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David Poland

By David Poland

Killers Crickets Blackout: Genius Or Idiocy?

Lionsgate’s statement to the AP: “We want to capitalize on the revolution in social media by letting audiences and critics define this film concurrently. In today’s socially connected marketplace, we all have the ability to share feedback instantly around the world. In keeping with this spirit, Lionsgate and the filmmakers want to give the opportunity to moviegoing audiences and critics alike to see `Killers’ simultaneously, and share their thoughts in the medium of their choosing. We felt that this sense of immediacy could be a real asset in the marketing of `Killers.'”
There are a dozen ways to slice this apple. It can be spun as an avoidance of what they assume will be horrible reviews. It can be seen as a serious attempt to use Twitter – however foolish – and Kutcher’s followers in particular (if they all came, a $30m – $40m opening) as the uber-marketing tool… in addition to a LOT of TV time. (I would be surprised if this film is not Lionsgates’ biggest TV ad buy ever.)
There is even the potential story that the studio doesn’t want the company’s Q4 and Year End statement call, occurring a day after the premiere and two days before opening, interrupted by a bunch of negativity about the potential of this movie due to media slams… especially while they are battling Carl Icahn and his contention that the studio is mismanaged, which this, their most expensive film ever, could easily represent. (For the record, every other quarter tends to have their conference call on the second week of the month, but Q4 for LGF has consistently been week one for a few years.)
In the middle is the reality that marketing beats everything else, Kutcher and Heigl both have loyal fans who are more likely to show up if they aren’t fighting a wave of negativity, and Robert Luketic, who is one of our best and most successful comedy directors, is a target for critics.
Raising the stakes a bit is Kutcher’s Twitter statement that he will “pirate” the first 10 minutes of the film from the premiere on June 1.
For me, this is the most problematic thing about all this so far. Of course, this is a standard marketing move these days… releasing 6 minutes or 10 minutes of the film. There is no indication that it works, but it is done at least a half-dozen times a year. And it is a kind of slap in the face of film critics.
That said, simulating piracy is an embarrassment to the industry and if I were running another studio, I would be outraged at this kind of positioning. Ashton Kutcher telling his loving, impressionable audience that piracy is not only okay, but cool. Not cool.
What do you think?

19 Responses to “Killers Crickets Blackout: Genius Or Idiocy?”

  1. chris says:

    They’re hiding a loser: Opening it, not just without reviews (and the entertainment section full-color photos of the attractive stars those reviews would result in, even if they’re pans) but on a terrible weekend, with three other wide releases (although “Marmaduke” is also not screening) and one week after “SATC2,” which has the same demo. And the website is atrocious, including a “trailer” that is not a trailer but a TV ad that doesn’t even reveal what will probably be the best thing about the film (because she always is): Catherine O’Hara.

  2. LYT says:

    Marmaduke is screening.
    Though in LA at least, Marmaduke, Splice, and Get Him to the Greek are all screening AT THE SAME TIME. Interesting tactic to screen without quite screening, in a way, such that any one critic has miss two out of the three (or just one, if they were prescient enough to catch the prior screening of Greek).
    Thursday midnight screenings have made movies that “hide” from critics irrelevant in effect anyway.

  3. LYT says:

    “Ashton Kutcher telling his loving, impressionable audience that piracy is not only okay, but cool. Not cool.”
    It feeds into his prankster image. One could argue that he has previously told his loving, impressionable audience that playing nasty pranks on people for the amusement of MTV viewers is cool too. Or that being a total stoner dunce is cool.

  4. movieman says:

    No Cleveland area screenings of “Killers” either; not even a Thursday nite promo.
    Fox is actually giving “Marmaduke” a daytime press screening
    (?!) on Tuesday afternoon, freeing me to choose between “Greek” and “Splice” later that day at same-time/different-location promos. I’ll probably opt for “Splice,” and just see “Greek” and “Killers” next weekend. But really: who gives a fuck, right?
    Also found out that “Jonah Hex” isn’t “screening” in these parts prior to opening day either. Guess it’s gonna be another one of “those” summers.

  5. Hallick says:

    “It feeds into his prankster image. One could argue that he has previously told his loving, impressionable audience that playing nasty pranks on people for the amusement of MTV viewers is cool too. Or that being a total stoner dunce is cool.”
    Wait, wait, wait…any idiot who confuses this publicity stunt on behalf of the studio with actual piracy (and Ashton Kutcher, you are line leader number one in that group) has a cranium that rivals the Grand Canyon, full of weeds and donkey carcasses. This is about as authentic as Kutcher “rebelling” against the studio system by sneaking a bunch of teenagers into the movie through the back door…WITHOUT PAYING FOR TICKETS! Woogedy-Boogedy-Booooooo!

  6. hcat says:

    I didn’t have high hopes for the quality of the movie, but did think it had a shot at being the all time high grosser for Lionsgate. While critics are not the end all be all factor in being a hit, not screening just screams lack of confidence in the project. The more I see adds for the four on the 4th the more I think Marmaduke takes the weekend but Splice overtakes it in the long run.
    On a different topic, I never really buy into Lex’s it sucks to be a mere mortal rants, but after seeing the Damon tribute on television tonight I cant help but be insanely jealous of the people in that room. They made Hollywood look like the richest small town in America where everyone’s your buddy and of course Clint Eastwood would be happy to get on stage and give you a poke in the ribs.

  7. berg says:

    since KILLERS looks like Knight And Day Lite this is probably a good thing for LG

  8. LYT says:

    When was the last time Lionsgate screened ANYTHING for critics, though?
    They don’t screen Tyler Perry movies.
    They don’t screen Saw movies
    They don’t screen Neveldine/Taylor movies (Crank, Gamer)
    They didn’t screen The Spirit.
    They DID screen Kick-Ass, but that already had massively positive buzz.
    And yet Kick-Ass seems to be perceived as a disappointment.
    So, if I were Lionsgate, what lesson would I take from this? Probably not to screen.

  9. montrealkid says:

    Since when do actors get digital copies of their movies before the release date? Smells like a very well organized publicity stunt.

  10. David Poland says:

    Of course it’s a publicity stunt. And of course, he is not “actual piracy.”
    But there is something about playing into the idea that goes in exactly the opposite direction of the message the industry wants to send.
    And Luke… I’m not shocked that they aren’t screening… but they seem to be actively calling attention to it, which is kinda asking to be smacked.

  11. christian says:

    “Ashton Kutcher telling his loving, impressionable audience that piracy is not only okay, but cool.”
    Next thing you know Hollywood will be making tentpole pix about a band of lovable pirates…

  12. indiemarketer says:

    Two words…Danielle DePalma

  13. LYT says:

    Yeah, I guess the last time a studio made a big deal out of not showing something in advance in this fashion was Snakes on a Plane, where they were all, “We want the FANS to experience it first, because this is for them.”
    That was probably a mistake. It is much rarer that movies aimed at women — and apart from LexG, that is who Killers is aimed at — do something like this.

  14. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Consumers today are getting more and more cynical regarding corporate attempts to “engage” them. There’s always considerable backlash when blogs etc. turn out to be run by marketers with the intent to sell stuff.
    There’s nothing that can feasibly influenced via Twitter once the movie is in the theatres, and Kutcher’s followers know it. You think they give a crap if critics pan “their” movie?
    I sense a “Uh-huh. Whatever.” response coming from opening, which Lionsgate will attempt to spin by saying “Look! It’s a trending topic!” while ignoring the fact that it’s not translating into dollars.

  15. chris says:

    Weird. “Marmaduke” screening on, then off, now on again.

  16. doug r says:

    Having the first scene of Dark Knight in IMAX as the trailer made me want to watch. Did Dark Knight make any money?

  17. As far as posting the opening minutes of a movie online, it’s a question of context. If you can watch those initial moments and still be relatively unspoiled in regards to what happens in the rest of the movie, then go for it. The opening six minutes of The Dark Knight, the Circle of Life sequence in The Lion King, the prologue of Dawn of the Dead, Taking Lives, and The Hurt Locker… they all worked as stand-alone narratives that were almost disconnected from the rest of the film. They all also don’t have opening credits popping up in the middle of the screen either, which I can only guess is a legal issue(?). That stuff studios can release to their hearts content, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s those kind of ‘hook scenes’ that get released early, be it online or as a ‘teaser’.

  18. LexG says:

    All I care about is Heigl’s GOLDEN RACK. Absolute perfection.
    I’ve done a 360 on her (and would like to do a 69 on her too)… Went from digging her in her jailbait days to being crazy about her in her men’s magazine cheesecake era; Then like everyone else, got sick of her spouting her annoying opinions once she got big. NOW I’d gladly listen to any and every opinion she has, long as she’s wearing a LITTLE OUTFIT that shows off that ABSOLUTELY KILLER (zing) body.
    The only thing Kutcher should want to “pirate” is Heigl’s smoking-hot ass.

  19. Joe Leydon says:

    “Robert Luketic, who is one of our best and most successful comedy directors, is a target for critics.”
    Oh, I don’t know: Some of us liked his 21. And, hey, I’m not ashamed to admit I gave Legally Blonde a good review. And Win a Date with Ted Hamilton! wasn’t exactly roasted by the critics — was it?

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin