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June 27 2006

Do Snakes or Fireflies Have Longer Tails? Media scholar Henry Jenkins analyzes Serenity and Snakes on a Plane and explains why Internet buzz translated differently for the two films.

Edited to add: He has another entry on "Robot Chicken"

A couple of flaws in there. One, in the wake of cancellation, if there had been anyone to jump at doing a TV or a direct-to-DVD series, things might have been different. I'm fairly sure no one jumped to it, and I think it's a little disingenuous for Jenkins to suggest that Joss somehow should have (or could have) just gone off and made it happen on his own. So I think there's a bit of history missing from Jenkins' notion of the post-cancellation era.

Second, I do find it curious how many observers make claims such as "he produced a work that was confusing to many first time viewers" when the vast bulk of anecdotal evidence (which is, after all, all we have by way of evidence) actually suggests that non-Browncoats did, in fact, enjoy the movie -- it was only that we failed to get enough of them to walk into the theater.

[ edited by theonetruebix on 2006-06-27 01:57 ]
Not to mention that comedy is a universal language and many non-Browncoats totally got the humor!
I agree, bix, about the missing history. He forgot the part about Universal's not-great marketing as well. And you are correct about non-Browncoats enjoying the movie. My father is proof!
Actually, more problems: On the one hand, he suggests that making a movie was the wrong choice because Whedon somehow had to "dumb down" (my phrase, not his) the property in order to make it appeal to the wider filmgoing audience.

But you can't get much more dumbed down a concept than "snakes on a plane" (no matter how self-aware the producers of said film might be) -- and yet it is that film which Jenkins suggests is better capturing the "long tail" notion of niche culture which he suggested would have been the better path for Firefly.

It's all bass ackwards, and Jenkins' piece doesn't seem to follow its own line of thought all the way through.

Snakes is mainstream, not long tail niche. It may have started as a minor Web meme, but then precisely because it's a simple and easy reference (something Serenity never was, no matter how much Jenkins might think it had been dumbed down or "broadened"), it spread like wildfire and is now entirely a mainstream reference.

How, exactly, does that support any conception of the "long tail"? It doesn't.
Dumbing down is precisely what sells these days; witness, the new Adam Sanderl movie Click. That a film is a great film is, of course, no guarantee that it will do well at the box office. Serenity did its job well, but the words I heard from way too many people is that they did not really know the history of the characters, and had they, they would have felt that they would have gotten more from the story. I am the only jossverse person in my area, so my comments come from people with no real axe to grind, and no real knowledge of Joss Whedon or his works. I read the article and believe there are elements of truth in it. Serenity was marvelous, but it was always going to be a tough sell- that it did so well is testament to good writing and acting, plus a devoted fan base. Could this film have worked so well without that base? Discuss.
You should just copy and paste that into his comments, theonetruebix!
"And if he had gone that route, we would have been able to enjoy many more hours of quality science fiction/western action on television, where it belongs, instead of burning up the whole franchise in two hours of big screen excitement."

He makes it sound as though it was Joss's decision to stop making Firefly, which (unless I'm hugely mistaken) was not the case.
And he also makes it seem as if Joss could bring it back to TV so easily. Perhaps the semantics were that he could not, and a movie was a better way of continuing the series, versus not continuing at all.
It is an interesting article, except for the fact that in ten years no one will remember that 'Snakes on a Plane' was ever made, while in ten years we'll look back to Firefly/Serenity having grown in fan base and creating a StarTrek-like fanchise. 'Serenity' would have done better with some big name stars, but by remaining true to the original idea we have something that will continue growing in popularity and will end up spawning sequels and eventually another TV show. I have faith in the long view, Joss is still very young and has decades to fulfill the dreams of his fans.
I agree that Serenity will last far longer in the minds of viewers than will Snakes, but the author is right, I think, on the basic premise that Snakes will far exceed Serenity due to its broader fan base; I'm just not sure he has all his reasons straight. Sci Fi is hard to sell. Westerns are near impossible to sell. A sci fi western? That's just dead in the water without rabid fans (like us!); with those fans, it's still a gamble, no matter how good. Star Trek had years in sindication before the first film was made. Firefly, on the other hand, ran on SFN, a niche viewership already somewhat familiar with the series. I agree with theonetrue... that Uni did a horrible job marketing the film beyond its core base, but the real truth is that Serenity was nearly a guaranteed failure, no matter how hard we all wished otherwise.

SOAP will do well because it's sold on a hook. No one knows or cares what the film is about. People scream for the title and want to see it because everyone else screams, too. It's a rare phenomena; these kinds of things never come along, but when they do, they payoff big for the studios. However, there's no way they'll replicate such a buzz for any movie in the next five years. It's organic. It's a beast all its own.

I will just add the the implication that Joss might have done anything other than what he did do is ludicrous. Uni agreed to a movie. Should he have said: no, I'd prefer a direct to DVD? That just doesn't happen. That's not the business Joss is in. He kept his baby alive the only way he could, and we're lucky for it.
"but the real truth is that Serenity was nearly a guaranteed failure"

Well, this I disagree with. If it were a guaranteed failure it would never have been green lighted. No one is in the business of making movies to lose money, and Joss is way too smart to create a movie that was in any way a "guaranteed failure."

And I respectfully disagree that sci fi is hard to sell. Matrix trilogy, Star Wars sextet, Star Trek series, Terminator trio, Alien quadrilogy, and on and on and on, include some of the biggest movies of all time.
One thing that I question is the Long Tail direct to DVD/online distribution concept. Is it really that any easier or simpler to secure finance and rights for this type of production than it is for a major motion picture? I'm sure we've had various degrees of discussion on this before. Eg. The Ace Underhill venture. Would be interesting to see when it (the concept, not Ace) finally does happen.

Then again, it may already have. I'm sure you guys know about the "raging success" ABC is having with the free streaming of their hit TV shows. However, it looks like it will have to be an established hit before it gets this treatment. A last few pulls on the udders as it were rather than a platform used to expand an audience for untried and/or deserved material.
but the real truth is that Serenity was nearly a guaranteed failure

I agree with this. I think that maybe if Joss hadn't had such a rabid fan base, he wouldn't've made Firefly (and FOX wouldn't've shown it). And I also think this is why we can't blame ourselves for the (relative) failure of Serenity. We could bring all our friends, and all our family, and that guy we see everyday in Starbucks; but we can't bring the whole world. And that was pretty much the viewership of Serenity, wouldn't you say? Browncoats and people dragged there by browncoats.
Wow, this writer really wants to have it both ways. He asserts Joss to be "one of the smartest and most creative people operating within the media industry today,", then goes on to say that Serenity is essentially the end of 'verse's development, then backpaddles with his tacked-on "at least for the forseeable future."

That in itself doesn't strike me as simplistic and unfair as much as his supposition that "Whedon got greedy - or someone got greedy on his behalf". To Mr. Jenkins, this case of whodunnit appears to be a foregone conclusion by the end of the same paragraph, as "we all paid a price for [Whedon's] hubris."

I also find it fascinating that, had Joss gone the direct-to-DVD route (assuming that it was ever a feasible option) that he would have 'no risk that a network [would] stand in the way' (to paraphrase). That's incredible news, but there is always the pesky studio that legally owns the rights to the property - did we forget about them? This subscription-based model ("Firefly Season 2", anyone?) would have to cover the costs of a hell of a lot more than each episode as they come. With the fans supposedly footing a huge chunk of the bill for this new breed of series, who's to say that these defacto shareholders can't/shouldn't have a say in the show's ongoing story and further developments? Gosh darn it, if Joss hadn't gone and ruined it for everyone with Serenity we might just find out!

This article just pushed some of the wrong buttons for me; what a hell of thing to say after such a triumphant weekend for Serenity Now/Equality Now.


As a fan who came to Firefly only after seeing Serenity, I have this to say:

It is true that the characterization was overdone and under-done at the same time in Serenity. I had no emotional connection with any of the characters the first time I saw it. I understood the plot fine, but I didn't give half a damn about any of the characters at the end of it.

After watching all of Firefly and then watching Serenity again, the amount of feeling added to the movie was overwhelming. Serenity as it is could not have been a big draw, simply because people like to identify and empathize, and there just wasn't enough time for it.
so, peachgirldb, how come you watched all of Firefly after you saw Serenity?
:)
Dumbing down is precisely what sells these days;


Right, and as we all know, prior to the year 2000, every piece of entertainment was highbrow. *rolleyes*

Lowest-common-denominator appeals have always been a part of entertainment, as a cursory study of the history of the entertainments at the Roman Colliseum will reveal.....
I think a fundamental item was ignored here: without Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes on a Plane would be relegated to another B-movie bargain bin. I suppose if Samuel L. Jackson was in Serenity, it would've made it to the top of the heap.
I didn't get the impression he was saying Joss did anything wrong - I saw it as a more hypothetical thing, i.e. "what if the franchise had been continued as direct-to-DVD television installments rather than a movie" instead of "stupid Joss should have continued the franchise as direct-to-DVD television installments and failed." And, logistics aside, I see his point on a theoretical level - look at how well the DVD set of Firefly has sold over time, almost entirely through word of mouth. A lower budget product that needed fewer people to buy it but could continue indefinitely probably would have done exactly what the DVD set did: sold slowly at first, but continued to sell over time as more and more people heard about it.

Movies, on the other hand, are generally very flash-in-the-pan and promote the exact opposite of what Firefly has - a large buzz that dies out quickly. Especially with so much riding on the opening weekend gross, it doesn't, except in a few rare cases, matter if people tell their friends to see it, and films just generally aren't given the time for word-of-mouth to build.
The problem I find with the article is the supposition that the direct-to-DVD model is feasible in this day and age, which I'm not sure about. At the time FF was cancelled, how easily would it have been for Joss to ask his crew -- behind and before the camera -- to take such a risk with him? I really think it's simple to say, "of course millions of people would pay money for DVD episodes 6 months in the future because he's Joss Whedon" and another to actually, y'know, do it. If he had decided to push ahead with the direct-to-DVD scheme, he probably would've lost actors anyway (some seeking more secure work, some to budget constraints) and wouldn't have been able to make the show as shiny as it was anyway -- slashed FX budget, maybe cutting down the nine crew members to six and asking them and everyone else to take a pay cut. That probably would be the reality of such a venture, and the result would be entirely different from the show produced by FOX as Serenity. Frankly, I would be happy to watch a Joss-written show made with shadow puppets against a wall, but that wouldn't be Firefly.

And movies aren't "flash in the pan" -- I was a HUGE LotR fan, and even though the trilogy was shot at the same time, they came out a year apart. The first movie opened huge, staked a place in the public imagination, and the second movie did almost as well (or better?) while the third movie was gigantic: second highest grossing movie after Titanic. Everyone I knew saw the last movie in the theater. If all movies were self-contained and "flashes", Hollywood wouldn't be obsessed with sequels and Harrison Ford wouldn't be dusting off his hat for a fourth Indiana Jones movie. Sometimes a movie hits big and grabs people by the throat and take off into the public imagination. TV shows do that as well, the only difference is sometimes time and patience are often required to take off.

I remember watching The X-Files when it was a bumbling cult hit, and even watching Seinfeld before it became a cultural phenomenon and was a show that nobody watched -- I would sometimes watch it because it came on right after Quantum Leap. But nowawadays, networks have zero patience because (and here I am only postulating) reality shows are cheap to make, easy to plug into schedule holes and often automatic ratings grabbers. Why nurse along an expensive $2.5m/episode show for a few low-rated seasons when you can cancel it and plug the hole with a show that costs significantly less, is easy to advertise (all reality shows have simple hooks) and will automatically get 4x the audience right off the bat. Sure, it can't be syndicated and the second season will probably get less than half the viewers, but immediate satisfaction is the name of the game.

Had BtVS been on FOX it's first season in 2002, it would've been cancelled after 12 episodes

[ edited by dottikin on 2006-06-27 12:18 ]
I think a fundamental item was ignored here: without Samuel L. Jackson, Snakes on a Plane would be relegated to another B-movie bargain bin. I suppose if Samuel L. Jackson was in Serenity, it would've made it to the top of the heap.


"Do you know what your sin is, motherfucker?"
"Do you know what your sin is, motherfucker?"

Snakes.

Serenity was not a guarenteed failure - it wouldn't have been made if that was how it was seen. Plus, it'll make it's money back, so you know.

That said - the fact charity screenings of the movie arranged by fans has given it more publicity than the movie had on release in many countries says a lot. The idea of that campaign was to embrace the fandom - I don't think that worked as well as it could have.
Rabid fan that I am, I think Serenity had some faults. And such a niche movie was never going to have Star Wars numbers. But I blame Universal's promotion. They pinned everything on viral marketing, all of their plans were based on fan participation, which meant we got the fans and a few more.

Beyond a few confusing-to-the-newcomer trailers, there was nothing marketed to the people who didn't already know about it. In the weeks before release, did anyone see any of the BDHs on talk shows? Ever? You put any of this cast in front of a camera, they're going to get interest because they're bright and funny and beautiful. You put Nathan on The Daily Show, or The Tonight Show, that clip would zip around the Web.

The cast appeared at conventions. That was pretty much it. And that was a great idea, but to be a success Serenity needed to pull in the people who didn't watch the show, don't go to conventions, and it didn't. Plain and simple.
That said - the fact charity screenings of the movie arranged by fans has given it more publicity than the movie had on release in many countries says a lot.


It would say a lot if the charity screenings got publicity in those countries but it unfortunately it didn't.

I've seen reports from first timers that the plot did seem a bit baffling. So I think there is some element in what yer man says. The Serenity PR campaign often felt like a political election campaign. Rightly or wrongly the focus was on the core vote (i.e. the existing fan base) without appealing to the wider electorate (the general public). However the core vote was too small to guarantee success and so Universal did what every other movie studio would have done and released Serenity in less theatres after the opening weekend and cancelled the release of it in certain countries.

But I won't entertain the thought that Joss got "greedy". I actually him getting Serenity made in the way that an artist struggles to get his major piece of art painted. Some might see it as a Captain Ahab approach, I see it as Michelangelo trying to get the Sistine Chapel done.

Though it must be said that some in the fanbase did set themselves up for a fall with talk of "we are mighty, we are an army" and "we're going to take $30 million in the first weekend". There was a lot of giving in to this hype and when box office success didn't happpen, some people did look around for a target to lash at. Universal did draw some of that fire.
His logic seems to be if SERENITY had been called GOVERNMENT CONTROL IN SPACE, starred Harrison Ford, and had a line in which he says "I want motherfucking government control out of motherfucking Space!", then it would have been a hit.

[ edited by batmarlowe on 2006-06-27 16:29 ]

[ edited by batmarlowe on 2006-06-27 16:30 ]

[ edited by batmarlowe on 2006-06-27 16:31 ]
The newbie that I took to the NYC screening had no problem following the plot or the characters. She was enthralled by both. I had, admittedly, given her a rundown in the car on the way there,of who everyone was. However, I kept it short because how much can you say about 9 characters and a universe before someone's eyes glaze over? ...especially in between bitching and moaning thoughtful discussions about work.

My information helped her appreciate the preshow more than the movie...though I did have to assure her that she would understand the fellow carrying the blow-up doll in the wedding dress once she saw the movie. (She did.)

As far as it not meaning to insult Joss, words like greed and hubris are not neutral words.

I want to point out that various of us were saying from day one that Universal had to do mainstream marketing and that the campaign we were seeing was not aimed at the right audience. I still hold with that. It is great that Universal made the movie, yea Universal, but their marketing people did not understand who the audience was and put out ignorable or misleading advertising.

He does have a point about straight DVD, though. I mean Joss has had no trouble going that route with the well known, established characters from the successful series, BtVS and Angel. When is the Spike movie due to start filming? It should be anytime, right? Oh, wait, that was that other reality. Blast! (/bitter sarcasm)

His logic seems to be if SERENITY had been called GOVERNMENT CONTROL IN SPACE, starred Harrison Ford, and had a line in which he says "I want motherfucking government control out of motherfucking Space!", then it would have been a hit.


LOL!

I'd see it.

[ edited by bivith on 2006-06-27 16:46 ]

[ edited by bivith on 2006-06-27 16:47 ]
Some people have problems understanding any film, never mind Serenity. Whereas some people see a bunch of TV episodes they need to catch up on, I see a film with a rich history built in, and that's reflected in the characters and the universe. The movie only benefits from all this back story, even if the audience hasn't seen it.

Han Solo's hinted at past, made his character interesting from the very start. In the non-special edition, one of his first scenes is the conversation with Greedo, which could easily have been from a past episode of Star Wars the hypothetical TV series, and simply serves the film better. The audience didn't go "huh? when did that happen?" at that scene. They simply accepted it as a piece of character information. The Lucas messed it up with the special editions and the re-inserted Jabba scene.

Anyway, my point is that if Firefly had never existed and Serenity had come out as it is, people wouldn't be complaining about not knowing the backstory. Every film worth its salt knows its characters' back stories, as it makes for better written characters.

[ edited by bivith on 2006-06-27 17:00 ]
And movies aren't "flash in the pan" -- I was a HUGE LotR fan, and even though the trilogy was shot at the same time, they came out a year apart. The first movie opened huge, staked a place in the public imagination, and the second movie did almost as well (or better?) while the third movie was gigantic: second highest grossing movie after Titanic.

What I meant wasn't that movies didn't have a place in American culture but that, for the most part, barring some exceptional cases, movies have to take hold right away or they're not going to. They're not given time for the slow build that worked over time for Firefly. I think that's part of why Hollywood likes sequels and adaptations of popular movies and books - because if people have heard of something already, it's that much easier to get them in the theater opening weekend - they're not waiting around to find out what their friends thought of it.

I don't know; I loved Serenity and I think it could have had mass appeal, but I do think it's better if you've seen the TV show. I took four newbies with me and they all enjoyed it, but none of them ran out and bought the TV show or even watched it, despite my endless encouragement. Friends I lent the DVD set too, though, became, to a person, avid fans who either bought the movie or saw it opening day.

I agree that a direct-to-DVD continuation of the TV series wasn't feasible; I just think it would be kind of awesome if it was.
I think some of the problem was, like others said, a failure to appeal to everyone else who wasn't a fan of either the show or science fiction. Scifi is such a difficult genre to sell without a big name. The problem wasn't the movie itself, it was in getting people out there in the first place to see it. It got good reviews but it just wasn't aggressive enough in making people interested. Heck, even hyping it up to Tom Cruise-level would have done the trick. If people were so curious they just had to go see it and see what the fuss was all about, then I think that would've been better than just finding people who were genuinely excited for the movie.
Consider this: Let's say that you had a friend, who had no knowledge of Buffy at all, and you took her to see The Body. I think she would be moved and would find the episode superbly done. But she could never get out of that episode the same thing that people who grew up with Buffy got out of that episode- would not understand everyone's reactions to the level we would, for example. I see Serenity much the same- it is a great movie, but it resonates so much more if you know the characters and watched them evolve. That was the challenge Joss had going in, and he knew it, and he took what steps he could to address that in the confines of a 2-hour movie- viewers who did not know of Mal and Inara's relation could infer there was one when they say Mal hold the moving photo of her and Kaylee, and could infer from Inara's comments that their love was unrequited- but they did not see how it all happened, as we did. ANd Mal's relation to Book also had to be "conjured." To the extent possible, Joss did everything he could- that this might not be enough cannot be laid completely at the feet of the studio. The public is fickle and usually wants only what it is already familiar with, which is not the case in Serenity.
It would be very interesting to look deeply into the factors that kept Serenity flying at low altitudes at the box office. The three biggest factors that jump out at me are: under-the-radar marketing, a cast of no-names (for those who never saw the show or heard of Joss Whedon), and genre turn-off.

The last factor is the most interesting to me. Sci-fi, like fantasy, Westerns, musicals, and zombie flicks, attracts and repels at the same time. To win over anti-fans, specialty genres like sci-fi have to promise something more, such as revolutionary special effects (e.g., The Matrix, Lord of the Rings) or high-spirited fun (e.g., the original Star Wars). These are the attractions that generate bigger and bigger buzz and turn niche-appeal films into surprise hits. I'm not much of a sci-fi enthusiast. Yet I saw The Matrix because I had heard the effects were amazing (and they were). That it was also sci-fi was irrelevant. I don't think Serenity, in the way it was marketed, had anything to offer people beyond the browncoat base. It simply looked like a rather bland action movie with some anonymous kick-boxing female character and spaceships.
I'm not going to get in a weighty discussion about how or why Serenity failed, or Universal's marketing tactics, but I'll just say this:

A woman I know who had never even heard of Firefly watched Serenity, and said afterwards, "Oh my God...they didn't advertise this? This could've made a lot of money."

I still blame Universal, and I find the notion that non-fans don't care for the characters ridiculous...trust me, almost everyone I've watched the movie with had never heard of Joss before, and they all cared deeply for the characters afterwards, most even shocked over what happened to Wash. I totally agree that the emotional impact is greatly multiplied after watching the series, but some people here are seeming to think that nobody who's not a fan cares at all.

[ edited by UnpluggedCrazy on 2006-06-27 18:08 ]
I also think that Serenity could be understood without knowledge of Firefly. (Although, as Dana points out, new viewers wouldn't 'get it' on the same level that Firefly fans did.) But I think another thing is that new viewers who went to see Serenity were told that it was a continuation of Firefly. I'm not saying that we should have hid it or anything, but I think some new viewers decided to be confused before they even saw it. I saw it with some friends of mine (not in the theater), and just when Simon and River are escaping the Academy, one friend asked if there was anything she needed to know. I said no, River's been tortured, Simon's her brother, they're escaping, and she said she knew all that. But she didn't like the movie. She didn't even pay attention to most of it. Of course it could be that she just didn't like the movie, and she's entitled to her opinion, but I think that she didn't give it any chance at all. This movie had everything going for it: my friends and I were completely excited (minus her), we were all having fun, and of course Serenity is a great movie. I think she didn't like it and didn't watch it attentively because she just assumed that she wouldn't understand it, because she hadn't seen Firefly, and so she didn't try.
I read a book a little while back called Open Wide about how much of the movie business these days is to focus-group and promote a movie half to death and then constantly screen it in every movie theater in the country in order to make back all of the initial outlay on the opening weekend. Since the idea is to get people into the theater before word-of-mouth can get going a real niche movie like Serenity would (and did) have a hard time getting its feet under it.
You can listen to a broadcast of an interview with the authors on American NPR HERE
"Consider this: Let's say that you had a friend, who had no knowledge of Buffy at all, and you took her to see The Body. I think she would be moved and would find the episode superbly done. But she could never get out of that episode the same thing that people who grew up with Buffy got out of that episode- would not understand everyone's reactions to the level we would, for example. I see Serenity much the same-"

But it is not the same -- at all. The Body is an episode of a TV show written to be seen as part of a TV show. Serenity was written to be seen by people who had never seen the series. Certainly those people will not have the same reaction as Firefly fans. The sobbing and outrage for instance, were noticeably absent...as it is when watching most movies whose characters are new to you.

Pardon me for repeating myself. I was not a big Firefly fan, but I walked out of Serenity loving what I had just seen and as a result enjoy Firefly more everytime I see it. For some people, like me, Firefly/Serenity took time to take hold of their emotions.

I inadvertantly alienated a couple people at the preview screening by admitting that Wash had been my least favorite character in Firefly. (I guess I was speaking ill of you know who, you know where.) The thing is, while fans were ranting that there was not enough Wash to make people care about him, I realized that it was during the course of the movie that I developed a real fondness for Wash. By the time we were near the end of the movie I liked him much more than I had ever before. I have said it all along, but I think those people, fans and reviewers, who knew the show underestimated how well crafted the character elements were in the movie. This Joss Whedon guy knows his stuff.

It did not recreate the Firefly experience for the movie goer, but it was not supposed to. As someone here said, the problem was not that it was inaccessable to new audiences, only that new audiences did not go see it. I would add, because they never heard of it. I still have not met one person who remembers it, or any of its advertising if they did not hear about it from me. I have also never seen a poster for it displayed anywhere except the internet, and that includes the 2 movie theaters I saw it in during its run in September.

I have heard about the difference in the movie going environment since Star Wars was released back in the 70's. It was out in small release for weeks building up word of mouth before it got huge. It also was a movie that parents could take preteen children to see. I saw it twice in the initial run when they would open the doors after emptying the theater from the previous showing and there would be a stampede for seats so you could all sit together and not be in the first couple rows. That was a couple months after it first hit theaters. Movies are not given that kind of time now.

...and yes, there were some people who decided to dislike it before they ever sat down to watch it. There always are.
Well, what's done is done, but I felt a very real pang of grief at the Portland SN/EN screening, realizing all over again what could have been if only . . . you fill in the blank.
I have also never seen a poster for it displayed anywhere except the internet, and that includes the 2 movie theaters I saw it in during its run in September.


I don't know why, but at the theater I went to Serenity wasn't on the marquee either time I saw the movie there. This is a large theater too.

I showed Serenity to a bunch of people (they were nerds like me, though, so it may not count) and they understood it, loved it, and wanted to see the series.

[ edited by Caleb on 2006-06-27 20:52 ]
It's a really interesting article and I agree with a lot of his points. I also think that many fans are blinded by their passion for Joss' work to the harsh realities of modern day film making. I don't think Serenity really had a chance to be BIG because it required thought and investment from it's audience and because the genre hybrid (hybrid genre?) is a very tough sell.
"But it is not the same -- at all. The Body is an episode of a TV show written to be seen as part of a TV show. "

That's silly, I say respectfully- even a TV show wants to be able to attract new viewers with each new episode. There are obviously precedence and established story lines to follow in the telling of the tale (Angel had a hard time with S4, since it is all one long arc, which does not bring in new viewers), but the point here is that the more you know of the tale, whether on TV or in a movie, the more you can take from the telling. I hardly think that is an arguable point.

But this is not the point anyway. I think that the main reaosn this did not do as well as we had hoped is simply that new audiences didnot go to see it, as you state. But the "why" is at question here. Everyone here seems to think it was poor advertising; I argue that the sitch ewas much more complex, addressing viral advertising, lack of national presence advertising, a cult show made to sound as though it was cult show, a writer associated with a show (Buffy) lots of people all too easily dismiss, etc. And the reliance on browncoats to aid in advertising, in my opinion, probably hindered more than helped, making it seem as though it were a bunch of Trekkers or similar- and Trekkers are seen as geeks. Miscalculations all around, imho.
I'm seeing snakes on a plan purely because it has Samuel L. Jackson in it.
I'm seeing snakes on a plane purely because of the title. Well, and the buzz actually made me know about it.

It would say a lot if the charity screenings got publicity in those countries but it unfortunately it didn't.


Simon, I didn't mean in terms of in any particular country, I just mean in volume. Look at it this way - I didn't see the likes of MTV, CNet etc covering the early preview screenings of Serenity organised by Universal last year. Certainly, they got some sci-fi website coverage, but the CantStopTheSerenity effort got mainstream newspapers all over the place writing about it.
It really boils down to marketing. Serenity lacked a "hook" to pull in a wider audience. Sci-fi fans, Whedon fans, Firefly fans -- they had a hook. What was the reason -- the value proposition, to put it in marketing terms -- to see this movie, if you were none of the above? The ads didn't provide it, and the other marketing efforts -- notably, browncoat word of mouth -- couldn't provide it in sufficient numbers to engineer a hit.

Also -- and please don't pour the blog equivalent of boiling hot wax over me for saying this -- there is one other factor worth mentioning: The film itself did not generously reward the non-fan. It was good, full of the wry Whedon humor we all love (and the shocking deaths of favorite characters), but not breathtaking, not jaw-dropping, not so uniquely wonderful that the casual filmgoer would run out and tell all his or her friends that they MUST SEE this movie.
I didn't see the likes of MTV, CNet etc covering the early preview screenings of Serenity organised by Universal last year. Certainly, they got some sci-fi website coverage, but the CantStopTheSerenity effort got mainstream newspapers all over the place writing about it.


Though last year's preview screenings did get some mainstream coverage,there is a major difference in the reporting of a studio organising screenings for fans and fans organising screenings for charity. Fan efforts like that will attract newspaper attention, it's a human interest story.
Rabid fan that I am, I think Serenity had some faults. And such a niche movie was never going to have Star Wars numbers. But I blame Universal's promotion. They pinned everything on viral marketing, all of their plans were based on fan participation, which meant we got the fans and a few more.

Beyond a few confusing-to-the-newcomer trailers, there was nothing marketed to the people who didn't already know about it. In the weeks before release, did anyone see any of the BDHs on talk shows? Ever? You put any of this cast in front of a camera, they're going to get interest because they're bright and funny and beautiful. You put Nathan on The Daily Show, or The Tonight Show, that clip would zip around the Web.

The cast appeared at conventions. That was pretty much it. And that was a great idea, but to be a success Serenity needed to pull in the people who didn't watch the show, don't go to conventions, and it didn't. Plain and simple.

Chris Bridges, I think you summed it up very well. I remember having to tell my buddies who are SF fans that they probably did see the Serenity commercials, but because they were so quick-clips-no-"narration", they probably didn't realize it was Serenity. (The long trailers were definitely better than the short commercials.) But, I'm willing to maybe disagree about one point with you. I would have to guess that Universal must have tried to get the BDHs on a talk show -- they had to have known how great they would be, right? I've always kind of fanwanked here that maybe 'Versal's mistake was going for Jay Leno and David Letterman only, and maybe the BDHs are not well-known enough for those shows (but this is all just a guess).

I did see Nathan and Alan on Best Week Ever. BTW, does anybody have that clip, or did it ever appear on YouTube or somewhere? They *rocked*, of course -- but they only got about a minute of comedy goodness in that everybody-makes-a-snarky-comment type of show.

Back to Mr. Jenkin's article: I stopped reading when he started going on about direct-to-DVD being the Right Answer, as we have discussed here so many times the many reasons why it just is not (and as dottikin and others pointed out on this thread, too) .
I didn't see Chris' comments. Universal definitely pinned a certain percentage of the hope for Serenity breaking out on the word of mouth market. I've actually formed a word of mouth advertising company off the back of the experience of Serenity.

All I can say is this - in many cases, word of mouth does actually work. Things like Brokeback and Davinci are successes because of the _need_ to talk about those films. If you haven't seen them, you can't discuss them.

However, there's one big difference here. Those films you had to see them to debate about, but they had very simple reasons why you needed to see them - hooks. I think Serenity did okay on that score, but as I've said before the biggest 'reveal' in Serenity is the Miranda thing -- my parents only got invested in the film at that point, as it's a universal theme many can understand -- however because of the nature of that plot point you couldn't put it in trailers without spoiling the story.

Ultimately -- and this is just my personal, I-cant-back-this-up -- if the trailers had a focus of 'millions of people have died and these people need to tell the universe' I think that could have acted as a hook. I could be wrong, though.

Either way, it's spilt milk. I've said before here, many times, that I think viral fan marketing can actually work - but it has to be done much smarter than current companies are doing it to have an impact. Here's a radical motion - get the tshirts, mugs, posters etc out to fans before the movie is out. That sort of thing. I believe a lot of the companies doing that sort of marketing right now are dropping the ball on that front, and I'm putting my money where my mouth is.

[ edited by gossi on 2006-06-28 01:19 ]
I'm struggling to read this article. I just finished reading him calling Joss on hubris for not getting the show on a 2nd tier network. God, does this guy even know what happened between 2003 and 2005?
I think he said Firefly was on a 2nd tier network, not that Joss didn't get it on one.
A woman I know who had never even heard of Firefly watched Serenity, and said afterwards, "Oh my God...they didn't advertise this? This could've made a lot of money."

I remember having to tell my buddies who are SF fans that they probably did see the Serenity commercials, but because they were so quick-clips-no-"narration", they probably didn't realize it was Serenity.


There were plenty of ads for Serenity. They bought as much ad time as their budget allowed. In case you don't know it, ad time is very, very VERY expensive...unless your ad is running at 2:30am with the infomercials and talk-to-a-hot-chick phone line ads.
People didn't notice the ads because there was no one familiar in them.
Each ad for War of the Worlds had Cruise's mug all in it. Each ad for an Adam Sandler or Jim Carey or Cameron Diaz flick? Same thing.
Nathan, as much as we love him and as much as he deserves to be, is not an A-List actor. None of the cast is. Yet.
And it wasn't about the ad's quick editing. Pretty much every movie's trailer or ad has quick editing these days because they don't want you to press the button on the remote or start gazing at your popcorn.
Hell, I think the ads for "Pride and Prejudice" were even cut like it was an action flick! : )
Lastly, ads for things like movies don't register in people's minds if there's no "star" in it. It's almost like they don't see it.
That's why you have people saying "I never saw a commercial!"
They saw the commercials. They just didn't "see" them.
And you know we're in a sad situation where the first thing out of people's mouths when you talk about a movie is not "What's it about?", but "Who's in it?"

By the way, "Do you know what your sin is, motherfucker?!" Priceless.

[ edited by AmazonGirl on 2006-06-28 07:59 ]
Hey, gossi, sounds like a great idea! Good luck with your company! :-)
Such a good idea, in fact, that i'm going to tell everyone I know about it (I may even start a blog so I can spread the word).

;)
"People didn't notice the ads because there was no one familiar in them."

I don't buy it. Yes, having a familiar face is the easiest way to make people notice an ad, but it is not the only way.

The thing I noticed about the commercials, was that I did not notice them until well into it. That was when I suddenly saw NF on screen and started paying attention. Yet there were other movie ads that made me notice from the first frame, not because there was a particular actor's face, but because the style of the ad was different from what had come before and grabbed your attention. I know this because I started trying to figure out what the difference was. I am woefully behind on movie going and do not know the major stars these days, but ads can still catch my attention.
You don't necessarily need a lead actor to attract attention in an advert - after all, horror occasionally does really well, and rarely has an 'A' list celeb attached.

Of course, what does make people pay attention in a television advertisement sense, I don't know.

I saw the film Ultraviolet yesterday, and I think it caused my brain to dribble out of my ear.
And I saw that the movie Blast from the Past has Nathan in a small role- which I had never noticed before, and which is way OT here. :-)

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