By David Poland email@example.com
Anatomy Of Great Corporate Publicity: Oz Meets The WSJ
Suddenly, I feel like I am on “Punk’d” or something.
The Mission: Get the Wall Street Journal to define a post-John Carter era for the studio, starting with Oz The Great & Powerful.
The Victim: Excellent former LA Times reporter Ben Fritz, just getting his seat in the WSJ Los Angeles bureau warm.
The Con: Alan Horn, a well-liked and well-respected industry senior had almost nothing to do with this movie. Although everyone in town was told when Horn took over at Disney over 9 months ago that he would be “making movies” aside from the massive franchises that are now the near-exclusive area of investment for Disney, that has not turned out to be true… at least not out of some development.
The reason this worked so well is that Horn is an adult and he is the stability that Disney sought to pose as regaining after Bob Iger’s ill-fated, ill-conceived mufti-year odyssey of chasing The New after firing The Old (aka Dick Cook). In all great lies, there is enough truth to make the audience (and reporter) swallow the bite of poisoned apple.
As you read Fritz’s piece, you can practically hear the corporate publicity team measuring the tale. “Leave out the month-plus over schedule the film went on location in Detroit.”
“Wait… don’t even mention Michigan. We got a $40m tax credit and the city is falling apart. We’re not sending any talent to the premiere. Detroit is not a part of this film’s story.”
“Let’s see if we can get the budget any lower. The production was around $200 million in the winter of 2011 (some claimed over $200m by then), before the daring, imaginative reshoots in the summer of 2012. But we’ve gotten people to claim we’re under $300m all-in with marketing. Imagine that… we’re spending less than $100m in worldwide marketing. Ha! We’ve ‘saved’ well over $50 million just by talking to the press!”
“So the Disney strategy is now to own everything it releases in whole… no financing partners. But don’t mention that Bob’s strategy under Ross was to own nothing, but to have individual businesses fund their own films while Disney would be a distribution and marketing company… except for the cartoons. That’s Rich Ross’ strategy now… but seriously, don’t even mention it. Especially never talk about Marvel’s independence having a lot to do with its line of credit when we acquired the company. It’s all in-house now.”
“Mention Saving Mr. Banks as though it was not greenlit by the previous administration with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson locked in before Horn took the job last May… they might not check that one too closely.”
By the way – it’s me again – the idea of what movie belongs to what administration is pretty iffy. Tomorrowland was “greenlit” by Sean Bailey under Rich Ross about a year before Horn landed. It is true that Horn could have killed it. But it’s hardly his movie. We discussed Saving Mr. Banks. And it would be rather fool-hardy to call a fifth Pirates film his… though the fourth one did start with Dick Cook and then get shepherded though its production and post by Rich Ross.
Indeed, the reason Oz, The Lone Ranger and Maleficent were the only non-animated Disney movies in production when Horn took over is that the strategy that Iger pursued through Rich Ross was to not make movies in-house. And the strategy hasn’t actually changed very much, except that it now includes more direct investment by Disney. (I still expect DreamWorks to be releasing elsewhere by next year.)
In reality, the first hands-on-from-the-start Alan Horn-era project at Disney will probably be Star Wars VII. The ONLY non-animated, non-Marvel, non-DreamWorks film – aside from the six movies already discussed in details – that is on the schedule through the end of 2014 is The Muppets… Again!, another sequel that started with the last administration.
There’s nothing wrong with that. That is the company strategy. Alan Horn is a quality executive and he is executing that strategy. Perhaps some other non-franchise movies will get greenlit soon. Maybe not.
I just don’t want to be bullshitted.
The Long Ranger and Maleficent are two $200m-plus mega-movies that Disney does not want to stick Horn with, in case they go wrong. (I am hoping they do not, for the record.)
His neck – even though it’s not really his project – is out on Tomorrowland, which is due Christmas of 2014. As the last Pirates film showed, you could have Johnny Depp as Captain Jack talking to a turd and it would do a billion… and not out until Summer ’15. So that’s safe. And no one is going to make a mountain out of a Saving Mr. Banks unless it hits. All safe for him to be attached to.
Don’t get me wrong. Rich Ross was an epic mistake – Iger’s epic mistake – and the studio is much, much better off now. I have no qualms with the idea of doing that story.
But Oz’s opening has about as much to do with Alan Horn as Alice in Wonderland had to do with Rich Ross… virtually nothing. Nothing against the guy or the company, but we will feel Alan Horn’s influence on the studio about a year and change from now.
So great job by the corporate publicity team. Brava/o!
One last note. Disney’s anything/anywhere project for the next number of years is called Netflix. Starting in 2016, Disney will be Netflix’s stalking horse in streaming. And by 2020, as I have noted before, I expect Disney to buy Netflix. If not, there will be either a Disney launch or some massive number associated with Disney staying in someone else’s streaming space.