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How They Sell Stupid Crap (in Hollywood)


Published January 21, 2009 at 4:38 p.m.

I took a break from writing up showtimes for Paul Blart: Mall Cop (which grossed a stunning $32 mil last weekend!) to read this article in The New Yorker. I think it's a must for anyone who's interested in movies and/or marketing tactics.

Tad Friend profiles a Lionsgate marketing exec named Tim Palen (no, not Palin) who basically invented the campaigns for the immensely profitable Saw series, including this poster that blows Burton's controversial Primo boards out of the water (the MPAA made him tone it down). Palen pushes boundaries because he knows that's how you reach his audience. Now he's trying to apply his talents to selling romantic comedies.

I was amused to read that he's the genius responsible for the misleading Good Luck Chuck TV spots that featured Jessica Alba falling down in about 20 ways and showing her underpants, because the guys in the target demo want to see semi-nude Alba, not obnoxious star Dane Cook. And that Palen has no problem admitting the movie was a piece of crap.

Finally, this quote from the piece offers enlightenment to anyone who is forced to contemplate the success of Paul Blart: Mall Cop: "It is often said in Hollywood that no one sets out to make a bad movie, but the truth is that people cheerfully set out to make bad movies all the time. It is more accurate to say that no one sets out to make a movie without having a particular audience in mind."

Or, as a parent might say, "Duh, Paul Blart isn't for snobby critics. It's for kids!"

Can critics offer any useful opinions about a movie when they're way out of its target audience? Of course I think so. Still, I wouldn't rush to review a film that obviously appeals mainly to the under-10 set. And there are some films I consciously avoid because I know there's no chance in hell I would like them, and they have self-selecting audiences — that is, people who like them know they're going to like them (Bride Wars, for instance). I prefer to stick with films I think have at least a slender chance of being good, by my own biased standards. But is that really objective?