Sunday, 19 April 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #272: Fox Atomic Meltdown

According to the indefatigable Nikki Finke: Fox Filmed Entertainment is shutting down the semi-independent production company Fox Atomic, and taking its finished, and semi-completed productions and moving them to the parent company's release slate.

Now I always shed a proverbial tear every time a film company shuts down, because when one shuts down, so do all the opportunities that could have been created by this company. And Fox Atomic was a perfect example of immense potential squandered, by a serious lack of vision in its creation and a terrible lack of understanding its target audience.

You see Fox Atomic was created as the "youth division" of the Fox empire, making and releasing films targeted at the late-teen, early twenty-something audience.

This creation was tainted by two major mistakes.


I'm sure the marketing people that sold the name to the Fox high-mucky-mucks told them, no doubt using terms like "outside the box" and "paradigm shift," that teens will associate the company with explosive hipness, and flock to films made by that company in droves.

Not really.

You see, people see the name Fox Atomic, and they assume that it will be small.

Very small.

So small, they won't even notice it.

They might as well have called it Fox Teenybopper, and it would have been just as successful.


The last thing you do when trying to sell films to teenagers and twenty-somethings is to announce that you have created a division of a large conglomerate, whose purpose is to sell films to teenagers and twenty-somethings.

That decision tells teenagers two things:

1. That their tastes in films are not worthy the consideration of the main studio, just worthy of an "atomic" sized division among dozens of other divisions.

2. That this big conglomerate will tell them what to like.

Yes, it's both belittling and patronizing at the same time. Try to be that way to a teenager and see if it will make them give you their money.

It won't work.

It's the corporate equivalent of a middle aged man putting on his red leather Michael Jackson jacket with the shoulder pads and zippers, getting a comb-over done in the style of a Flock of Seagulls haircut, and putting on their neon blue
Miami Vice T-shirt to "connect" with the young folk.

Now the great irony is that News Corp. the parent company of Fox already owns a company with a history as a success at marketing to teens and twenty-somethings. A company that went moribund, and was assimilated by News Corp. when it tried to become a more mainstream entertainment company, and forgot its core mission of profitable exploitation films.

I'm talking about New World Pictures.

It was founded by independent exploitation auteur Roger Corman in the early 1970s, and in its heyday produced some pretty wild, and many profitable cult pictures. Corman's model was to look for young and hungry talent, grooming them to shoot efficiently, within modest budgets, and to use their entire imagination to get the job done. Many top filmmakers got their start working for Corman at New World.

The company started to go wrong after Corman sold it, and moved on to other things. The company then changed hands several times, owned Marvel Comics for a while, acquired TV stations, and tried to make "bigger" films and become a more mainstream studio.

That's when they went belly up, and got bought up by News Corp. who coveted their chain of TV stations for their fledgling Fox Network.

What should have been done was to take the New World name (which is pretty much all that's left) and create a new company around it. One that doesn't have the weight of the Fox Empire hanging over it. In fact, all connections with the Fox Company should have been downplayed. The key to promoting an independent division aimed at the youth market is to
never admit that it's a division aimed at the youth market.

They should have only said that New World was being spun off because they think it's a good business opportunity. If they can get outside partners to help finance it, all the better, because it will further distance it from the big conglomerate. Then they should put together a good team to run it, give that team a pay structure based upon the success of the productions, and the mission to make a certain amount of films, within a certain budget range, and to get young ambitious talent to do it. That talent would be fostered, and treated fairly, so that when they do become big names, they will give a certain amount of leeway to their old partner on certain projects. (Remember, loyalty begets loyalty, especially when it makes poor people rich)

Then you reinvest the company's profits into the company until the point when it can become a self-sustaining company. On the management side, it can operate as a trial by fire, to test the real acumen, and skill of young executives, with the promise of wealth, and a position in the main company as their reward, if they choose it.

Of course it's not like anyone at Fox asked me what to do. Which is a shame, I could have saved them some money.

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