Sunday, January 18, 2009
When a Studio Makes the Wrong Call
Last Thursday night, I was enjoying a round of Wii bowling when my BlackBerry buzzed on my hip. The 617 area code that appeared in my phone's display window gave me pause. "Who's calling me from Boston?," I thought to myself. Out of curiosity, I answered. The man's voice on the other end returned my greeting, identified himself as "John", and then uttered the five words that blast my blood pressure into the red zone whenever I answer my phone: "I'm calling on behalf of".
Dammit! Another stupid telemarketer! Do these people not know how to verify registrations on the Do Not Call List? All this bozo had to do was visit this site, punch in my number, and discover that my cell phone is off limits. Apparently, that was too much work for this imbecile, as he foolishly decided to place the call anyway.
Not even bothering to pause my game, I resisted the urge to lambast him and patiently listened while he pathetically pitched his scripted message. He was quick to point out that "this is not a sales call" (a disingenuous tactic, in my opinion) and went on to explain that Feature Films for Families is releasing an animated version of The Velveteen Rabbit in theaters this spring. Since the studio has a limited marketing budget, the task has fallen on poor John's shoulders to cajole strangers into seeing the film over the phone.
With the nervous tone of voice that only a rookie salesman who knows he is about to be hung up on can convey, John said that he had three quick questions for me. First, he asked me if I enjoyed animated features. I told him yes, I do. Second, he asked if I had seen Wall-E, Bolt, Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar 2. I replied that I had seen and enjoyed the first and last titles, but have not seen the middle two.
Next, John began a pompous plot description of the film. With my patience vanishing faster than a banana cream pie at Liza Minelli's house, I cut him off mid-sentence.
Me: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I read the story when I was a kid. You say the film's coming out this spring?
John: Uh-huh. That's right.
Me: Who's the director?
A pregnant pause followed.
John: I'm not...I don't...I'm sorry, could you repeat that?
Me: I asked you, who's the director? You know what a director is, don't you? It's the person who makes the majority of creative decisions on a film, says "lights, camera, action", sometimes wears a beret...ring any bells?
John: Gee, you know, I don't have that information in front of me. You see, I'm in training right now --
Me: And boy, does it show.
John: But Feature Films for Families is the producing company and they're dedicated providing quality, moral entertainment that strengthens the values of --
I'd had enough. I told John to take my number off his list and to never call me again. I could have cited the fact that no fewer than 25% of American moviegoers attend their local cinemas because of certain directors, but I didn't want to make him feel any worse than he already did. Instead, I simply hung up and proceeded to bowl a strike in the ninth frame.
Later that night, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to read up on the company. FFFF was founded in 1988 by Forrest S. Baker III, a BYU graduate who created the Interstate Commerce Trucking Advisory Corporation, Inc. four years prior. You can see the connection, I'm sure. Just as serving as the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association no doubt provided the ideal training ground for Michael Brown to lead FEMA, working in the trucking industry no doubt gave Mr. Baker an intimate understanding of the movie business.
Now, why am I getting on Baker's case? Because he is the CEO of the company. I'm not saying that he came up with the idea to telemarket The Velveteen Rabbit, but the fact that FFFF employs at least one person to indiscriminately call people and entice them to attend a movie proves that he authorized this decision. Every leader, be they a police chief, a school principal, or the President of the United States, must be prepared to account for 100% of what happens on his or her watch. If he expects his studio to gain sturdy footing, Baker needs to not only admit that telemarketing an upcoming movie is a bad idea, but also agree to cease doing so immediately.
Besides their financial limitations, one can only guess as to why FFFF avoided more traditional -- and more effective -- marketing methods. Perhaps the executives objected to the notion of creating trailers, printing posters, and broadcasting radio ads when gathered for a meeting. "That costs too much. Besides, that's what the immoral studios do. We need to take a different approach. I know! How about telemarketing? Perfect!"
Just so there's no doubt, confusion, or misunderstanding about what I want to say, my goal here is not to smear Forrest Baker or anyone employed with Feature Films for Families. Mr. Baker strikes me as a decent, friendly, and intelligent man with firm convictions. Fundamentally, I agree with him that the vast majority of American cinematic output is garbage. As I've said many times in the past, if the total amount of movies released in the United States every year were boiled down to ten features, one would be an Oscar-winning classic, another would be a midrange popcorn blockbuster, and the remaining eight would be unwatchable crap.
Where I disagree with Baker is on the point that movie studios have a moral obligation to create entertainment that provides good values for one's family. Don't get me wrong. Family movie outings taken to see classics like E.T., Bambi, and Pinocchio (among others) create warm, endearing memories and are essential to the moviegoing experience. Conversely, movies like Death Race, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the Saw series are not exactly conducive to special moments shared between parents and children. Now that I've said that, I must state my case. Color me out of touch with reality, but if you're relying on pop music, movies, and television shows to provide values for you and your loved ones, you don't deserve to be a parent. Promoting good values is not Hollywood's job. It's yours. If you share an address with at least one child and you're not making a diligent effort to instill the virtues of critical thinking, respect, hard work, personal responsibility and the other values that build great civilizations, there is no amount of family friendly entertainment in the world that make up for your negligence. I could make a reference to an excerpt from Michael Medved's bestselling book Hollywood vs. America where he compares the "if you don't like offensive movies, don't watch them" argument to someone saying "if you don't like the smog, don't breathe", but I'll save that for another time.
Feature Films for Families may mean well, but they had better get hip to the times and realize that no one is interested in being bothered to do anything, be it refinancing their mortgage, consolidating their debts, or going to see a movie, by some headset-wearing troll in a cubicle. In all honesty, this techqniue had the direct opposite of the desired effect on me. It dissuaded me from seeing the movie.
Have you been solicited by Feature Films for Families? Do you know of anyone who has? If so, leave a comment below and tell me all about it. In the meantime, I shall return to my Wii in hopes of enjoying a competitive round of bowling; only this time, I'm leaving my BlackBerry on my desk.