Thursday, March 30, 2006

Those Pesky Demos

Who pays for movies, anyway? This is one of those annoying posts that talks about demographics, so if you want to dig into some structure dish, you'll have to haul ass back here later. Right now, mama's got to pay some bills and she's making the kiddie's watch her do it. So, pull up a chair and stop yer whining. We got checks to write. For those of you precocious preteens out there, just snark quietly and let the little ones sit up front.

Movie goers fall into four basic, very broad categories. Males and Females over and under 25. That's it. So, while it would seem obvious that movies have to be made for at least one of those groups, a lot of novice, and not so novice, filmmakers fail to think about their core audience before they pour their passion and loot into a project. One of the reasons films fail to find their core demo is that interests change every day. Oprah introduces James Frey to the world, his books jump up the charts, and now women over 25 are interested in redemptive stories of drug addiction and are willing to wade through 300+ pages of crap to get it.

Studios are constantly on the look out for what's hot in the world of pop culture. When video games started to prove themselves as an enduring source of material, a whole class of executives made their bones pursuing titles, game makers and gamers in search of the viral video game that would service this very under-25 male demo.

So, the big question for the filmmaker is: does my project effectively target an audience? If not, who am I making the film for? If so, am I so servicing this demo that I'm precluding anyone outside of it from going? Narrowing a target isn't always a bad thing. Look at the SNAKES ON A PLANE example. Rather than trying to make it appeal to a broader audience (something NL probably realizes wouldn't be likely right off the bat), the studio has decided to service its core demo for this film (males over and under 25, probably the sweet spot is 18-25) and hope that by dominating that core, they will be able to generate enough word-of-mouth that the film will become a sort of ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW kitsch favorite and cross-over into the mainstream. They are counting on the legions of nutty fans out there who make fanfic, and fan-art, appropriating lines from message boards and elsewhere to make a sort of community art project out it. It'll be interesting to see if it works.

With the advent of the internet, this type of advance market testing will probably become more common, though not likely the norm -- filmmakers are artists, afterall, not just market-driven content generators, we have studios for that.

The next post will take a list of movies and break them down by demo, and then talk about what "servicing a demo" really means in terms of elements and methods that can be used to enhance this appeal. As always, if there are questions or comments, have at it.


Eleanor said...

I'm looking forward to your next post.

Question: I tend to write for the 18-25/25+ male category, but I like some depth to things so my stories also tend to contain a hunk of female 35+ drama.
I know this is breaking the "rules".
Is it a massive mistake on my part to do this? - Would a more purist approach increase my primary target audience's enjoyment?
I guess it would help if I knew how men think...

Mark Dugas said...

I have just started scriptwriting so I have been reading lots of writer blogs. None have ever mentioned demographics. None. My day job is as a producer of tv commercials and corporate video. The first question we ask all our clients is "Who's your audience?" The entire project flows from the answer to that question. I always had a suspicion that the same held true for fiction, at least fiction that you want to have an audience show up for. Thanks for making it so clear..great post. (P.S. Love the blog. I'm one of your 7 regular readers)