Posts Tagged ‘movie’

Should films have open-endings?

June 27, 2008

Cliff-hanger

When you mention endings, many people immediately jump to the conclusion that you must mean the traditional Hollywood ‘happy ending’. That is, they assume that an ending must be a weak, highly artificial, uninspiring let down to the film that preceded it. In reality, the climax of a film should be the most emotionally powerful experience of the entire movie. There is no rule in screenwriting that an ending should be happy. Your ending should simply tie up all the significant plot threads as the level of emotional engagement with the audience reaches its highest peak. The audience has invested in your film and if you don’t provide a powerful ending they will leave dissatisfied.

But the worst endings are those that don’t resolve anything and just leave you hanging; mainly because such limp endings are normally accompanied by the assertion that they are intellectually superior to an actual conclusion. The Guardian recently said that “the open-ending credits the viewer with a low tolerance for…intellectual baby food”.

Sometimes you’ll hear people say that films don’t need to resolve anything, because real life doesn’t resolve anything. This argument could hold water if the film was about our perception of real life (e.g. Mulholland Drive) but normally it’s a standard “plot” film up until the ending – then it refuses to end!

A good deal of the much touted ‘great open-endings’ are in fact not ‘open’ at all. That is, all the main plot threads have been resolved prior to the credits. The Italian Job ends with a sight gag about leaving the audience on a cliff-hanger. But we have seen the robbers pull off the robbery and make their getaway. To illustrate, imagine if the credits rolled 60 seconds earlier, with the truck speeding away. That would be a normal ending, no? Therefore, everything has been resolved, bar the tacked-on cliff-hanger. This has more in common with the de rigueur creature-feature ending where the monster you thought was dead manages to crawl away or somehow ensures its continuation. The downbeat ending to The Thing, occurs after the creature is dead, everyone else is dead and the protagonist’s fate is sealed. It just gives you a good shot of paranoia before the credits. The Mist could have closed with the very open ending that is actually featured in the novella. Stephen King himself said that he just couldn’t think of an ending that was powerful enough, given the great story that preceded it. The final ending that was used in the film will anger a lot of audiences, but it’s a great, satisfying, ending. It resolves everything.

There’s nothing wrong with leaving open questions, provided the main threads have been resolved. Equally, there’s nothing wrong with having the bleakest, most dark ending imaginable. But your ending must be emotionally powerful.

Many people stay away from endings because they are hard to do well, but, please, don’t label this cowardice ‘intellectual superiority’…

Want to market your film? Keep quiet about it!

May 16, 2008

 Cloverfield Poster Mirrorer

 

For many years the core of a film’s marketing push, film-trailers haven’t changed much over the ages. And sadly in many cases they have become an uninspired précis of the film’s plot combined with a spoiler-style preview of all the good scenes. But the trend of dull marketing for films may be coming to an end. Whilst websites and online games have become standardfor all Hollywood films, some are wading a little further into the murky waters of online marketing. Let’s compare two recent films: I am Legend and Cloverfield.

 

I am Legend followed the traditional approach to marketing – a big-name star, trailers, interviews, a micro-site – it even went as far as to create an online game in the digital world of Second Life. The campaign was reasonably successful, but costly (they spent over $2 million on marketing in New York alone).

 

On the other hand, Cloverfield made more clever use of its slim marketing budget (around $20 million globally). With an unknown cast, their only advantage was surprise. Their first masterstroke was to create trailers and posters that did not reveal the name of the film (along with a powerful image of a smoking New York). This immediately created a buzz and sent keyboard-jockeys wild looking for clues as to what this mysterious new film was:

 

We said “We want to talk to you about not putting a title on and what are your regulations regarding that?” And they said “Regulations? No-one’s ever done a teaser trailer or trailer without a title.” It’s like putting out a commercial without actually what the thing is. [Matt Reeves, Director]

 

Their campaign was all about trying to create active interest in a potential audience. To make people go online, look for information and discuss theories. People are adept at tuning out all the passive advertising noise in their environment, but Cloverfield managed to make cinema-goers reel themselves in.

 

Another clever move was creating a rumour that the poster somehow revealed an image of the monster. Again this created a flurry of blogs and online videos – all claiming to have revealed the true image of the creature (in fact you had to mirror the poster). In a similar vein, buzz was created by using different titles during the shooting of the film (including the somewhat ridiculous Chocolate Outrage).

 

Fake websites for tie-in brands to the film were also created along with a complex background story to the film’s events, which sent audiences scouring the internet for clues. Some even connected Cloverfield to viral marketing attempts set up for other films (thereby making other people’s marketing budgets work for them!)

 

…a lot of the stuff didn’t have anything to do with us, it was just because people were so interested…they were making connections to things that didn’t have anything to do with us…

 

Most importantly, the producers realised how fatal over publicity could be, especially when your film doesn’t have a lot of marketable elements except surprise:

 

That’s why we decided we better to shut up, because the flames were already so high….

 

It worked. Cloverfield took $41 million in its first three days. So next time you want to market something, maybe you should try not shouting about it.

 


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