Last week, one of the big stories in the entertainment business was the "tracking numbers" on Super 8. Honestly, tracking numbers are one of those insider things that really shouldn't concern movie-goers who don't work in the industry but we live in a world where the internet has made this information so accessible that it seems like even causal movie fans are chiming in on this.
I couldn't possibly explain tracking numbers better than Geekweek's Jeff Katz, formerly an exec at Fox and New Line:
If you are unfamiliar with movie tracking, these numbers are the metrics studios use to monitor their marketing strengths and weaknesses and predict their eventual box office performance. While tracking is not always perfect it has long tended to be an accurate indicator of success or failure at the box office.
Our Tracking Report monitors four key categories - Unaided Awareness. Total Awareness. Definite Interest. First Choice -- across the four key audience quads - Men -25, Men 25+, Women -25, Women 25+. The movies that track well across all quads - aka Four Quad Movies - are the ones with a clear chance at blockbuster box office performance.
This is Jeff's Tracking Report for last Friday's opening.
All last week, we kept hearing that the tracking on Super 8 was "soft." Despite the involvement of two of the hottest directors (of both the moment and all-time): Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams, audiences seemingly weren't yet sold on the film. Quickly, the blame was placed on the un-revealing ad campaign. This article on Deadline pretty much establishes the narrative that soon was being repeated on Twitter and on every film-related blog:
When JJ Abrams conceived Super 8, his intention was to replicate those Steven Spielberg films of the 70s and 80s, where he discovered the magic in a movie theater and not by watching every reveal in a commercial. When Spielberg directed or produced films like Jaws, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist and Gremlins, finally seeing the creature was half the fun, and they were always kept secret until opening day.
[...]Paramount and Abrams have focused on character and given up little in the creature department in commercials that followed. Days from its Friday opening, rivals say that tracking numbers are soft and would be considerably stronger among young moviegoers had Abrams and the studio given up a glimpse of the creature and playing up that plot line.
Rivals say that there is nervousness at Paramount because the studio has gone so far in embracing Abrams’ now famous desire for utmost secrecy. This is a bold gamble Paramount is taking, at a time when the mission of studio marketers is to deliver the highest possible opening weekend, no matter how many plot highlights and spoilers are sacrificed in TV spots. Several marketing experts I checked were buzzing with the assertion that Par’s decision to protect the purity of the movie-going experience could put the film in an opening weekend hole it will be hard pressed to recover from.
As it turns out, Paramount blinked and on Thursday, it leaked footage that offered a glimpse at the creature.
I don't know who I'm disappointed in: Paramount, for having no trust in the audience; or modern audiences, who have fostered an environment where they demand the trailer reveals every. Last. Surprise. Take a look at this "unrevealing" trailer:
Okay, so from that trailer we glean:
1) It's clearly set in late 70s/early 80s.
2) It focuses on a group of kids who are making a super-8 movie.
3) there's clearly an attraction between one of the kids and the girl
4) during filming, the kids end up witnessing a train crash and catching it on film.
5) what's more, there's a strong indication that the crash had freed something very big and very strong that was being held in the train.
6) The military begins an ominous operation in response to the crash and is being evasive towards local authorities about what was on the train (with a clear implication that something sinister got free.)
7) someone gets attacked by an unseen monster, and there are disappearances and other incidents that local police are at a loss to explain and suspect the military has answers.
8) The montage of action shots suggests - among other things - that the townspeople are headed for a confrontation with whatever was on the train.
Unrevealing, my ass.
I'd say the trailer does a pretty good job of laying out the basic premise as well as a few plot points. The only thing we don't see is the creature itself. The story itself is pretty heavily sold in that trailer. Oh, and it's from the creative minds of Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams, whom you may have heard, have a pretty good track record.
To any of you who might have been in the camp of "Paramount needs to show me more to get my $14," what would seeing the creature do for you that simply knowing the plot isn't already doing? You've already got the genre, the hook and the basic plot - how much more do you need spoon-fed? Also, I'd like to personally thank you for ruining the filmgoing experience for the rest of us. It's no longer possible to sit through a movie trailer without having every money shot, every last point point, every last surprise completely ruined.
Years ago, director Robert Zemeckis defended this practice, saying, "We know from studying the marketing of movies, people really want to know exactly every thing that they are going to see before they go see the movie. It's just one of those things. To me, being a movie lover and film student and a film scholar and a director, I don't. What I relate it to is McDonald's. The reason McDonald's is a tremendous success is that you don't have any surprises. You know exactly what it is going to taste like. Everybody knows the menu."
I tried not to believe that. I like being surprised when I see movies as much as I like being surprised when I read scripts. As someone who tries to write unexpected plot turns and twists into my own scripts, I shudder at the thought that my carefully crafted surprises will be at the mercy of a pinheaded marketing department that will leave no shock unrevealed. This makes no sense - if the most desirable element of the film is given away for free, why would anyone pay to see the rest?
An analogy about a cow and free milk comes to mind. That's the problem - marketing departments are like cheerleaders with low self-esteem. They cling to the belief that they if they put out, everyone will love them.
Then there's the other half of the problem: the entitlement in our culture. People decide they need to know everything before they lay down their money for a film. And god forbid a few seconds of film reveal something that doesn't meet with their standards, such as a superhero costume or starship that isn't designed the way they would have done it.
And the result is boring, predictable films that seem to have been designed by committee, for after creating a situation where no real risks are allowed to be taken Mr. Fickle Viewer then complains about how weak the story is in the latest Transformers sequel, or how all the big summer movies are all flash, no substance, no surprises.
It's not Hollywood's that's ruined movies - it's viewers who insist on having everything ruined for them as a precondition before plunking down their admission fares. If the only thing that would have sold you on Super 8 was seeing what the monster looked like, you deserve the entertainment you get.