Marketing Movies to "Discriminating Women"

02/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There has been some buzz about the recent piece in the New Yorker featuring Tim Palen, co-head of theatrical marketing at Lion's Gate (one of the only remaining independent studios around). Lion's Gate is an interesting studio of late because their slate of films are so different; from slasher porn to Tyler Perry to the upcoming New in Town starring Renee Zellweger, opening Friday.

As a person who does marketing/publicity for women's films, my job is to get the word out about a certain film. I focus on making people aware of what I have and try not to deny what I don't have. Because women's films generally don't get paid enough attention, getting the word out just to get people to notice a film is always a challenge. But then again, I don't have to promote slasher porn and honestly don't think that I could.

The article was quite depressing on many levels, especially when it talked about how deception is used to lure audiences. It exemplified the ongoing difficulties in marketing movies about women to women.

I was also surprised that Palen's partner in theatrical marketing, Sarah Greenberg, was basically missing from the piece. She focuses on the publicity front but it sucks that the article made it seem that Palen did everything to make these films successful.

The one thing I got out of the piece is that marketing is king and that movies that are made today are necessarily because they might be good, but because they can be sold and marketed. So it doesn't come as a surprise that women are not valued since we are harder to market to. Lots of industries have figured out how to market to women because they think it's worth it because women make most of the purchasing decisions. (Some studies say that women make over 80% of all purchasing decisions.) The thing to note is that because women are harder to reach, you also get the guys cause they are easier to sell to. Motto of the story: if you figure out how to get women you get men and women. If you figure out how to reach guys, you just get guys.

Here are some parts of the piece I thought were really interesting:

Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who's in them -- gone are lavish adult dramas with no stars, like the 1982 "Gandhi."..."If we weren't making decisions based on marketability, John Malkovich would be in every movie," a top studio marketer says. "Great actor, but not someone you want to see half-naked in the sheets next to Angelina Jolie."

Depressing. Now they make low-budget, stupid movies with no stars. What about splitting the difference and trying to make lower budget movies for adults with stars (or non-stars) who will probably work for less money now that the economy is in the crapper. There are not many actors who can still say I'll make this movie if you get me my $20 million.

Below is even more depressing.

The collective wisdom is that young males like explosions, blood, cars flying through the air, pratfalls, poop jokes, "you're so gay" banter, and sex -- but not romance. Young women like friendship, pop music, fashion, sarcasm, sensitive boys who think with their hearts, and romance -- but not sex (though they like to hear the naughty girl telling her friends about it). They go to horror films as much as young men, but they hate gore; you lure them by having the ingénue take her time walking down the dark hall.

Older women like feel-good films and Nicholas Sparks-style weepies: they are the core audience for stories of doomed love and triumphs of the human spirit. They enjoy seeing an older woman having her pick of men; they hate seeing a child in danger. Particularly once they reach thirty, these women are the most "review-sensitive": a chorus of critical praise for a movie aimed at older women can increase the opening weekend's gross by five million dollars. In other words, older women are discriminating, which is why so few films are made for them.

Older women are discriminating. Mind you, older means 30. It means women are interested in making sure what they are spending their money and time on is worth it. I find that is actually a smart way of going through life. Why would I want to spend $12 and two hours of my time on something I know I'm not going to enjoy. And why is discriminating such an evil word? Is it because they know the content they are trying to sell sucks? How about making better movies?

But here's another problem with women being "review sensitive." Who are the reviewers? Mostly guys (women are only 23% of the reviewers at daily papers and since that stat is several months old I'm sure it's less now) and many have issues with women's films. (Don't you know that all films about women are pathetic chick flicks that guys shouldn't be stuck going to, but I should want to go see a Judd Apatow film cause it's just a good movie -- give me a break.) But the good thing for women is that the blogosphere gives us the opportunity to talk directly to each other, to let each other know what sucks and what doesn't suck and where we should spend our time and money.

I talk all the time about women needing to get out and support films they are interested in on opening weekend so they get counted in Hollywood terms. But it's stories like this that gives me the feeling that no matter how many tickets we buy we will still be treated like second class citizens. Why haven't the studios looked for scripts about four women over 40 like Sex & the City? I know they are going to make the sequel but there have got to be other stories that can continue to build on the market. Also, why aren't they trying to figure out how to replicate the success of Mamma Mia which has made over half a billion now and was an even bigger hit overseas than in the US?

Tim Palen has a big challenge ahead of him this weekend with the opening of New in Town the Renee Zellweger film. He can't sell it as slasher porn cause that would turn off all of us over 30 and he admits "he had no playbook for a PG-13 romantic comedy about a strong woman." Tim, just look around you. Life is a playbook for strong women. I think they are much closer on the recent ads that feature Zellweger front and center. What attracts me to her is her desperate desire to fit in and in trying to do so making tons of funny mistakes along the way. She's very endearing. I still love the original Bridget Jones and I watched Bridget Jones 2 this past weekend at the gym and totally laughed at the scenes in the Thai jail where she drills her fellow prisoners on her love for Madonna. (Btw did anyone else notice that Baltar from Battlestar Galactica plays one of her best friends?) She makes me smile and not many people can do that.

The most depressing part of the depressing article are the comments of David Schneiderman, an expert trailer cutter. I gotta give the guy props on his honesty but yikes:

"We're in the business of cheating, let's face it. We fix voice-overs, create dialogue to clear up a story, use stock footage. We give pushup bras to flat-chested girls, take people's eyes and put them where we want them. And sometimes it works."

And lots of times it doesn't. Sigh. I'm gonna take a shower now cause I feel dirty.

Originally posted on Women & Hollywood