Thursday, April 4, 2013

Marketing The Purge. If the tagline is the plot, is the title the motive?

There is something to admire here and something to despise. But up front, let's agree on this point - regardless of the idea, of the story or of the genre, if filmmakers play out their concept to the end with some sense of vision and confidence, an inherent value to the work is created that stands apart from individual perception or taste.

Conversely, there is cynicism and arrogance toward the medium and its audience when the work is simply commerce on the path of least resistance.

To pitch a story in a single sentence, the economy of a few words that tell the basis of plot, is at it worst, high concept, but at best, brilliant invention. The Purge teases a potential audience with the tagline: "One Night a Year, All Crime is Legal". Eight words, a movie pitch master class. In a 5 minute pitch, the kind so many aspiring writers subject themselves to at so called "pitch festivals", there would be 4 minutes and 45 seconds to discuss where to email the treatment. Who doesn't want to know more about this story?

And then the game changes.

Yes, the concept is broad and outrageous, it's a movie, be as outrageous as you like. But it's also intriguing and that fits a teaser poster's mission perfectly.

Fawkes' face from V for Vendetta.
The tagline works but do the graphics? My problem is all "V", the very famous face of the masked anarchist based on Guy Fawkes from the movie V for Vendetta (Warner, 2005). That mask has become one of the most repeated, and now clichéd of movie props. Coming so close in a poster graphic feels cheap - and unfortunately that graphic icon is all over the trailer.

So the question becomes one of depth - is there substance here or only light reflecting off the surface of a very shallow pool? That's a question to ask of a trailer. My take is that just as the action kicks in, the story dumbs down to plot contrivances and a barrage of stale clichés. If you're in a movie seat, you've been taken for a ten spot. So a clever one line pitch seems to have gotten picked up as a quick shot at a weekend or two of profit. Cynicism prevails?

Take a look at the trailer and see if you agree.

You're looking at the start of a marketing campaign for a movie that opens in less than two months, on May 31st. That opening will come just a week after Fast and Furious 6 begins pouring money into Universal's bank account like a ripped open tanker truck. And there, perhaps is the most telling part of the poster's graphics - the Universal logo - also found on the Fast & Furious 6 posters.

By releasing wide just a week after opening Fast & Furious, Universal fills competing cineplex screens with more of their own company's product. Even empty screenings of The Purge means a Universal dominated weekend, effectively purging the competition from the venue. Now that would be cynical. Perhaps the second tagline on The Purge's poster "Survive the Night" would be more appropriate as "Survive the weekend".

You've got more than 7 weeks to think about it, but my pick for this Memorial Day weekend would be to skip The Purge, and the second weekend word of mouth for Fast & Furious, and instead checkout the opening of Summit Entertainment's Now You See Me. If I'm going to be manipulated by magic, marketing or otherwise, I'd much rather not be able to figure out how it's done.

Thanks to Universal Pictures for poster art and and trailer.

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