The Risk of Failure: How NOT to Lose Fans and Alienate People

March 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Supergirl was one of many superheroines who failed to captivate audiences and critics.

Any filmmaking team is privy to a skewed perception of how their own film looks due to countless factors, including personal bias due to a sense of pride and respect for everyone who worked on a given film together.  Because of this and similar types of biases—along with countless other factors that complicate a film’s potential marketability—it can be extremely difficult for filmmakers to predict whether their film will succeed or fail, both financially and critically.  Most films actually lose money compared to their initial budget (De Vany and Walls, 288) [1], so planning to avoid all potential problems takes a lot of work on the part of producers and the director.

The producers are aware that it’s highly unlikely that a film based on a comic as little-known as Powers will be the biggest blockbuster of 2013.  Nonetheless, strategic thinking can help the film make more money than some might expect, and it can also hopefully gain an increasingly positive reputation during its theatrical run through one major form of advertising in which the producers have no involvement: word of mouth.  The number of people talking about the film, as well as what they are saying about it, contributes massively to others’ levels of desire to see the film.  A large amount of discussion about the film will always intrigue people, so it’s key not to fly under the radar, and instead find a way to generate buzz and conversation among and between those who have seen the film and those who haven’t.  The planned less-is-more mysterious trailers, the cult starpower of genre icons like ideal cast members Katee Sackhoff and Sam Worthington, a well-planned time of year for release, and hopefully some critical acclaim could all help Powers generate word of mouth that lasts throughout the film’s run and gives it “legs.”

While the volume of word of mouth generated is crucial, another factor is its valence, the extent to which it is positive or negative, and exactly what people are talking about (Liu, 76).  [2]  Naturally the film’s quality and entertainingness will contribute to positive conversation from people who enjoyed it, but it is also possible for people to spread positive or negative word without having seen the film based on their general interest based on the cast, crew, and advertising.

Films fail for a variety of reasons, even when they have an existing fanbase from their source material, like the adaptation of Powers (2000).  [3]  Supergirl (Jeannot Szwarc, 1984) [4] was adapted from a comic, but was a critical and commercial failure, as many female-centered superhero stories over the years have been.  If Powers becomes a franchise, its heroine Deena Pilgrim may essentially become a co-lead alongside Christian Walker, with numerous subplots from her own perspective based on those from the comic, including eventually becoming a superhero herself.  There are numerous proposed reasons among filmgoers about why female superheroes often fail at the box office and in critical circles.  The oversexualization of many female superheroes and poor scripts with poorly developed female characters are some of the possible explanations.  [5]

However, Deena Pilgrim is more progressively written in the comics, and is not prone to whining excessively.  She is tough, and a tomboy who is often very competitive with her male co-workers.  She is not overly sexualized either, wearing pants and a t-shirt throughout the entirety of Powers’ first issue.  This refreshingly modern, tough, and competent portrayal of a woman, who can work and compete alongside men as their equal—while still being a vulnerable and believable human being—may be more of the type of heroine who viewers might appreciate.  Should Katee Sackhoff be successfully cast, she has already been known to typify this type of competent, tough, but likable tomboy for five years on SyFy’s series Battlestar Galactica.  [6]  Ideally, her portrayal of a different kind of heroine may break the barrier that has impeded the success of many other female superheroes, and Sackhoff may even get the lead role in a potential Powers sequel, which hopefully could be a rare instance of a successful superhero film with a female lead.

[1] De Vany, Arthur and David Walls. “Uncertainty in the Movie Industry: Does Star Power Reduce the Terror of the Box Office?” Journal of Cultural Economics. Vol. 23, No. 4: 1997. 285-31.

[2] Liu, Yong. “Word of Mouth for Movies: Its Dynamics and Impact on Box Office Revenue.” Journal of Marketing. Vol 70, no. 3: 200.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_(comics)

[4] “Supergirl (1984) – IMDb.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088206/>.

[5] Lipsett, Paul. Lectures. Film Genres. Carleton University, Winter 2011.  “Week 11, Failures.”

[6] “Battlestar Galactica (TV series 2004-2009) – IMDb.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 26 Mar. 2011. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0407362/>.

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Fans: Build Existing and Create New!

March 19, 2011 Leave a comment
With Powers, creating and building a strong fan base will be key for it’s filmic success. Considering this comic will be generally unknown to the actual movie audience, with about 25% of the viewers having read Powers, generating a buzz amongst the general audience and creating intrigue will be paramount. To generate the needed hype and buzz, online resources and fan communities will be highly used and depended upon. In our day and age, social media has strong influence and a high usage rate especially among our targeted demographic. Since Powers is relatively unknown, it is vital to sprout off social media that existing fans use, such as Aint It Cool News. [1] On such websites trailers, spoilers, posters, etc. will be posted to grab our fans and keep them interested. Not only will content be posted, but the opportunity for discussion amongst fans themselves and responses from the website editors will be available and key as well. [2]

Watchmen is a comparable comic book film adaption to Powers, but on a larger scale.

Powers Volume 11: Secret Identity

While the movie itself had plenty of viewers and fans, it was similar to Powers in the sense that the number of viewers who had read the comic was significantly small. Though the number was small, it was still an important factor in the filmic adaption to stay true to the comic. Following in Watchmen’s footsteps, Powers will release a poster for the film containing imagery from one of the issues from the Powers series that will not be used in the film; this sends the message to the existing Powers fan base that the film intends to stay true to the Powers series and will hopefully win fans over. [3]

As our first spoiler, a short clip of the opening scene will be shown. This will feature Detective Walker, a homicide officer, who receives a domestic dispute call. When arriving at the scene, Flinch is introduced. Flinch spouts off about money that was stolen and very much needed as Walker attempts to talk Flinch down. Following this, a loud noise is heard from inside Flinch’s apartment and, after entering the apartment, Detective Walker sees a gaping hole in the ceiling. This scene introduces Detective Walker, a key character in the comic and film. It also effectively portrays and introduces the fans and viewers to the superhero aspect of this film. The content from this clip will be 100% true to the comic with the idea in mind that this will further sway the comic fan base into the film fan base. [3]

It will also be important to emphasize the fact that the Powers series has won the Eisner Award for Best New Series for 2001 and Brian Michael Bendis won the Best Writer Eisner Award in 2002 and 2003. These pieces of key information will be posted on the film’s official blog and other fan sites, etc. [4] These awards can be seen as terms of high culture and emphasizing them will create and intensify the buzz around Powers while also legitimizing and justifying it in the fans’ defense.

[1] http://chiefmarketer.com/marketing-roi/0601-measuing-online-fan-value/

[2] Lipsett, Paul. Lectures. Film Genres. Carleton University, Winter 2011.

[3] http://www.moviemarketingmadness.com/blog/2009/03/movie-marketing-madness-watchmen/

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_(comics)

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Ancillaries For All!

March 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In a world where revenue is king, production studios must rely on more than simply box office returns when deciding whether or not to franchise a particular film. Ancillary markets, such as clothing, toys, books, DVDs, CDs and television allow for the film to be but one crucial aspect in an otherwise vast product line.

Batman action figures

The 1989 film Batman is a fundamental example of the importance of advertising and licensing with its successful lines of clothing, books, magazines, jewelry, trading cards, videogames and CDs and cassettes. Prior to film’s release, Warner Communications Inc and DC Comics released Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, a novel comprised of four independent DC issues as a way to both penetrate the 1980s underground adult comics as well as advertising to the Batman fans of the 1960s. This recycling and repackaging was paramount for promoting the upcoming release of Batman to both established and unaware fans while also easing the transition from the campy Batman of the 1960s to the Dark Knight of the 1980s. Batman also received a large amount of publicity coinciding with Prince’s soundtrack and it’s main hit “Batdance” which featured quotes and costumes from the movie. With Prince being played on both white and black radio and television stations, WCI was able to indirectly appeal Batman to black audiences, which had been difficult in the past. Taking this idea, we feel that the soundtrack will be a defining feature of Powers, filled with recognizable names singing original music which can later be re-appropriated to music videos and live performances.
With Powers, one of the major obstacles associated with franchising an otherwise unknown comic will be establishing a large fan base. Since advertisements and promotions are part of the cost of doing business and as such are tax deductible, we feel that allocating 30% of our overall budget will give Powers the publicity it needs and in turn, the fan base we desire. Part of our campaign will focus on recycling and repackaging issues of Powers designed to correspond with our filmic adaptation while the rest focuses on viral campaigns, trailers, commercials, posters, contests and giveaways.
As Powers embodies a darker and nihilistic tone we felt like at least a PG13 movie rating would be needed. While a PG13 rating will draw the attention of the adult comic fans of the 1980s underground comics, it does pose difficulties in the loss of child audiences; a major demographic to the superhero genre. While this may lead to losses at the box office, our ancillary markets will allow us to make up for those losses. While tone and subject matter may prevent parents from bringing the children to the film, our ancillary products such as magazines, coloring books, toys, trading cards, games and clothing will be family friendly and hope to mimic the success of Batman or Spiderman’s ancillary profits.

We’ve placed the runtime of Powers under 130min to allow for multiple screening per theatre with an expected theatrical run between 4-5 weeks. We have selected to air run the film during the winter season as we feel like cold and dark time of year coincides perfectly with the dark and gritty tone Powers has to offer.

Discussions of a Powers videogame is in the works following the success of the movie and is expected to be a hybrid crossover between UBI SOFT’s CSI and Activision’s Spiderman videogames.
More to come Soon!

Lipsett, Paul. Lectures. Film Genres. Carleton University, Winter 2011.

Meehan, Eileen R. “Holy Commodity Fetish Batman!”: The Political Economy of a Commercial Intertext.

“Batman (1989) – IMDb.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 12 Mar. 2011. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0096895/&gt;.

Franchises and Marketing

Seeing how common comic book adaptations are in the media these days we feel a Powers adaptation has the potential to become a profitable franchise. We plan on allowing 30% of our budget to go into advertisements in television, print, and online. This will secure better chances of having audiences who have never heard of Powers become familiar with the film and generate interest. Publicity will also be a factor that we will rely on in generating interest in Powers; since interviews, appearances and reviews are typically either free or included in an actor’s contract this will allow us to save money while also having Powers information reach the public.[1]

We plan on keeping our budget moderately low in relation to the average comic book blockbuster. Considering Powers is relatively unknown among most people compared to widely recognized comic book adaptations like Batman and Spiderman, we’ll need to focus on generating a buzz while remaining in budget; there are various options available for cheap/free advertising as seen with the promotion methods of Kevin Smith’s new film.[2] The internet can play a large role in modern marketing, this is easily seen in the amount of attention FX’s television adaptation of Powers has generated among the blogging fandom. Harnessing this resource will be critical to our success.[3]

The characters' appearances could easily translate to an action figure line.

That being said, we will aim to keep the devoted Powers fans satisfied while being aware that the number of these people is low: 75% of average people will not have read Powers, so we also need to generate an interest in people who are unaware of the franchise. We have allotted a budget of $80 to 85 million and are aiming to focus the majority of our budget to guarantee a strong cast and director that will hopefully act as a draw to the uninitiated. To generate even further interest and more revenue we hope that as the Powers franchise expands we can explore more profitable outlets such as action figures, as the merchandising department has become one of the most profitable aspects of film making.[4][5]

Even though the Powers comic book does not have a substantial fan base this does not have to be the case in regards to a film adaptation. Typically a comic’s “inability to reach a mainstream audience”[6] does not apply to other media outlets based upon the comic. Due to this fact and the widespread popularity of procedural crime on television (during which we can market our film), we think Powers has the potential to become a successful franchise. By expanding the world of Powers to include a film we have the opportunity to greatly broaden our audience, popularize the franchise and make considerable profits.

 

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Television! In all its saturated glory

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment

        The notion of a ‘Powers’ television show has begun to be thrown around in certain circles. Television offers many different possibilities to reach a vast and diverse audience on a weekly basis. With superhero programming it is essential to convey the best imagination of the forms, stars, heroes, and stories in order for the program to succeed over space and through time amid many transforming conditions (Simpach 8). A real drawing feature to ‘Powers’ as a possible television show is the potentially vast audience the show will draw due to its fan base, the amount of material writers and producers have to work with (a new superhero murder/crime to solve each week), and the hybrid of genres found within ‘Powers’. Not only is ‘Powers’ an action packed superhero story, but it falls into the crime/drama genre with glaring similarities to shows such as ‘CSI’, in how Walker and Pilgrim go about solving the crimes, and ‘The X-Files’ in the super-natural nature of the crimes Walker and Pilgrim solve. In addition to the hybrid of genres, overall success with a contemporary superhero television show depends upon a blend of conventional action elements with significant aspects of the televised domestic melodrama (Shimpach 36). Viewers want to see how the hero juggles their superhero duties with their personal lives and the outcome that ensues. What that outcome ends up being really depends upon what sort of genres are being portrayed in the show. With ‘Powers’ being suggested as a possible new television show questions arise now on whether it should be live-action or animated?
       There are positives and negatives for both sides of the animated or live-action spectrum. With a live-action ‘Powers’ show there is a wider demographic that is covered, more adults would tune in to a show with actors rather than an animated cartoon. A live-action ‘Powers’ would also be able to build a more entrenched emotional connection with their audiences allowing them to invest their time and effort into watching the show regularly (Shimpach 57). It is easier to feel emotionally connected or care about a character in a show that is an actual person then a cartoon character. The problem with a live-action ‘Powers’ would be the budget in making the show, and the overall return in profit might not be enough to balance the cost of making the show. In the graphic novel ‘Powers’, superheroes are everywhere which makes for a very entertaining but very action packed storyline. There is at least one explosion in each issue and a multitude of different super heroes and villains appear in each story. The show would have to include that sort of action and diversity to remain true to the graphic novel and the basic world of Powers, the special effects such as make-up, pyrotechnics, CGI, the various sets, property cost (for filming on location) would all add up to be an over whelming cost. If the show was animated the demographic would be smaller, but depending on how ‘graphic’ the animation is it could be possible to reach an older audience. The cost would be relatively cheap with the bulk of the money going towards animation and the rest to voice actor’s salaries, writers/directors, advertising/marketing, and merchandise. An animated show also has no limits into what can be shown on screen, and given the intense action packed universe of Powers, it would be exciting to see an animated version of the graphic novel on television every week.
        Both options have the potential for great success. A reasonable budget could be formed to fit a live-action ‘Powers’ show by only having a few episodes contain massive explosions, epic battle scenes between superhero/supervillain, or realistic make-up/special effects for the lizard man and trip hammer. If the show becomes a success then more can be incorporated in later seasons with a larger budget. The animated series could also do very well because of the limitless potential of animation depicting the action packed ‘Powers’ universe. In turn the stories can become more encompassing of the universe of Powers whereas the live-action show’s story is limited by budget. You could blow up a whole city, or have a supervillain throw a train at a hero thus destroying a whole building in an animated show, the possibilities are endless. Either option has the potential to become television gold but just like movies, the success of a television show depends on the writing staff and the story presented to the audience. Especially for television, stories have to remain fresh and exciting and not fall into the trap of predictability and complacent writing

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Fresh Blood (To Spill): Revisionism In Genre Studies

February 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Revisionism is necessary in the generic cycle in order to bring fresh ideas and inspirations to an otherwise stale set of conventions. After the genre is established and defined in the primitive stage and confirmed and balanced in its conventions by a widespread audience in the classical stage; reinvention seems to follow in order to add dimension and meaning. Revisionist films can take several different forms, loosening up on the genre a great deal and becoming less set in its values; the vague, symbolic nature of these films coupled with added stylization, self-reflection and irony give new definitions to the genre while maintaining the serious nature grounded in the style.[1] [2]

Hit Girl: certainly not the average superhero

 

The 2010 film Kick Ass is one such film that flies directly in the face of the conventions set out in the primitive and classical cycles. The film takes place in a fairly realistic universe as there are no superpowers or supernatural events. The characters are, however, very familiar with superhero fiction and the possibilities within that world, twisting popular comic phrases with lines like “With no power comes no responsibility” and other classic iconographies. This universe shadows our own in a way; as depicted in the film, some people have taken inspiration from the comic world to become “Real Life Superheroes”[3] despite their lack of supernatural powers. This somewhat realistic framework is then contrasted with an incredible amount of gore and violence; showcased in a completely unrealistic, cartoon fashion. Thus Kick Ass subverts the traditional tales of morality and justice with its unapologetic ultra-violence; blurring the hero-villain line further with every retreating henchman slaughtered mercilessly. Other obvious examples of revisionist tendencies are seen in nearly every characteristic of the volatile, foul-mouthed Hit Girl; a major deviation and reinvention of comic book and film norms associated with young female characters. The entire film is hyper-stylized and self-reflexive; Kick Ass takes the super hero world and plunges it into our real one, flipping and examining conventions and stereotypes as it does so.

Likewise, Powers inverts the expected, adding dimensions to the realm of superhero possibilities

Powers takes a somewhat similar twist on traditional superhero mythology, dropping superheroes right into a world not so far removed from our own, full of crime and other issues. A question frequently asked throughout Watchmen was “Who watches the Watchmen?” Well, in the Powers universe, Christian Walker does. The series asks what happens when there is crime amongst the super-powered, taking on conventions of justice and vigilantism in the real world arena of city detectives. The most interesting aspects of the Powers universe are the twists it gives to classic superheroes in the light of investigative crime drama; the series turns masked, super-powered characters into victims and outlaws and calls into question all the traditional values of the genre. Effectively capturing this originality is critical to fully flesh out the Powers universe and communicate its fresh, interesting new take on the superhero genre.


[1] Lipsett, Paul. Lectures. Film Genres. Carleton University, Winter 2011.

[2] Wandtke, Terrence. “Introduction: Once upon a time again.” The amazing transforming superhero! : essays on the revision of characters in comic books, film and television. Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 2007. P. 5-32

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Superheroes: What’s In A Genre?

February 5, 2011 Leave a comment

The superhero film genre is one that is difficult to classify accurately as the boundaries of what constitutes a superhero are becoming evermore fluid.[1] While genre is often determined via repeated frameworks of theme, characters, situations and other characteristics in familiar patterns; the classification of film is by no means a precise science. Several issues come up regarding these classifications, particularly in sorting the different conventions (i.e. character and plot norms) and iconographies (i.e. visual/design elements, props, symbols etc.) into distinct, independent categories.[2] Classic characteristics of superheroes include such elements as: superpowers, costumes, hidden identities, violence, vigilantism, villains, threats to the status quo, character flaws in the hero, mystery, the overcoming of adversities, moral lessons and many more.[3][4]

But the lines are often blurred between these characteristics and those of an action, thriller or investigative crime drama film. Films like M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable and Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy play with these conventions in a more subtle manner, especially in aspects like costuming, plot and the inclusion of super-natural elements. In many ways they can be thought of as superhero films, albeit in an unconventional manner. Powers is another similar franchise which combines the familiar iconography of popular super heroes with the blurred lines of newer, more subtle action-thriller crime dramas in order to create a distinct breed of self-referential superhero film.

The Powers universe combines fantastical superhero convention with gritty crime drama.

There are stereotypical costumed crusaders active throughout the city of Powers but even within the ranks of the detectives there are those with secret identities of their own; Christian Walker in particular embodies both the traditional and newer styles of superhero. While he no longer suits up in the classic tights and cape as Diamond he continues to wear a mask of sorts; repressing his past and his intimate connections with those who have powers. Christian’s former superhero identity becomes a secret identity of the man himself; both paying homage to the classic stories and twisting the usual conventions.

It is also common for superheroes to operate outside the incompetent law administrations as masked vigilantes but Powers turns this convention on its head as well, instead opting to show the superhero universe through the eyes of police. Case in point: Christian Walker now works with a badge instead of a mask. The enormous influence of procedural and investigative police dramas is plain to see throughout the series, creating a sort of CSI-meets-superhero hybrid; equal parts superhero epic and detective thriller, never have the lines been more blurred. Yet another example is the traditional depiction of women in superhero franchises, here turned around by the character of Deena Pilgrim. Strong, insightful and mysterious, Deena is far from being the standard damsel in distress. With these and other inversions of tradition it is apparent that a major part of the Powers universe is centered on the analysis of classic superhero genre conventions, mythologies and psychologies through modern, self-reflective eyes.

Overall, Powers is without doubt a superhero franchise in all its possible senses; employing the stereotypes, iconographies and motifs of classic superhero franchises and blending them with a real world perspective through the protagonists. All these elements serve to create several meta-layers of self-reflection and analysis within the universe.


[1] Bongco, Mila. Reading Comics : Language, Culture, and the Concept of the Superhero in Comic Books. New York : Garland Pub., 2000

[2] Lipsett, Paul. Lectures. Film Genres. Carleton University, Winter 2011.

[3] Coogan, Pete. “The Definition of the Superhero.” (Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester, eds.). A Comics Studies Reader. Jackson : University Press of Mississippi. P. 77-93

[4] Lipsett, Paul. Lectures. Film Genres. Carleton University, Winter 2011.

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