To Hell With Brangelina – Part One of Two

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on February 10, 2009

The title of this post is what the first of this two-parter comes down to: To Hell With Brangelina.

And to be fair, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie probably feel the same, much in the same way that John Lennon and Yoko Ono felt about what would have been billed “Jonoko” in their day. I’m sure they’d be fine with a little less scrutiny over public perception of Brad with or without mustache or heated debates over Angie’s weight or speculation about whether or not she’s prepping her incubator again.

Because I’m not talking about them personally, but that media phenomenon.

It’s boring. It’s stale. And the only thing keeping it alive as well as the rest of the celebrity-overkill-TMZ-stalking-entertainment media is laziness. Laziness on the part of entertainment journalism, but worse – the trusty-you-can-depend-on-it laziness that is us. Or U.S. as in U.S. of A. It’s the same crap that makes an absurd box office hit out of movies like WHAT HAPPENED IN VEGAS or HE’S NOT REALLY THAT INTO YOU or TITANIC for that matter, or keeps people watching any show that has the name of a city + CSI after it in its title or sit-coms like TWO AND FOUR FIFTHS OF A KID GOING THROUGH HIS AWKWARD YEARS or a small screen classic like STEP BY STEP (Oh, the comic stylings of a seasoned Patrick Duffy and Suzanne Somers) on the air for a decade at a time.

I come to this from a two different angles:

One – Rare is the festival sponsor that isn’t benignly evil

And Two – What Jeffrey Wells reminded us about at the Oxford Film Festival

PART ONE: THE SPONSORS

I had a conversation recently with Christian Gaines of Withoutabox/IMDB about how film festival press is evolving in the wake of the internet rapidly usurping the print media. He was imploring me to educate anyone that had any governing interest in what I was doing as the Director of PR for AFI DALLAS and AFI FEST (not to mention my other film festivals) to educate them that it’s all changing and they better prepare for that, realize it, and come to terms with it or a shitload of disappointing was heading their way in a Mrs. Beasley’s muffin basket as the nature of the press coverage began to roll in and the final impressions numbers rang up on the big tote board for Jerry’s filmmaker kids.

He was doing that because it is becoming all kinds of different and because he’s nice enough to be concerned about the perception those people would have on how I do my job. Here’s the deal (if you don’t know):

Sponsors dictate a lot of what a film festival can or can’t do because that’s where the lion’s share of the money comes from to put on the thing in the first place. And they want to justify what they’re getting for their money. Simply put – they want to translate that money spent into exposure and exposure and then some exposure. They want their image to bask in something that isn’t a blatant commercial, but they still want the commercial. They just don’t want it to be blatant. Or they at least want to be able to delude themselves that it isn’t blatant.

So – when the dust has cleared and the last screening has been held and the last award has been given out, we have to ring up the impression numbers. (An impression being every time someone has seen the film festival’s – or more precisely – the company’s name or logo in an ad, on a billboard or in my case in an interview or in a picture with a movie star.)

The first challenge (I won’t call it a problem – yet…) is that the majority of film festival coverage is now done by writers on the internet. Online columns, interviews, reviews, blogs, etc. Which is fine – EXCEPT, that no one really has an absolute formula for either tracking down and recording what those numbers are exactly, nor do they have a set and uniform formula for justifying the “worth” in dollars and cents for all of those numbers.

Let me make it simple – for AFI FEST this past fall, the press report we compiled for the coverage we could find and track down on the festival filled two five inch binders and a third four inch binder. The majority of all that content was online press. And we were able to find “numbers” for a third of that.

That’s a lot of work that in a bottom line world that ends up being pointless in the minds of a handful of people that don’t understand at all why someone like me couldn’t instruct Tom Cruise to position his head on the red carpet in such a way that their logo could be seen clearly by the photographers taking his picture.

That’s right, they complained that he wouldn’t move his head the right way so they could see their logo. And it was someone’s fault. If you asked Tom, he’d probably blame psychiatry, but that’s just a guess.

My friend, Mark Woodvine, once told me he actually subscribed to the L.A. Times because they had sponsored the LA Film Festival and he so appreciated their support of that event that he saw rewarding them with his business as the right thing to do. Integrity. Based on him telling me that, I brainstormed on creative ways to pump up the name of our sponsors beyond the old title cards and name following the film festival’s name stuff. I spoke to them about preaching the gospel to the press and public of a real partnership with the film festival. Integrating them in the viral promos we were creating and shooting with our filmmakers. Not just a giving a check for more impressions and movie stars thing.

That’s because I’m a Pollyanna when it comes right down to it.

And they could not have cared less. And I know – I’m a dumbass for thinking that a corporation would have any inclination to embrace an endeavor like a film festival or anything beyond an out-and-out commercial in that way. Because to do otherwise would take some creativity and energy and some longterm vision.

Now here is the capper (and one of the prime inspirations) to this chapter. In a conversation with someone associated with one of the festivals (I’ll be just as vague as I have to be to have a semblance of plausible denial…) we were told that “while the festival was okay the past couple of years, you really haven’t delivered since that red carpet when you had those twenty movie stars come to your premiere.”

This was after the festival has garnered very impressive critical notices and audience numbers that exceeded all expectations for the years in question.

Logic should tell anyone that we’re largely at the mercy of who is in the cast of the films we program. Doesn’t matter. They don’t care. Film? Art? They want movie stars. But make sure it’s the right movie stars. And if the film happens to be “PARIS HILTON AND KIM KARDASHIAN’S PLAY-DOH JAMBOREE,” that’s fine as long as George Clooney, Kate Winslet, Becks and Posh, Ashton and Demi, and early Lindsay Lohan (before she started sleeping with that DJ chick with the hat) show up too.

Oh, and if you could guarantee Brangelina…

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2 Responses

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  1. Jon Goldman said, on February 10, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    you should attend a real ( non-star oriented) festival like the 18year old summer festival WOODS HOLE FILM FESTIVAL…we get incredible raves from the filmmakers, have top notch film heroes like Les Blank, Ricky Leacock, Kidlat Tahimik, Bestor Cram, Jim Uhls but it is one of the best kept secrets. last week in July first week in August…one hundred films,one week, one small village.

    • splitid said, on February 11, 2009 at 4:17 pm

      Jon –

      A “real” festival? I’ve never heard of your film festival. One of the points I’m making with these posts is the extreme pains we go to just to ensure we have a proper balance. AFI FEST is one of the most critically acclaimed festivals there are right now (ask Robert Koehler, Scott Foundas, etc.) and AFI DALLAS in just two year’s time has planted itself squarely on the map as a significant international film festival.

      I’m sure Woods Hole is a nice festival, but keep some perspective there.

      John Wildman


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