COMPANY TOWN : The Making of Promotion : Studios Find Success With Behind-the-Scenes Specials About Feature Films and TV Movies
John Wentworth, a Paramount television executive, was channel surfing one night when he hit on a way to publicize “JAG,” the studio’s hourlong drama about Navy lawyers that premiered this fall on NBC.
“I thought, if I can be so aware of exercise equipment and health aids through infomercials, I ought to be able to make viewers equally aware of and interested in a TV series,” Wentworth said.
That brainstorm led to “JAG: Beyond the Scenes,” a 30-minute “Entertainment Tonight"-style special that introduced viewers to the show’s leading characters and offered a look at its special effects. It aired more than 100 times on NBC affiliates and cable stations around the country, including USA Network, VH-1, CNBC and the Discovery Channel.
The advance promotions seem to have paid off. The two-hour premiere of “JAG” scored a rating of 11--indicating that about 10.5 million households were tuned to the program--well above the 5.5 average rating scored during the same time slot in the May sweeps, according to Nielsen Media Research.
That success virtually guarantees that the number of specials dedicated to taking viewers behind the scenes of television and movie productions will continue to multiply, industry executives and analysts say.
Movie studios have already used “featurizations,” with titles like “Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump: The Making of an Extraordinary Film” and “The Making of a Masterpiece: ‘The Lion King’ ” to generate interest in an upcoming movie, jump-start home video sales or simply squeeze more revenue out of a multimillion-dollar production.
“Nowadays, on virtually every major studio feature film, there’s someone there photographing the shoot every day” for potential use in a promotional behind-the-scenes production, said George Feltenstein, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for MGM/UA Home Entertainment.
That studio made its first behind-the-scenes special in 1989 for the 50th anniversary home video edition of the MGM classic “The Wizard of Oz.” The studio sold 3 million copies of the anniversary edition, compared to 1 million copies of the regular home video in the preceding decade.
“People want to not just own the movie, they want to own the experience that went into the movie,” Feltenstein said. “Consumers really adore having that kind of access to screen tests and outtakes. It’s created a whole new way of marketing films.”
MCA knows that. When home video sales of the 1993 Universal blockbuster “Jurassic Park” leveled off this spring, the studio released a 50-minute documentary called “The Making of ‘Jurassic Park,’ ” which sold in video stores for about $10.
“The idea is to re-create interest in the movie,” said Evan Fong, executive director of publicity for MCA/Universal Home Video. “It was released several months after the movie was released on video, so it gave us a chance to re-promote the movie.”
Sometimes a featurization is used to promote a film at the beginning, rather than the end, of its life cycle. Twentieth Century Fox released the video “The Making of ‘Die Hard 3: Die Hard With a Vengeance’ ” to generate interest in the weeks before the film’s big-screen release. That title was included in a video triple pack, along with “Die Hard” and “Die Hard 2: Die Harder,” a Fox spokeswoman said.
Compared to the budget for a feature film or prime-time television series, the cost of a 30-minute or one-hour behind-the-scenes feature is relatively low. Most movie studios include it in a film’s marketing budget. Sources say the “JAG” infomercial cost tens of thousands of dollars to make, a fraction of what it costs to produce one episode of the show.
That means studios can cover their costs without having to sell very many of these promotional videos--and indeed, they don’t.
Trackers of video sales don’t keep numbers on special releases in “The Making of . . . " genre, but Eileen Fitzpatrick, associate home video editor at Billboard magazine, said she would be “very surprised” if more than 100,000 copies of any single title were shipped to retailers.
That pales in comparison to sales figures for the movies on which they are based. According to Video Store magazine, “The Lion King” has sold 27.5 million copies on video, while consumers purchased 21.5 million copies of “Jurassic Park” and 14.8 million copies of “Forrest Gump,” said Tim Delaney, the magazine’s director of market research.
Studios say they expect to create more such featurizations and make them more sophisticated as they go along. Those that air on television, for example, could take a cue from home shopping channels.
“I think the genre can expand and grow and be relevant for almost every movie, if you create that transactional revenue-generating dynamic,” said Jack Myers, president of Myers Communications, a television and marketing consulting firm in Parsippany, N.J.
That could mean a TV special about a James Bond film sponsored by a store such as Sharper Image that specializes in selling high-tech gadgetry, or a feature about the making of “Jurassic Park” that flashes a toll-free number for ordering books about dinosaurs, Myers said.
Wentworth said future infomercials for Paramount will probably incorporate sales of promotional items. Paramount has already agreed to produce a behind-the-scenes feature for “The Osiris Chronicles,” a CBS midseason replacement.
Despite their rising popularity, MCA/Universal’s Fong says the proliferation of “The Making of . . . " videos presents “a paradox.”
“The special effects are very interesting to a lot of people, but at the same time there’s a danger of dissecting them to the point where you would take away from the magic of the movie,” he said.