Monday, April 15, 2013

The Art of the Featurette: Oblivion

Big movies need to make big money, fast. In an industry that looks on the first three days of releasing its product as hyper-critical, an opening weekend at any number other than "1" is at least one number away from the goal of its studio.

Moviedozer is always watching the marketing campaigns of new movies, assessing how the posters and trailers convey just enough of a film to draw in an audience. No analytics, no focus groups, no scales and measurements. Just an educated perspective from the point of view of the audience, and a bit of gut feeling on whether the marketing is effective and confident or smells more like an effort to recoup whatever investment can still be salvaged before word-of-mouth destroys its box-office.

That means Moviedozer spends a lot of time looking at the posters and trailers that are the main marketing guns of every movie studio and independent producer. But those tools have taken on new sophistication with the nearly universal access of video distributed on the internet and mobile apps. With video "production diaries" moving from DVD background extras to short courses on advanced production techniques (see the Peter Jackson The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey series which begins here), studios came to understand that video access to production sets could fascinate fans and promote their product as well.

As these brief films, dubbed featurettes, evolve, they have come to highlight much more than simple onset interviews and production glimpses. They also convey a sense of what the director and producers see as their projects' biggest assets, the most marketable aspects of their story and even a sense of the pride they feel for the project they've crafted, sometimes weeks and months before the release date.

No, crews don't get stunt pay.

At their best they can take you inside the mindset of a director or a craftsman and expose the thinking behind decisions that have an effect on every moviegoer in a theater seat, often illuminating not only the movie at hand, but a director or a producer's body of work - and often trends seen again in other examples of the genre. A kind of everyman's film school, free for the taking. But does it help sell tickets?

Here are three examples of featurettes produced to help market Joseph Kosinski's Obivion, the much anticipated follow-up to his gorgeously conceived, constructed and photographed Tron: Legacy from 2010. Each gives perspective on production of the film, but each gives that perspective by highlighting the making of the film in different ways from different aspects of the production.

Featurette as story background.

Featurette as craftwork primer.

Featurette as all access pass.

There's something to appreciate with these glimpses of production and craftwork. Something to be gleaned from understanding an actor's point of view or a producer's challenge in overcoming obstacles. And there's something more to identifying with a director's instincts and preferences as we are invited to watch them work, that perhaps adds to the experience of later watching their work on screen.

The director, Joesph Kosinski, with his star and his favorite prop.

Production featurettes, perhaps more so than any other form of movie marketing, have the potential to add to the enjoyment of a great movie by building an appreciation for the process of moviemaking. These brief guided tours have the potential to share a passion for the art form of film while recruiting fans for a director, an actor or a franchise, in ways that can carry over to future projects and sequels.

Oblivion opened overseas this past weekend and brought in an impressive $61 million, claiming the number 1 spot in foreign box-office receipts. Perhaps the half dozen or so featurettes produced while the movie was being made had something to do with that success. Oblivion opens in theaters in the U.S. this Friday, April 19th.

Thanks to Universal Pictures for video and photos. Apologies for embedded advertising in the video presentations. No ads are inserted by Moviedozer.

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