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.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm in Montana and received the same call from "John" last night on my cell. The conversation was very similar to yours, minus the part about the director. Irritating!

Anonymous said...

Same here in Georgia...

Apparently "John" is a computer recording keyed to a voice recognition program.

If you google the number (mine was 917-210-4609) you'll find plenty of other people who have been cold called by this organization.

One curious thing... it seems that the majority, myself included, are Verizon wireless customers. Something I may have to take up with Verizon.

Anonymous said...

I also received an unsolicited call from 910-210-4609 with a similar sales pitch, however he offered to send me a text message about the movie. I declined and hung up.

Interestingly the movie is being screened exclusively in Carmike Cinemas. I'm unclear if Carmike Cinemas knows about this promotion technique.

Anonymous said...

If you google velveteen rabbit telemarketer you can find out that this is associated with Kids First, They claim they are exempt from the no call list. On their web site you can get their board of directors names. Lamb Chops one of them. You can easily find their email addresses and phone numbers. I emailed most. I would suggest that people do this and call them. If they are going to call thousands of people on their cell phones, I have no problem with waking them up at 3 in the morning to complain.

Anonymous said...

Good research on Forrest S Baker III
I did a little digging myself. Forrest is a 55 yr old from Salt Lake City who lives in a five million dollar mansion. His core business is telemarketing. He also produces low budget family movies and has actually acted in a few of them. He uses his telemarketing company to promote his crappy films.
The Velveteen Rabbit is one such movie. It cost $5 million to produce but only grossed $143 thousand at the box office..ouch!
His telemarketing company made millions of illegal phone calls to promote it. Verizon wireless customers received 500,000 calls in a 10 day period. This prompted Verizon to sue him and they won.
Forrest S Baker owns 11 call centers combined with an extensive data mining operation. His main clients are charitable police organizations across the nation. For every dollar he collects the police charities receive about 8 cents. His telemarketing company is called 'Corporations for Character" or C4C. It's located in Murray Utah. His telemarketing business remains afloat because the Do Not Call registry exempts charities. Fortunately, robo calls are now against the law so all of his calls must now be placed by a live person.

Jacob Sisson said...

Found an FFFF movie at a thrift store and I bought it for its kitsch appeal... thought it would be funny. "In Your Wildest Dreams" from 1991.. I watched the whole thing, and now I'm kind of obsessed with the sacharine soaked heavy handed mormon themes and opiated pace. It's such a strange tone. Especially the storyline revolving around artificial intelligence. Baker wrote the movie, and is of course the executive producer,.. I'm so mystified by this movie I've been looking up everything there is to know about Baker. All this info about the 5 million dollar mansion is very intriguing. I want to know more!

Anonymous said...

http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/05/featurefilms.shtm

Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

the reason why "FFFF avoided more traditional -- and more effective -- marketing methods" is because of yes, the cost, and also because they already had the technology to do so. Since they are pretty much a telemarketing company they already had all the resources necessary to make calls. Also the reason why "John" couldn't answer your question is because they were using a pre-recorded computer controlled voice (which is controlled by a live agent) which is probably why you got your answers that you did (and didn't) get

Anonymous said...

I'm in Boston. "John" is still at it - though in a different guise. I had a call for a "survey" which, after more questioning on my part, led to the admission that the familytv.com sponsor are behind the survey and are really flogging their films. This is all so weird...

Anonymous said...

I got a call by that robot "John" every morning at 8:30 for like a month or more. He kept on trying to sell me the same two movies, saying something like" And, you know, with the holidays coming up, we really need you support right now, so with you being one of our best supporters, could we rely on you to buy just one movie, is that all right? Needless to say, my answer was "No, you two-faced, thievin', illegal idiot!!(I didn't really say that). By the way, if you buy even one movie from them, you are now permanently considered a "supporter". Since my last coversation with "John", I've made about an X number of phone calls to FFFF, slamming them. I made 'em really mad. I love it so much, slammin' that dirtbag Forrest Sandusky Baker III. Also, somebody who used to work for them said that if you tell to not call you anymore, they'll call you back in 6 months, and if you say that your gonna sue them for every penny that they're worth, they will call you back in a year.

Anonymous said...

I worked for this company and Forrest Baker. He could best be described to those who don't know him as much like a John Nash portrayed in the film A Beautiful Mind. Mr.Baker is well intentioned, but fraudulent. He claims not to be a Mormon, but believes God tells him what do to. He has branded his own version of Mormonism where God has told him to change the world through movies. He also maintains the Mormon belief of polygamy. He does this by claiming to reform prostitutes and drug addicts. He doesn't officially marry these girls, most half his age, but her pays them to stop prostitution and rely on him alone to provide for them financially and spiritually. Some of them have credit cards and houses he provides. He is most likely schizophrenic, but doesn't take medication that anyone knew of. I think he has eight kids of his own. He has many sports cars and houses. He doesn't pay any of his bills on time. Those who work for him like him and say he is very kind and generous. He trusts very few. I didn't get to work with him directly, but have a few good friends who did and what I am sharing is only a small part of what I have learned from very reliable first-hand sources who worked in his inner-circle. He has a prodigy named Mike who does his dirty work employing Utah State University kids to telemarket his ideas and I guess he still makes millions from that, but he cannot be linked to it. I don't know the name of that company. I learned he was sued by the FCC and lost. When I worked there I was able to have live calls and saw a little bit of the auto calls called ANGEL. It gave me a headache and I quit. I told my friend only a crazy person could create that stuff and that's when he started telling me things that shocked me. It was almost like a religion. There was one great young guy that ran everything for Forrest and he was a great public speaker and I loved his motivation , but I heard he left and started his own company and after that Forrest went downhill. Pretty soon all the good people left. Sorry for how long this is, but I thought a little inside information could help.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, thanks for the information you provided on May 19th. Some years back, I received calls from FFFF and asked them if they were a Mormon organization. They responded that they weren't but were just interested in providing good family-themed entertainment. As I already had some issues with Hollywood non-family-themed movies I agreed to purchase some of their movies. I have to say that my children and I did enjoy those movies. Still, there had always been this question in the back of my mind. So, I stopped buying them. When I saw the article in Bloomberg Business Week on Mormon business holdings, it reawakened in my mind the desire to get a definitive answer. Anonymous, your response helped me get the information I needed. For a company interested in developing "good family values" FFFF's business practices don't measure up. I'm disappointed but not surprised.

Anonymous said...

As a former team manager at FFFF I can confirm forest Baker not only helps these young ladies, He has also been their customer. He was kicked out of the Mormon church because of this. I don't know if he is back in it. But he very much still believes in it.