Friday, July 16, 2010
THE ART OF THE TEASE
The creative process of promoting a show is an entirely different animal than the creative process of making the show. One is based on a need to engagingly communicate story, the other on the need to entice and stimulate an audience's desire for that story.
I am fascinated by both processes.
My background is in mass media and advertising. As an undergraduate at Rutgers, I had my sites set on being a copywriter and a marketing creative. My senior project was a 50 page thesis on Frequency vs. Reach - The Most Effective Use of Advertising Dollars. Even though my career went in a different direction, I am still very plugged into the phenomenon of audience and fan awareness. It's one of the reasons I blog; and the only reason I use Twitter and Facebook.
I'm not sure how other showrunners react when they see trailers for their new seasons. But my reaction is always mixed. It's the thrill of seeing those first on-air glimpses of the show, the excitement of the cool song, the sexy, slick presentation. It gets my heart racing. Then there's the part of me that sees the first six episodes manipulated into a marketing tool, where narrative arcs and revelatory moments get dispensed like Raisinettes. It gets my heart sinking. I fear that the impact, surprise and relevance of the season will be compromised. I worry, a lot. It's what a parent does when they think their three-year old is in potential danger.
But when I put on my marketing hat (which is about twenty years old and ill-fitting), I need a completely different point-of-view and a whole different set of worries. If I'm spending millions and millions of dollars to promote a show, what is the most effective use of those advertising dollars? You have to excite and entice existing fans, as well as intrigue and draw in new viewers. To do that you must tap into story arcs, character relationships and in the case of this show, kick-ass action. You have to reveal enough information to satisfy a very hungry audience. They want to know what's gonna happen without really knowing what's gonna happen. So how do you do milk that cow without ripping its teats off?
It's a very delicate sucking.
I'm sure other writer/producers reading this may ultimately utter the phrase, It doesn't matter what I think, marketing is a suit job. Alas, that is true. Many networks outsource the promotion of a show so the writers and producers are completely in the dark. They see the promos when the audience does. Thankfully, that is not the case with FX. The marketing and promotions are all done in-house. So I am lucky enough to be kept in the loop. I see the print and on-air promotions before they are released. Doesn't mean I can change them, but at least I'm not blindsided. Truth is, I am in awe of the job Stephanie Gibbons and her team does at FX. I make it a point to publicly acknowledge her enormous contribution to the success of this show. Last month we did a seminar together on this very subject -- the relationship between marketing and the showrunner. We discussed in detail the challenges of all those things I worry about juxtaposed against all the things she worries about. It was an eye-opening hour.
But let's look at the target, Kurt, the audience member. When I watch a TV or a movie teaser, what entices me? What draws me to tune in or spend ten bucks? I know from experience that when I watch a movie trailer I'm pretty much seeing ALL the best moments from the film. In fact, most movies only get greenlit when someone can "see the trailer". And one could make the argument that studio movies have simply become extended trailers. It must work, because they've been promoting movies the same way as far back as I can remember. And I confess, I'm guilty of anxiously waiting to see those trailer moments when I sit in my Arclight seat.
But what of television? Do I really want ALL the best moments revealed to me? I say no, but I'm not sure if that's the truth or just my job knowledge seeping in. My relationship with a television show is much deeper than my relationship with a film. When I buy a movie ticket I'm making a two hour investment, when I watch a serialized show, I'm making a 13-22 week commitment (coincidentally, the length of most of my relationships before I married Katey). I'm investing in the world, the characters and the story. Yes, I want to be teased and aroused, but I don't want to cum. Or do I? I mean, who wants to wait a week to get off. Who the fuck am I, Sting?
It's a chicken-egg conundrum. Not unlike sex, it will continue to confuse and frustrate me. Ultimately, as with most things in my life, it comes down to trust. If I do my job well, share my truth as best as I can, and do the next right thing in front of me -- I have to trust that I will be heard and that others, who know more than me, will do their jobs as well.
FYI: Trust is the ultimate challenge for big personalities with control issues.
Posted by Kurt Sutter at 7/16/2010 11:54:00 AM