When Audiences Revolt Studios Connive

Glenn Criddle

glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | nov. 2016

The film studios and the internet are uncomfortable bedfellows. I'm not talking about piracy here, though it could be argued that the studios themselves have some hand in encouraging that with the way they run their businesses. But no, I'm talking about how the studios interact with their audiences.

Historically, the studios never had to have much contact with us, the unwashed masses. Their contact was limited either to our visit to the theatres or at carefully stage-managed events but now that the internet has arrived, everyone; every man, woman and child, has the chance to have their say and the marketing departments hate it. We're all up in their personal space now.

Gone are the days when the marketing and publicity departments of studios could control the image of a film with little to no scrutiny, now there are a million eyes looking at every little thing they do and asking questions.

Several high profile films have found themselves under enormous pressure of late, largely due to internet critics and of course the social media commenters and let's face it, particularly with the latter, there is a very wide range of opinions which should be taken with an even wider range of seriousness. I say this as someone whose work is largely based on the internet though I rarely get involved with forums, Reddit and the likes. I do know it can get rough on occasions and I've taken some abuse and even had a few death threats over movie reviews … yes, a review earned me death threats. I have plenty of comments regarding the quality of my reviews and opinions along with some occasional comments of where I can shove them and for me, this is par for the course, it's to be expected. When it comes to the film studios though they're beginning to realise that there are ways people can express, loudly and clearly, their displeasure with the constant rebooting, remaking and reimagining that seems to make up the majority of their tent-pole film output these days, and they don't like it. The internet has provided a megaphone for everyone to use and many are only too happy to take that opportunity.

With films like “Man of Steel,” “Batman V Superman,” “Suicide Squad” and, of course, “Ghostbusters” provoking fierce debate amongst fans, the studios have been unable to contain criticism from the very people they are supposed to be selling their movies to and while it can get pretty rough between critics and fans, it's remarkable how involved the studios have gotten in provoking this fracas.

Manipulation of forum comments is now apparently a tactic adopted by certain studios. One studio guilty of making bad or mediocre films has been caught actively deleting constructive/legitimate criticism on their films trailers only to leave nasty, troll-ish negative comments in their place. Why?

Well, doing so is a way to manipulate the tone of the negativity, to make the dialogue look more awful and less legitimate and to tap into the current state of social justice outrage and victimhood. Essentially, they pitted the genuinely critical voices against fans whilst arming the fans with one-size-fits-all brain-dead retorts that fit the narrative they were creating (sexist, misogynist, fan-boy or man-baby for example). It's a common tactic in censorious behaviour to put your target in a position that they are easy to paint and dismiss them as being a bad person, anti-feminist, anti-child protection, etc., when that's not at all their position. It was pathetic and the studio in question should never (and likely won't) be allowed to forget how ashamed they should be of their behaviour. This is not to condone the kind of commentary that has come from some dark holes in the internet, but the studios have failed to realise that these people are the very people they want to sell their movie to.

They're the fans, they're the audience, they're the ones who will tell their friends what they think and a combative approach from the studios is something akin to a suicide run.

Right now it looks like some seismic changes are coming because as it is, with the business and marketing model that's being followed, the studios are heading for a disaster. Alienating your audience is an abysmal approach to marketing a film; you cannot shame people into liking your movie. It's unfortunate that there are so many films, particularly based on cult characters and properties, that have been subject to some very strong opinion and the studios have constantly reacted in a manner not unlike those they claim to be awful. The reactions are something they can regard in a similar manner to the test audiences they put so much stock in though as with them I personally would advise caution in how far that goes in affecting the film in question. Listen to and try to understand the concerns, there's no need to be swayed overly by them but certainly, address them. I have no doubt that Sony's behaviour regarding “Ghostbusters” damaged the film to a point that it failed, they shoved and smeared the critics and it bombed because they stayed away. “Suicide Squad” was ultimately not a great film, although it wasn't entirely awful, it certainly was disappointing but performed pretty well, largely because even DC's critics were excited to see it on the strength of the trailers. “Batman V Superman” however pretty much ignored all the criticism of “Man of Steel” and doubled down, the result, BVS underperformed and is likely to affect the upcoming DC universe films, especially with the tepid critical response to the highly anticipated “Suicide Squad.”

The studios are going down a path of damage control and manipulation that cannot last. They need to address the very real creative problems they're having and stop blaming the fans, the commenters and the critics for their diminishing returns. It's time they remembered who spends the money on their products and learnt how to get the most out of fan responses instead of thinking of them as simply a pain in the backside.

He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.

For more of Glenn's work, visit cynicalcelluloid.com.

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