Teen movie marketing

Marketing teen spine-tinglers is a profitable art for Screen Gems.

Opening a movie at No. 1 is no small feat, which makes Screen Gems' domestic boxoffice record particularly special. Three of the distributor's six releases during the past 12 months have opened at No. 1, thanks in no small part to savvy marketing campaigns. Scott Derrickson's courtroom thriller "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," a September release, terrified domestic audiences to the tune of $75.1 million during its run, and January's Len Wiseman-helmed thriller "Underworld: Evolution" and February's Simon West-helmed thriller "When a Stranger Calls" also spooked up lots of attention among the early- and late-teen crowd, earning $62.3 million and $47.9 million, respectively. The reason for such success at a time when experts are wringing their hands about an unpredictable moviegoing public? Keeping budgets slim and marketing messages on point, according to Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper and executive vp marketing Marc Weinstock. The duo shared their demographic strategies last week at the What Teens Want -- East conference in New York, presented by VNU, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter. A reformatted version of their presentation follows.

The Hollywood Reporter: What do you know about teen moviegoing habits?
Marc Weinstock: Nielsen did a study a couple months ago on moviegoing, and teenagers go to more movies than any other age group. Teen girls go to more movies than teen boys: Forty% of teen girls consider themselves heavy moviegoers; with guys, it's 33%. Teen girls are a really big factor in the success of these campaigns.
Clint Culpepper: There are so many choices (for teens): downloads, cell phones, online. Teens are becoming more picky and discernible about what they want to see; you have to find something that's really enticing and provocative that will get them to make a choice that weekend to go see your movie. If they don't see it opening weekend, they're gonna miss it -- something else is coming next weekend that they may want to see. We did (2003's) "Underworld," and we just came out with ("Underworld: Evolution"). It was very violent -- R-rated, not made for teens at all -- but what we found out was the movie made $50 million at the (domestic) boxoffice, (and) the DVD made $75 million-$80 million. It begs the question: Why did the DVD outperform the theatrical by so much? There were obviously people who watched it on DVD who did not get in to see it, and I thought, "It's probably not old people." We thought about that and said, "If that's true, we need to start making movies that they can get in to see and give them that same kind of genre/visceral thing." We have a (Renny Harlin-helmed) movie coming out Sept. 8 called "The Covenant," which is about five warlocks who have special powers. It's effects-laden, and it's PG-13. We're hoping to provide the horror without any blood but a lot of action. We're hoping it will give teens the same visceral/genre themes that they got watching DVDs of stuff they couldn't see in theaters.

THR: There is a perception that genre movies for children are cheaper to make. Is that true?
Culpepper: We have to make films on a very thin budget -- it's our mandate. We do not spend money like the big studios do; we choose to do that center division and targeted niche movies. "Emily Rose" made $30 million on a weekend that most people thought was a bad weekend: the weekend after Labor Day. Teens like either wish-fulfillment filmmaking, or they like to see those things that they really dread or are scared of. Those are the things we found out for us that would work and would keep kids looking at movies in the theater on opening weekend.
Weinstock: Comedy, action, horror -- those are top movie categories for teens. Romantic comedies, dramas, sci-fi -- those kinds of movies are not really doing it. The digital world is extremely important, online is very important, but kids are still watching television -- that's the No. 1 way that we're reaching teens. Trailers are very important, (and) word-of-mouth is very important, especially in the digital age, with people (instant-messaging) and messaging as soon as they see the commercial for the movie.

THR: How do you market to a generation that includes among its distinctive characteristics a short attention span?
Culpepper: Because there's so much coming at them these days, kids get bored fast. A lot of studios start spinning six weeks out, seven weeks out, and by the time the film comes out, people are so bored by the campaign that they turn off to it. By the time we get to the week before, we are spinning at our audience, targeting hard and heavy where they watch TV: MTV and certain Fox shows, the WB (Network) -- we have all these shows we know they're watching. They're watching Comedy Central sometime -- we target that.
Weinstock: Online starts months ahead; when they want to find out more information, we slowly give them more and more on the Internet until the TV campaign comes in.

THR: How are you using the Internet?
Culpepper: When we did "Underworld" three years ago, we found that the Internet was so abuzz with talk about the movie because (moviegoers) had gone to the Web site. We sent them to the Web site, and so many people had hit that the activity was off the charts. We had a test screening in Orange County (Calif.), and I remember hearing people saying, "Everybody is on there chatting about the test screening in Orange County." Normally, we test movies to find out if people do want to go (or) don't want to go -- I got that from the Internet. I knew who the audience was because they were lined up in Orange County three or four hours early to get in.
Weinstock: We're using (YouTube, but) the problem with YouTube that we have as marketers is that the quality of the video is not good -- we're nervous about that. But there are certain things that you can use YouTube for: material for anything that's not a trailer or not a TV spot, behind-the-scenes stuff, that kind of thing.

THR: Aren't teens notoriously anti-marketing?
Culpepper: Kids are interested in seeing how people react to marketing -- they think it's cool. They'll talk amongst themselves and say, "God, this is so geeky and lame," or they'll say: "Wow, this is so smart; you're gonna laugh your ass off." They'll appreciate how smart you can be, and I think you can actually get them interested if you go after them in an intelligent way that shows creativity, and you put thought behind it and don't insult their intelligence.

THR: What is the biggest marketing plus you can have going in?
Culpepper: What I found out when we were looking for what movies to make was that ("Emily Rose") was based on a true story, and people were fascinated by that. And what I found out about "When a Stranger Calls" was that I had seen the original (1979 release) when I was a child, and it was a scary, scary movie. I was asking kids about it, and they didn't know the original film existed; they thought it was one of those urban legends that really happened, and they talked about it at sleepover parties. So the thing that you beg for in marketing is if something is based on a true story; people are fascinated by reality, which I think is part of the popularity of reality (TV) programming. You'd be surprised how many people (saw "Stranger") because the movie was based on an urban legend they knew about baby sitters.