Tyranny of Numbers

A number of thoughts regarding “The Most Powerful Person in Hollywood You Don’t Know,” Elaine Dutka’s profile of Joe Farrell (July 12):

In New York, I did some polling work for Louis Harris during the ’84 presidential race. And in L.A., I did some part-time work for Farrell’s National Research Group. Both operations were run by qualified pollsters at the top. But both relied on near-minimum-wage earners to do the bulk of the work. Unmotivated, undertrained kids just trying to survive.

And from within, one sees the holes in the system that this creates and the subsequent twists in the data recovered that make the polling less than 95% valid.

In the entertainment industry, I have earned a living in New York producing theater and in Hollywood rewriting other people’s screenplays. Experience in both belies Universal executive Perry Katz’s connection between “Jake’s Women” and “Fatal Attraction.”


Theatrical previews are done so that the creative team, primarily the writer, can make adjustments, in part by sensing audience reaction. In film, previews are done primarily so that marketing execs can figure out how to sell the picture.

In previews, Neil Simon will cut jokes that get laughs but don’t work for the play. In film, testing will tell you that the joke works, so the joke becomes more important than the movie.

What polling can do is let the marketing team know whether the movie is enjoyable or terrible, or if the ending works, or if it’s too long, or if people like the title. But it will never tell you about a soft second act or an enjoyable performance that hurts the movie by distracting from the story.

With studios spending $10 million to $20 million on marketing a picture, I understand that screenings are necessary to cut losses. But too often studios forget that movies are indeed an art form and that however bright marketing execs are, they are not artists. Like church and state, these two important communities are best kept separated.



West Hollywood