Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #281: Sony Ponies Up

According to the usually indefatigable Nikki Finke, Sony Pictures has hired a major PR firm to promote the films put out by their faux indie division Sony Pictures Classics. The company's been outperformed by Fox Searchlight, and many figure that they're sick and tired of it all, and want to make a name for themselves.

Plus, I think it marks a change in the way these faux-indies are run.

Since the collapse of the indie-film boom of the 1990s, and the assimilation of the independent distributors by the major studios, independent films were not run as a business, or as an art.

They were treated as a ego-playground.

You see these companies were not run for profit, or to expose people to the wonders of independent film-making, they were run to win awards, woo critics, and get the people who run the parent companies proverbial pats on the back at the better dinner parties for how "courageous," "daring," and "artistic," they are while they pick up young starlets at a Sundance Festival mixer.

The films they buy would then get half-hearted releases, and marketing that's tepid at best, and non-existent at worst. (At the extreme end was the Weinstein Plan, which involved buying films and then never releasing them.)

However the economy really isn't in the shape to support that sort of thing anymore, so now they have to get out there and pound the pavement to get the films they buy at Sundance making money. I'm sure that the main reason Fox-Searchlight has outperformed SPC is that Rupert Murdoch looked at the books and said: "Bloody 'ell, you can't just buy films and let them gather dust! That costs me money!! Get off yer arse and get people buying tickets for these films before I break me boot off in it!! Someone get me my diggeridoo and a boomerang, that dingo's got me baby!!"

That's how I imagine Rupert Murdoch talks.


I think it's a good thing that Sony is going to try to sell their films, and that it becomes a model for all the other faux indies. Yes, indie films are a tough sell, but it's not a good reason to not sell them at all.

So here are three suggestions for Sony and how to handle this new era...

1. Dump "Classics." Rebrand the company, because calling it Sony Pictures Classics gives the impression that you're selling foreign films as a corporate afterthought. Create a new brand, with a new identity that says: "I have intelligent and daring movies that you want to see." And the words: Classics, Independent, Art-House, etc... are verboten for this new company name.

2. Fill A Niche. Face it, indie films are supposed to give the audiences what the big studios are not giving them, not just act as Oscar bait. Look for what's not being done, and what films do that.

3. Sell, Sell, Sell. By hiring the PR people shows that you might be serious about selling these films, and I hope you are. Because indie films need to be sold, and sold well.

On a personal note: Family business may make my posting a tad erratic for the next week or so. Please be patient, I'll try to be back at griping at and about Hollywood as soon as possible.

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