A studio’s marketing maven is on a quest to destroy the distribution windows. 2,880 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
“It’ll never fly.”
“You’re not listening to me,” Kathleen Berg pleaded with him. “We’ve got to be the first media conglomerate to do this. We’ll not only make history, but we’ll set a trend.”
That sounded incongruous; it didn’t matter if they set a trend or not, only that it was successful.
“Day and date will never ever work. Give it up. I’m getting tired of having this conversation with you, day in and day out! Out!”
Mentally crestfallen, Kathleen rose from the chair and left the executive’s office. The idiots would never learn. She’d have to convince them. Somehow.
As she walked away, the executive – another in a long line she’d spoken to about the subject — admired the shape of the lower half of her body in the snug power skirt.
Kathleen first read about the concept of day and date release maybe a decade ago. It was while she was still in high school contemplating a career in Hollywood. (Thank goodness she already lived in L.A.) Probably in one of the expensive trades she had received as gift subscriptions on her birthday or Christmas. Or maybe somewhere online such as a financial site like CNBC. Or who knows. It could have been a report related to Disney CEO Bob Iger who at one time seemed hellbent on opening his movies everywhere and anywhere on the first day of release. But now the Mouse House was too scared to fool around with such an untried strategy. Although Kathleen was certain Iger would place his films day and date on the upcoming direct-to-consumer streaming service.
But for most moguls, cannibalization of sales at theaters was scarier than the zombies on The Walking Dead. Exhibitors, too, are just as scary, although they’re also a bunch of overgrown babies who know it’ll eventually happen no matter how much they whine and cry. Kathleen often hoped they’d choke on their fake butter-saturated-popcorn.
After graduating from USC with a major in screenwriting, she knew the best way into showbiz was through the executive side. She did the intern thing and managed to move into an assistant’s position at a young studio called Time Dilation Entertainment. After that, she became a development exec, there, then into marketing where she could impact distribution.
She never forgot about day and date. She was determined to see it happen.
“Look, it’s never going to happen,” Ida, who’d been Kathleen’s best friend from college, said over a soda.
The In-N-Out wasn’t crowded at this time of the day. A good thing, too, because Kathleen’s voice was about to rise. “I get it. But let’s be clear: hybrid VOD releases mean nothing. It’s only done for smaller indie films. They can maximize revenue, sure, for some projects. In another sense, those indie films probably shouldn’t be released in theaters and on digital simultaneously. It’s the big blockbusters that should be given the test.”
“You’re saying The Force Awakens should have been first? Are you insane?”
“A movie like that would have been a perfect candidate. Absolutely ideal. The younger crowd would want the shared experience, all the bragging rights on social media of actually seeing it on the big screen. While older demos would gladly pay a premium to catch it day and date on the small screen without having to be around those fucking nerds. Besides, those nerds would pay a surcharge to see it the first week and then immediately pay to see the movie again on-demand. You know it.”
“Hey, nerds made Chris Hardwick a multimillionaire.”
“They did,” Kathleen conceded.
Ida took another bite of her double cheeseburger. “It’s all stacked against you.”
“PVOD is coming whether we like it or not. Even Spielberg is a backer.”
“That Screening Room bullshit hasn’t done anything. No traction whatsoever!”
“Sean Parker changed the music industry. Want to bet against him and Howard and Abrams?”
Kathleen gazed down at her order. Too much fat and calories.
“I know this means something to you,” Ida said, “but maybe it just isn’t time yet.”
“I think the industry needs to be pushed into it. Like television, videocassette recorders, CD players, Blu-ray, DVD – “
“And laser discs which never caught on,” Ida countered, “Don’t go there, just don’t go there. And don’t dare mention to me again that I should release my new film Web day and date. Understood?”
“I called you in here, Kathleen, because Ida was angrier than Darabont and his Walking Dead lawsuit,” the executive chastised her
Kathleen supported talent, but now that she was on the other side, she could see AMC’s viewpoint.
“George, you’re my only hope.”
“Was that a reference to – “
“Oh please, I’m Star Wars-ed out. Just look at Solo’s box office.”
“Ida told me about your grand idea that Disney should release all its Star Wars stuff along with Marvel-universe shit and Pixar CGI and Disney animation on PVOD. Come on, you can’t be serious.”
“And our Web would be perfect.”
“I disagree,” George said. His tone was increasingly resigned. Kathleen knew she was reaching the point of no return in the discussion. “Frankly,” George continued, “I’m becoming concerned about this crusade of yours. I’m trying to figure out whether you now fit in with us.”
“Is that a threat?”
“No. Just some honesty. Look, you’re a marketing guru and distribution czarina with a great future in Hollywood. Do you want to screw it up with this obsession?”
“Ida’s wrong. Now is the time to do something innovative.”
“Ida is one of the most talented producers out there. We don’t want to lose being in business with her. She’ll have a big hit on her hands with her next pic Web. That means it’s in our hands as well. She’s the next Michael Bay.”
Like that’s the highpoint of creativity, Kathleen smirked.
“George, I get it. Theater owners will put up a fight. But you have the ear of the Gwen, and you know she listens to you.”
“Actually, she kind of agrees with you.”
“Yeah,” George said. “She’s been following the PVOD trend as well. We’re in a new age of digital landscapes, yada yada. She’s into it.”
“Then why the fuck…”.
“Because I won’t allow it.”
Kathleen banged her closed fist on the table. “I don’t understand.”
“Let me explain. And please don’t do that again. I do hold a lot of sway over Gwen. We’ve talked about it before. She’s not willing to take the risk based on your assessment. It’s nothing personal to you, honest. Obviously I know what it’s like to be rejected. We’ve all been there. I’m not trying to sound condescending, either. I’m not terminating you or even thinking about it, but I suggest you move on to another studio that might be open to your thinking. It is an imaginative strategy, I grant you. I remember years ago reading about day and date just before the release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Someone wrote an article wondering what would happen if T2 was released in theaters and on tape and on laser disc and on pay-per-view all at the same time. Made my head spin. I loved the idea. It was way ahead of its time. It still is. Just like your idea to place Web on demand or whatever the next technology is out there. Maybe I’m old.” He laughed. “You probably just agreed with me in your mind.”
“You’re not old. You’re just not…”.
“Maybe it’s better for you to trail off. Just let the ellipsis lie. Those three dots can be your best friend sometimes.”
Kathleen took a deep breath. Which made George notice. She took note of his eyes following the movement of her breasts.
That gave her an idea.
She fucked him.
And he had a heart attack. Seriously, he had a heart attack and died. She couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t have written this in a screenplay. But real life was not a script; it wasn’t reel life, and sometimes old horny goofballs died when they were cheating on their wives. On impulse, she’d decided to make an audio recording on her iPhone of their night together.
But what about her quest for day and date?
She wasn’t going to stop. She’d have to go straight to the top.
The parent company CEO, Rex Johnson – bland name, she always thought – wasn’t amused. He was giving her the Larry-Summers-punch-me-in-the-face routine from The Social Network. “I’m finding it odd and disconcerting that you secured an appointment to see me about this. Frankly. I’m not angry” – he was – “but don’t you think this is better handled by the head of the studio? Shouldn’t you talk to Gwen?”
I do better with men, Kathleen thought. Besides, who did this guy think he was? She remembered calling his office years ago while an assistant to complain about something. She ended up exclusively seasonal after that.
“Mr. Johnson, I know this is just an investment from your perspective, but the studio needs you to act on this. I firmly believe this.”
“Who’s starring in this Web film?”
“Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Johnny Depp, Andy Serkis. He’s certain to get an Oscar nod as the Titan Of Tarantulas.”
“Who wrote it?”
“Joss Whedon did a kick-ass first draft. Then 12 screenwriters laid hands on it..”
“Who directed it?”
“The Brothers. Coens began it, Duffers worked on it. Wachowskis finished it.”
“How much did it cost?”
“$250M plus $100M for marketing and another $200M to sell it worldwide. Plus first-class seats for each spider. Listen, the staggering economics are exactly why you should –"
“I know all that! I’m trying to impart something.” Kathleen sighed inwardly but remained silent. “Do you fucking think those above-the-liners are going to let us release this on PVOD and Blu-ray, iTunes, all that the same day it opens in theaters? Honestly, punch me in the face, why don’t you?”
He actually said punch-me-in-the-face.
“Look,” Kathleen responded, “I have been arguing with people for years about this. Just let’s try it. We can manage the talent. They’re still getting their profit participation, PVOD or not. All of them are a bunch of overpaid egotists, anyway. They don’t care about what you and I go through. We’re taking the risk, securing the loans, praying for tax credits. Heck, the latter are getting harder to come by. But day and date allows consumer choice. It allows the money to roll in faster. It allows one omnibus marketing campaign. It allows people who don’t go to the multiplex to give us their money — and at a premium. Those who like to go, the kids, still will. Or want to score with a hot chick? Take her to a movie. That ritual isn’t going to end. All that will happen when day and date becomes a reality for a blockbuster is that we increase shareholder returns. It’s as simple as that.”
“You know,” Rex said, “I like you, I really do. You just want this so badly. I know about your crusade. I know, too, that you did well marketing an indie-ish project made for less than $5 million. It had a great hook. Then you did it for a $10 million movie that put people in actual danger when they watched it in the theater. To the point where employees would come out in costume and hurt the audience. Theater owners were justifiably nervous but it had a Purge-type vibe to it Both of those films were hybrid releases and went through the roof.”
“But day and date will lower tentpole risk!“
He put up a hand. “I don’t want to do it. I’m with Iger on this one – if you’ve got the goods and you spent a lot, keep the window. Sorry. And, quite frankly, I did not appreciate this meeting.”
A fantasy abruptly exploded in her mind; it read like the action section of a Final Draft file. There was a gun. In her purse. The man froze. Stuttered. Begged. Didn’t matter. The femme fatale with the sexy body discharged the weapon. Bullet hit his head. Reduced it to pulp. His executive desk was now an executive mess. But Kathleen didn’t have a gun in her purse. She didn’t have a gun, period. Still, should she kill him over her obsession with day and date?
Instead, she fucked him.
Gwen was the Studio head of Time Dilation. Kathleen didn’t like her. Thought she was a bitch.Kathleen knew women shouldn’t use that word about other women, but then again any woman who would chastise her for that did not know Kathleen and her quest for destroying distribution windows.
“Hello, Kathleen. Let’s get down to business.”
Curt. Rude. Kathleen didn’t care. It was about to happen.
“We’ve negotiated with The exhibitors. No one’s happy about it, but we’re giving up a sizable percentage of the first three weekends. They can take the movie to smaller screens after the first five days;but, ffor those first five, we get the best auditoriums in the house. We’re increasing the marketing spend based on the fact that we won’t have to sell Web three months from now for the retail shelves. Comcast is hyping this on their on-demand menu and elsewhere, for a barter arrangement. Screenings will happen ten days before the opening to get reviews and buzz. We feel that multiplatform ad buys with cablers AMC, MTV and SyFy, as well as ABC and NBC, will get the word out in the most efficient manner. That will be the core of the strategy to sell it into the theaters. Obviously the social component will be big – YouTube, Twitter, Instagram. Additionally, we’ll be buying on YouTube and Facebook like crazy. After that, you know the rest. Fallon, Kimmel…”
It’s happening, Kathleen thought. Really. Happening. “Sounds great.” She didn’t want to go crazy in front of Gwen. “The only thing about SyFy is that it programs really bad movies. Not so-bad-they’re-good, either. Will potential ticket buyers and PVOD consumers confuse our giant spider film with one of their horrible projects?”
“I honestly don’t know.” Gwen just stared at her nemesis.
Kathleen felt the gaze. Gathered up her things. Left.
Gwen called after her. “You know we had to fork over for this little experiment of yours, right? The agents were up everyone’s ass over it.”
Kathleen said nothing.
Opening weekend. People lining up to see Web. Kathleen watched the ticket-holders at the Arclight. They were young. They were excited.
Or was she even more excited?
Ida stopped talking to her. That was expected. Kathleen didn’t care. Yeah, she got it – don’t break the sacred window! Well, she shattered it.
She thought of how long it had taken Web to get here. Although she wasn’t involved from the beginning, she knew it was six years. The special effects had caught up to the concept, finally. Everyone always did spider movies comedically – Arachnophobia, Eight-Legged Freaks. Great talent behind Web. At a cost, sure, but it plays in a tone similar to The Walking Dead. It could even be a series at some point. The scene at the beginning where the guy is thrown into the giant black widow’s web is terrifying, but also accessible and entertaining. The jumping spider sequence worked well. The tarantulas and trapdoor species were incredible. It’s like Jurassic World, only darkly atmospheric and no dinosaurs. Spiders. Everyone has a fear of them. That’s what will sell the tickets. That’s what will trigger the in-home rentals. Plus, the whole environmental element. And the scene at the end where there’s a huge web spun across the Golden Gate Bridge and survivors have to cross it. Like Cloverfield cubed.
Kathleen could tell that the kids in line may not have cared about day and date, but then again maybe they did. Maybe some would go right home and watch it again. Or rush to Walmart to buy the Blu-Ray. Or binge it on Apple TV. The data would arrive soon enough.
The movie bombed. Horribly. Box office was only $50 million the first weekend in July. There was definitely some cannibalization, but mostly no one reason was assigned the blame. Pundits competed to write think pieces on what happened. CNBC reported on the fate of PVOD. Drudge destroyed everyone involved with Web.
Of course, Time Dilation knew who to blame.
Kathleen did have one ace up her sleeve. She told the parent company CEO Rex Johnson that she would sue for sexual harassment. He said no one would believe her. Then, she produced her secret iPhone recording of intercourse with George. But the CEO had recorded her office meeting with him which called into question exactly who had propositioned whom. She left the studio with a measly $3 million settlement. Still, it was more than enough to start a new phase of her life. And, besides, she knew that even giving up a dollar pissed off Johnson, let alone millions.
She moved to Vermont where she bought a local movie theater, a beautiful old structure that had a spacious balcony and gold-leaf ceiling. She loved it. And now that she was an exhibitor and on the other side, she decided day and date.was a disastrous concept. Awful. The worst.