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David Poland

By David Poland

Will Bumble Bring A New Buzz To Fox Publicity?

I like Bumble Ward. I have since I met her… I don’t know… 15 years ago. I still do business with some of her former associates… and I remember the rest of them fondly. I still quote Bebe Lerner’s “movie friends” from that radical Tad Friend piece that marked the movement towards Bumble “retiring” at or near the top of her game.

I also like the family at Fox’s publicity department. I think Bumble will be the sixth person to hold that corner office in the 15 years or so that I’ve worked in conjunction with the studio. Others have come and gone, but a lot of the staff has been there for a long time already.

But as the years have passed, I don’t think the department has ever really been reimagined. Those seismic style shifts are rare.

Disney has changed and continues to change, after execs from outside of the Hollywood bubble came in to run things about 18 months ago. Mike Vollman fought to change the landscape of Paramount’s film publicity department while he was there, coming in on the heels of a lot of people getting fired after the DW pseudo-merger.

The most radical marketing department -publicity included – in the last decade was DreamWorks, pre-merger. Terry Press created a machine that was an intense, tough, funny, daring, sometimes enraged family. Part of what worked so well was that the studio was small, everyone was in the boat together, for better and sometimes, for worse. So much of the marketing and publicity job has become, at the majors, about managing the talent, that innovation has become harder to embrace.

But while the personalities have changed and new technology has changed the media field a bit, the last decade-plus at Warners, Universal, Sony, and Fox… pretty consistent in tone. Very smart people working their asses off. Occasional moments of radical inspiration. But still, it’s a big machine… throwing out the bath water without the baby isn’t easy.

I don’t want to see anyone at Fox fired or replaced. But I am deeply interested in whether Bumble will push her new team in some new directions, in terms of how the thinking about movie publicity works.

It’s a different world out there now. The value of publicity waned for a while there… just too many marketing dollars defining the marketplace. But with the industry trying to pull back on those marketing dollars, simple awareness becoming less challenging, but actual calls to ticket-buying action on titles that are not pre-sold seeming harder and harder, it feels like it might be time for publicity to reemerge as a dominant force.

But not so much by doing what’s always been done.

I can only assume that Oren wanted Bumble because she will think out of the box… and because he believes she can manage the pressures of this job. Maybe a former personal publicist knows how to manage the personals in a new way.

Should be interesting. We should get a sense of where things are – or aren’t – going by sometime in November.

3 Responses to “Will Bumble Bring A New Buzz To Fox Publicity?”

  1. Semi-anonymous reviewer says:

    Fox are kinda notorious among critics for (a) not sending out screening invites (except at awards season) and making critics chase them down and (b) having screenings at awkward hours (11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.) that people with day-jobs have a tough time getting to.

    It’d be nice to see that change a bit.

  2. Triple Option says:

    David Poland wrote: So much of the marketing and publicity job has become, at the majors, about managing the talent, that innovation has become harder to embrace.”

    With apologies to Sanj, this would make an interesting DP/30. What all would managing the talent include? Is it more about working the stars into the whole marketing campaign? Is it a matter of appeasing the wishes of them from pre-production to the film’s release? It seems like there could be a potential to be at odds with business affairs if that is the case or at least drive up the potential demands. Does this even involve major talent with the development process?

    Next, is it really a matter of the divided job that prevents innovation in marketing? Hasn’t the model of movie budget size and release pattern really determined the course for how a film is marketed? With the dearth of studio dependents and small, indie arms, could a studio take a $50M or $75M prod budget film and “try something new?” I feel like things will be as they are until someone figures out how to reach people another way at which point studios will either try to copy or buy in. Is it really a matter of needing to find someone who can say “what if” but really just a matter of getting someone(s) already there to agree to it?

  3. David Poland says:

    Well, TO… the thing for a major studio is that most movies they release in a traditional way, not matter what the production cost, will cost a minimum of $35m to market. That’s a big budget. Most of it goes to TV. But is there a better way to spend?

    There have been innovative moments. Paranormal Activity is the most recent big breakout. Tyler Perry is one at Lionsgate.

    As for appeasing stars, the personals have become much more powerful and stars less flexible on big movies. But if the personals and their stars are convinced that what they are being asked to do is good for them and the movie, they’ll do it. They aren’t – generally – idiots.

    I am convinced that part of the reason that talent has tightened up is that they don’t see the upside in much of the work they do for films. They feel like they are on a conveyor belt to nowhere… and often, they are.

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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