in the upcoming Star Wars movie. (CS: Remember when they had movies?)
This isn’t necessarily all bad either. The talented writers take these press releases and trailers and can often craft intriguing articles from them. It becomes less about a regurgitation of the PR material and more an analysis of the process and an attempt to apply how these moves affect the current state of cinema. I’ve read many interesting reviews of trailers that discuss the different strategies used in trying to lure in an audience and also predict how close the advertisement is to the actual movie. There can be value in reporting this news, but if you get too much of it, it can be hard to shake the notion one is being sold something even if the site isn’t affiliated to any movie studio. (CS: This shift led to several major film journalists like Drew McWeeny to leave the major sites and start their own independent site.)

This isn’t a bashing of movie news sites though. If anything, it is a symbol of the current state of our culture. A society that seems more excited about the anticipation and build rather than the product. (CS: Ugh) At the recent San Diego Comic-Con, the most popular location was Hall H where the movie studios promoted their big comic book, fantasy, and science fiction pictures that will be churned out over the next few years. There were massive lines with several hour wait times just for the chance to see the premiere of a movie trailer for movies like Sin City: A Dame to Kill For or Mad Max: Fury Road. Essentially, numerous people willingly spent many hours crammed against total strangers for the chance to watch a commercial. Those same people then got rather upset that the “exclusive” trailer they spent money and time to see quickly showed up on many websites shortly after, as if they were privileged to some special piece of art rather than material designed to sell product to the masses. 

The fact marketing material like trailers and schedule announcements have become hotly anticipated attractions is what has caused moaning from frustrated writers and critics. The advertising focus had turned art into product. The discussions on what a movie grosses and constant barrage of hype makes it feel like a new flavour of Mountain Dew rather than a meticulously and lovingly crafted work of art. Every critic is well aware the film industry is a business and money drives most decisions. One still wants to believe a filmmaker is crafting something personal and creating a work that means something to them. It gets harder to believe when the marketing and hype buries the actual movies that has been made. 

The dissent also comes from the fact that once a movie is released it seems to be quickly forgotten from public conscious. For months there is endless debate and discussion about an upcoming movie (and of course, countless rumoured movies that may be release in 8 years), but the moment the movie is released and a review has been posted, it often feels like everyone has now moved to debating the sequel or spin-off or an entirely different franchise. The discussion is geared to the hype and marketing rather than the movie. There seems more interest in what may happen rather than what has happened. (CS: To promote Collider again, in the past year they have done a great job of writing several articles analyzing key aspects of recently released movies. There is probably at least six think pieces on different aspects of Nope.) 

This may partly come from the fact that movies are one of the few entertainment mediums left that we need to wait and anticipate. We live in a world where BeyoncĂ© secretly releases an album or musicians often release songs shortly after recording them. A TV series is binge watched on a weekend, and many networks will even air premiere episode weeks earlier in an attempt to grab an audience. Movies still have set release dates, and it is still something that can build anticipation and has the aura of being a big event. It may be the idea that we often get things instantly that makes one crave every little nugget from a film set and the chance to get scenes from a trailer. It can also just be really fun feeling like a kid again and getting the growing butterflies of excitement in the stomach just like it is Christmas Eve again. 

Movies are art. Maybe they’re product too, because tickets get sold and obviously, they’re extensively marketed. The movie itself is what matters. It is the messages, themes and form of the movie that is worth discussion and debate. A modern movie deserves to be analyzed, discussed and explored, and this can be done by either comparing to the past or just digging into how a filmmaker went about making us feel and think. The moment one walks out of the cinema the next reaction hopefully isn’t to jump online to endlessly debate the comic book movie that is coming out the next summer but rather take some time to talk about the value of what was just seen. 

The latest trend of consuming marketing and hype also means it is the biggest movies that constantly get the intention. Small, thoughtful, and complicated independent pictures don’t have the budget to endlessly assault one with marketing material. They don’t have the flash and pizzazz that will spark a stream of Twitter responses and links. The marketing of these movies may not warrant mini-novels and endless debate. The actual pictures and the stories they tell, now that is something worthy of essays and trumpeting so that others can get inspired to watch and enjoy them. Talking about the marketing and the hype has a purpose, but in the end, the most important thing should always be the actual movie. (CS: One thing I want to get better at is championing those smaller movies that I loved and try to get as many people to give a chance to those lesser known pictures.

What do you think about the modern state of film writing?)