Richard Del Belso, Former Theatrical Marketing Research Guru at Warner Bros., Dies at 76
He spent a quarter-century at the studio after four years at Universal and helped change the face of movie market research.
Richard Del Belso, who spent a quarter-century at Warner Bros. and helped revolutionize movie marketing research and strategy, has died. He was 76.
Del Belso died March 5 at his home in Los Angeles after a yearlong battle with lung cancer, his husband, jazz singer and lyricist Mark Winkler, said.
Del Belso joined Warner Bros. in 1980 as vp market research and worked on every major release at the studio for the next 25 years, including best picture Oscar winners Chariots of Fire, Driving Miss Daisy, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby and on films in the Mad Max, Harry Potter, Batman, Superman, Lethal Weapon and Matrix franchises.
“Richard was the best research guy I’ve ever come across,” former Warner Bros. chairman Bob Daly said in a statement. “He was smart and thorough, he spoke his mind, and he was right 90 percent of the time. He was also just a really good person. He certainly will be missed.”
Added filmmaker Richard Donner: “Richard was very special. On a personal level, he was just fun to be around; on an executive level, his research and insightful interpretations were absolutely invaluable to Lauren [Donner’s wife and producing partner Lauren Shuler Donner] and me during our postproduction and marketing phases.”
Del Belso retired in 2005 but continued to consult on projects for Warners and others.
A native of Albany, N.Y., who attended Fordham University and New York University School of Arts and Entertainment, Del Belso began his career in the early ‘70s in New York at Benton & Bowles before moving to Grey Advertising, where he handled campaigns for automobiles and national brand packaged goods.
Universal Pictures brought him to Los Angeles in 1976 as its research director, and there he worked on such movies as Animal House, The Wiz, The Jerk, Coal Miner’s Daughter and best picture Oscar winner The Deer Hunter.
In 1978, Del Belso teamed with Joe Farrell and Catherine Paura at the then-new National Research Group. He and NRG were the first to take research methods used in their previous fields — political research at The Harris Poll and traditional advertising — and creatively apply them to movies.
Those techniques changed the face of film market research and are now standard practice — test screenings, trailer and TV commercial testing, seasonal preferences by audience, socio-demographics analyses and weekend tracking studies that predict opening box-office numbers.
A member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Del Belso served on the screening committees for foreign films and animated features and was board president of the 18th Street Arts Center, Santa Monica’s artist residency program.
He was an avid movie-poster aficionado with a collection that totaled more than 2,500 pieces.
In addition to his husband and partner of 35 years, he is survived by his sister Laraine, brothers-in-law Richard and Robert and nephew Michael.
A celebration of Del Belso’s life is scheduled for 11 a.m. on March 23 at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in his name to the Washington Humane Society, The American Film Institute and The American Cancer Society.