Thursday, 25 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #461: Youth Without Youth

Welcome to the show folks...

According the Deadline: Hollywood the British film company Revolver Entertainment Group has started an in-house production company called Gunslinger, whose purpose is to make films for the youth market.

Good luck with that, because you're going to need it.

The movies have actively pursued the
youth, or to be more accurate, the teenager market since the 1950s. That was when Hollywood, or to be more specific, low budget independent producers realized that America had millions of teenagers, and those teenagers had disposable income.

One of the most successful of these teen-market entrepreneurs was Samuel Z. Arkoff who ran American International Pictures. He summed up his secret to success with what he cheekily called the A.R.K.O.F.F. Formula. It went a little something like this:
  • Action (exciting, entertaining drama)
  • Revolution (novel or controversial themes and ideas)
  • Killing (a modicum of violence)
  • Oratory (notable dialogue and speeches)
  • Fantasy (acted-out fantasies common to the audience)
  • Fornication (sex appeal, for young adults)
The American International marketing department had a formula of their own about what their target audience really was, and it went a little something like this:
  1. a younger child will watch anything an older child will watch;
  2. an older child will not watch anything a younger child will watch;
  3. a girl will watch anything a boy will watch
  4. a boy will not watch anything a girl will watch;
  5. therefore-to catch your greatest audience you zero in on the 19-year old male.
Now both sets of rules have their points. Good points too, but they will not guarantee any company success in the youth market, and that's because of these three simple truths:

1. The Hip Trap: Everyone would love to be young and with it. The problem is that by the time you're in a position to make a movie for the youth market, you are not a youth. It doesn't matter how much botox you get, or how tight your surgeon makes your abs, you are not a teenager, and trying to be one, will only make you look ridiculous. So you have to handle your work in a rational, and logical way and not fall into the trap of targeting the youth market by going after what the "kids are into these days," and by that I mean trends, fads, and fashions.

But here lies the trap, trends, fads and fashions come and go faster than ever before. What's literally the in thing one day, is completely and totally melvin the next. At least until the day that "melvin" somehow comes to mean cool. By the time you've got your movie made to cash in on a fad, it's already too late.

But let's have a little thought experiment, and imagine that you've done the near impossible. You have produced a movie that captured a teen fad, and are releasing it right when the fad is about to reach its peak, then you fall into the second trap of...

2. Trying Too Hard: There's a fine line between serving and pandering, and teens can smell pandering from a mile away. If they think you're trying to manipulate them, they will know that you assume that they're idiots, they will rebel, and go in a completely different direction.

A master of using this was director/producer Roger Corman. When every other producer was trying to make films with hot-rods and rock & roll starring the teen sensation of the day, he went the other direction and made old fashioned horror films with middle aged actors and source material from their target audience's English class, specifically Edgar Allan Poe. His Poe films shouldn't have worked, but they made damn good money, and from teenagers.

This is because Corman understood that...

3. Not All Teens Are Alike: This is even more true today than ever before. Back in my day we pretty much had the regular Breakfast Club mix running from the dinosaurs who hunted us on the way to and from school. Nowadays there are strata and sub-strata of teens that could keep an anthropologist going for their entire career.

These facets all have their own tastes, trends, and interests that are not only wildly different, but extremely fickle. They may want rock and roll one day, hip-hop the next, and Argentinian Gaucho folk song the day after that. They also communicate instantly via the internet, and can sink a film overnight with bad word of mouth.

So what's a film company to do?

Arkoff's formula is still the closest thing to a recipe you have, teens love novelty, adventure, and a little edginess to piss off their parents. You just have to remember the traps, don't try to be hip, don't treat your audience as idiots, and don't target too specific a sub-group, don't target their differences, target what they still have in common.

Even then it's a gamble, but at least the dice aren't rigged to roll snake-eyes every time.

1 comment:

  1. Or, you could follow Disney's formula. Completely pander to the tween girl audience and with luck they'll drag their mothers along. Not only will you make big bucks from the programs and movies, but you'll also strike it rich selling princess merchandise.

    When you belatedly discover that you've missed the boys completely, you spend 4 billion and buy Marvel.

    Easy, eh?