Sunday, June 12, 2011

What *Everybody* Wants To See!

I am not a fan of IMDB's user ratings, and not just because they all give my films bad grades. Their Top 100 is filled with fan boy films and often excludes great films... and that's just strange. The problem is, people go to IMDB in the first place are film fans and fanboys rather than the general movie going public, and we have already learned from movies like WATCHMEN that you can have a film that seems to be the hottest movie ever made according to those on the internet... but it doesn't turn into the hottest movie at the box office. The avereage ticket buyer probably doesn't even know what IMDB is. The main purpose of IMDB is to list credits, and how many ticket buyers are interested in the credits in the first place? Most people don't even sit through them any more.

Here is some dramatic proof... Every week IMDB prints a little chart of the new films users are most interested in seeing this weekend, and here's that chart from Thursday:

So, was JUDY MOODY the number one film over the weekend? Was TROLLHUNTER number two?

I have no idea how JUDY MOODY ranked higher than TROLLHUNTER on their interest list, doesn't seem to be a fanboy pick or a film snob pick... but maybe those film snobs have little kids? Whatever the reason, both of those films are freak picks.

I may have mentioned Cinemascore in a past blog entry, and that is a scientific poll. They poll *every* ticket buyer in cinemas all over the United States on opening night with a simple card that asks them to grade the film A to F and asks their sex and age range. Everyone in the cinema gets a card and responds, not just the fanboys and film fans. You end up getting not just the opinions of those with strong enough opinions that they're going to rush home, get on the computer, and say how much they lover or hated a film - you also get the middle ground. And the middle ground is where most ticket buyers are... and where most word of mouth recommendations come from. If you get every ticket buyer in the cinema, and cinemas all across the United States (a good cross section of the country) you get a realistic look at what ticket buyers thought of the film. Not just the fanboys and filmsnobs.

Cinemascore is also a good barometer for how many tickets a film will sell next weekend - though whatever else opens next weekend is a big variable. If a film gets A+ to A it will have great word of mouth. Even a B+ usually means that a film will keep selling tickets, like BRIDESMAIDS. When we get to a B grade we are in that gray area - the audience thought the film was good but not great, and sometimes that has their friends thinking they might wait for Netflix. And, yes, people do give films an F grade sometimes - remember THE BOX? But by polling *everyone* you get a much better idea of what people really think.

It's easy for us (screenwriters) to think that because we like a movie and everyone we know likes a movie, that the rest of the world likes that movie. But we know about IMDB, right? Chances are, we are either fanboys or film snobs - and often some weird extreme version because we are often literary people as well. We might see TRANSFORMERS and think it is the worst piece of garbage ever made (I did) but the average ticket buyer did not share those feelings. It managed an A grade from Cinemascore... and the box office showed that despite the reviews the word of mouth from the ticket buyers was good. That A grade meant they thought the film was great and told their friends to go see it. Often films that I think are terrible get great scores from the ticket buyers and are huge hits. On the website I have a Script Tip in circulation on the Two Kinds Of Good - quality good and entertainment good - and how as much as we may not like it, Entertainment Good is more important. People go to the cinema to be entertained.

This doesn't mean we have to lower our standards and start thinking that TRANSFORMERS is the greatest film ever made, but it does mean we are in a strange position as screenwriters: we are writing for those ticket buyers who thought TRANSFORMERS was "great" and yet we can easily see a million reasons why it was not great at all. Instead of hacking out some piece of garbage we think the stupid audience might like, we need to write something that we think is great and that they will think is great. Some *quality* entertainment. You know, those popular movies that *you* thought were great. And it also helps to stay in touch with folks that aren't film snobs and fanboys - those regular ticket buyers. Over the holidays I always see movies with my friends from back home and (over beers) discuss what they liked about the films or what they hated about them. This helps me to understand why they liked some film that I did not like, and vice versa. Usually, I am patient with a film... and they want the rollercoaster ride to begin as soon as they sit down and never let up. This is why I pay close attention to pacing when I'm writing a screenplay. I am fascinated by those films like TRANSFORMERS that I really don't like but my friends did like, and want to figure out what, exactly, made that film work for them. These are lessons that I can apply to my (hopefully more intelligent) screenplays. I do my own form of audience research, and am more interested in talking to people who disagree with my opinion than those who agree with me. I already agree with myself, I don't need that information.

Though I love movies and have strong opinions on which ones are great and which ones suck (and try to figure out why), I try to find the common ground between what I love and what that mass audience of ticket buyers love. I love fast paced films, they love fast paced films - so I can write a fast paced script that would be a film that *I* would love to see, and I hope they would, too. I love cool big scenes, they love cool big scenes. I love emotional scenes, they love them, too. My personal audience research has found plenty of common ground between a guy who lists AMARCORD as one of his 5 favorite films and all of those ticket buyers who have never heard of Fellini. I can write my scripts in a way that appeals to those other people... even the fanboys and film snobs!

(WATCHMEN is on IMDB's Top 500 List, AMARCORD (Oscar Winner) is not!)

So, how many of you were most interested in seeing TROLLHUNTER over the weekend?

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Cool World - Is the world your story takes place in interetsing and unusual?
Dinner: Ruben at Togos.
Pages: Getting back on the horse... 4 pages.
Bicycle: Mostly short rides.


Mac Harwood said...

I suspect the reason 'Judy Moody' did so well is that it is a percentage.

So if there is zero interest in the film before - then if only one person shows interest it is technically an improvement of infinite %.

So the '% Change' indication of an unknown film (or person) is basically a random number generator for most purposes - but after a release or announcement the '% Change' will be massive.

Heck - my own IMDB rank is up 765,11 this week! That either means that in two weeks time I'll be more popular than anyone else in the entertainment industry ... or that my mother clicked my profile last week and so my popularity went from '0 people' to '1'.

I suspect I can thank my mother...


ObiDonWan said...

Yeah. I happen to love the Elaine May/Hoffman/Beatty movie, ISHTAR, but nobody else seems to. For me it's got everything: great story, funny characters, etc.

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