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August 24 2006

Snakes on a Plane and Fan Led Marketing. Firefly and Browncoats are referenced in this Henry Jenkins blog post looking at the less-than-expected performance of Snakes of a Plane.

Can the failure to perform as expected be placed at the feet of fan-led marketing or the mainstream marketing efforts? And can it really be called a failure?

The blogosphere is not everything, trouble is the blogosphere does not know this.
You mean the rest of internet right? I mean nothing exists outside of the internet, does it?
There's the back side of a coin for you Simon! When the movie was made, with some credit going to the blogosphere, folks said 'good thing the blogosphere doesn't know it's not everthing!' lest folks gave up before satisfaction.

Everything in moderation - including moderation.
SoaP had $40m as it's budget, which is basically the same as Serenity. That said, it's done more at the US box office, and will do much more worldwide than Serenity, and possibly on DVD, too.

They will still make a hell of a lot of money from it.

When it comes down to it, it was not a massive breakout blockbuster for the studio. It was a very successful cult movie. And, you know, with a title like 'Snakes of a Plane' and an advertising campaign based around the concept of Samuel L. Jackson swearing at snakes, what did you really expect? Harry Potter?
I'm rather pleased at the way this turned out. I knew that Serenity had to have more publicity going for it that our buzz but I'm not sure how clear that was to the studios and so I felt we had somehow failed in getting enough buzz going. That if we had somehow done more...
But clearly, it really is not all up to us and that is a useful reminder for everyone. I still don't know what more could have been done for Serenity except maybe better trailers but I do think we did our best. SoaP was more widely discussed than our little movie and it still didn't help.
I wouldn't count it very successful yet. It cost $40M and a lot has gone into mainstream marketing of it.
They should've added some pirates in it, you know "Snakes on a Plane with Pirates".

The movie, haven't opened over here yet, it's scheduled for September, 7th. Independence Day in Brazil. But I doubt the distributor will pull it from schedule only 3 weeks after the US opening, like UIP did with Serenity.

I wouldn't count it very successful yet. It cost $40M and a lot has gone into mainstream marketing of it.


zeitgeist is correct - James Gunn reckons they will have spent about another $40m on marketing.

So they need to make at least $80m to profit.

However, SoaP has already made $18m and it's not been out a week yet. Films normally take about 3 times their opening week amount in total (example: Serenity took about $10m, and made $30mish in total), so it should make about $54m on domestic release.

Movies make approximately 1/3rd of their total amount on release, and the rest on DVD. So it should make $162m including DVD domestically, so $82m profit. Then there's international + international DVD on top of that. Snakes On A Plane is a pretty universal theme (note: heh) so should do quite well internationally.

I reckon they'll make at least $100m from SoaP, if it continues to perform like your average action flick. Of course, in todays environment that's judged below expectations - but you know, it ain't in any other industry.
As a rule of thumb, a movie generally has to make 3 to 4 times its budget to be considered profitable given all of the expenses (and borrowing) that goes into making and marketing a movie.
Gotta feel for them. Dunno what i'd do if I only made $100m this year. I'd have to tighten the old belt a few notches, let me tell you.

(though, in fairness, studios do use the profits from hits to offset the losses from flops so on an annual basis you could have several $100m profit movies and still be leaking money)

As a rule of thumb, a movie generally has to make 3 to 4 times its budget to be considered profitable given all of the expenses (and borrowing) that goes into making and marketing a movie.


So if it goes and makes $162m in total, that's 4 times the production budget.

I await Snakes on a Firefly.
This weekend will tell the story, when we see what kind of dropoff it has. I've since heard the production budget was actaully $36M and though there is a $30M marketing budget they've only burned through $3M (which I find a little hard to believe given the prevalence of the commercials everywhere I go).
Commericals all over my TV in the UK, too. A decent TV spot alone can cost into the millions in the US.
Well, SoAP wasn't a break-out box-office smash, but it certainly hasn't been the failure everyone thinks it is.

My rule of thumb is that a movie usually has to make half its budget back in its first weekend to be profitable. So lets check: Box Office Mojo has its budget at $33 million, and it made about $15 million in its first weekend, pretty close. Add on to that what I'm sure will be spectacular DVD sales, and you have a very pretty penny in you're mailbox.

Furthermore, and this is the important part of my post, people are calling this a failure of "fan-led marketing" or the like. Seriously, if it wasn't for the internet, NO ONE would have gone to see this movie. It would have flat out bombed. If "fan-led marketing" can be the difference between a flop and a modest profit, who is going to ignore it?
I say this whole industry obsession with fan-based marketing is not going to last. Plain and simple, the movie execs can’t trust fans to show up or to convince their neighbors to show up. Ultimately they need to sell a product that people from all demographics will buy. Great for studios bottom lines, not so great for viewers.

Joss and Co. have huge street cred because they account for millions and millions of dollars in (industry-unexpected) DVD sales. The studio execs see those sales figures and see all the Joss fan sites (and fan stunts) and say to themselves, “this guy is a golden goose.” But the truth is that the DVD sales stem from a product that is appreciated by all demographics. Firefly/Serenity does not appeal to all demographics the way Buffy and Angel do. (and yes marketing has some to do with Serenity’s fair to midland box office receipts--but not as much as you would think) For this reason, if the movie were a huge hit, they would call it a sleeper. Because Joss had integrity and did not pander to the masses, it wasn't made to appeal to all audiences.

On a related note, I want to see Joss take on a project that the fans actually PRE-FINANCE! If Joss asked me for a loan of ten dollars (or $100 for that matter) to make a new TV show or TV movie (maybe a Spike movie?), he's got it. He would explain that my 10 bucks (or 100) would be returned when receipts (or advertising dollars) hits a certain level AND that I would receive a special autographed picture as "thanks" or maybe my name in the credits. How many people do you know that would pay 10 dollars to see the Spike movie become a reality? Talk about creating a huge buzz. (Tell me the name of one Verse actor that would not be moved by that gesture enough to reprise their roles---maybe I’m just a romantic but I think they would all come running!)

**DISCLAIMER** I really don’t know how much a TV movie would cost to make so keep this in mind before ripping me to shreds Reaver-style. Thanks!
Tell me the name of one Verse actor that would not be moved by that gesture enough to reprise their roles


I'm going to go with SMG and DB for $100, Alex(reager) :)
alex - there are cases where Whedonverse actors know about projects like that and haven't come running. And nor should they.

Studios would never get involved in fan financed projects - especially loans - because of legal issues. All you need is a bunch of fans to ask for more money, or complain about things (SaveWashingMachine!) and it'd become a disaster.

Serenity is actually designed to appeal to the masses - fist fights, sword fights, space fights, zombies in space etc - and it's worth remembering a vast majority of Serenity's theatre audience was non-fans.
I simply can't see how Buffy and Angel could possibly appeal to "all demographics" and Firefly/Serenity doesn't. I think it is obvious that there is an extremely limited viewership for all three.
Yeah, I think it was more lack of Fox involvement and being given a chance to find their audience. Buffy was lucky enough to start on a fledgling network and they took a chance on it.
Nergh, I'd be tempted to think Buffy actually had a good potential audience, in the female teen demographic. It was averaging up to about 4 million in the UK alone (amusingly, more viewers than it had on The WB in the US). Plus, I've never seen any figures, but I suspect the overall renvenue from Buffy VHS tapes and DVD sets will have been pretty massive worldwide.

Firefly had the potential sci-fi drama demographic (see also: BSG). It's there, but Firefly never really found it until much later in the DVD/movie stage.

Certainly, though, something like Lost obviously has a bigger appeal.
I agree Gossi. I think of Firefly as true Sci-Fi. It takes a special viewer to enjoy Sci-fi versus the appeal of Science-fantasy. Thus my opinion about Buffy appealing to a wider audience. I think of Buffy as Science Fantasy.

Maybe it’s a bit extreme but I liken it to comparing 2001: A Space Odyssey to Star Wars. (I also like to think of it like, “Broccoli versus Milkshake”)
Interesting development in the 'Snakes on a Plane' not being a big boxoffice hit--- even though it's a big internet hit.... in terms of awareness.

I'm sure the Hollywood analysts at all the studios are looking at this turn of events and wondering how much internet 'buzz' does actually help and hurt by the time the film actually opens.

Like I'd mentioned before, at the SDCC, Mr.Whedon said directly that studios (at the time) did/do pay attention to what's being talked about on the net and it DOES have some influence.

The question is now: since the boxoffice isn't what the studios thought based on great internet buzz for "Snakes on a Plane", should the studios continue to pay attention to what the fans think or feel it's not relevant?

I fear that the poor box office for "Snakes" can be used as a tool to ignore what fans may or may want/not want to see in the future. *sigh*.
Maybe the whole 'snakes' part is what hurt Snakes On a Plane. Because personally, I wouldn't care if it was declared the best movie ever made with every major Hollywood heart throb stark naked throughout the entire thing, I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. Snakes *shudders* Ewwww.

Now if it had been vampires...
Has anybody besides me seen SoaP?

It made me laugh out loud quite a few times. It is by NO means great cinema... It's no Serenity by a long shot. However, it is silly, it is campy, it is goofy and I enjoyed it.

I would say that it is very much worth seeing in the Theatre; especially if you can make it to a matinee or discount showing.
I think you have to look at what the expectations were before all of the internet buzz happened. With SoaP, which looks like one of those SciFi originals that never quite gels, I don't really think that they were expecting LotR numbers in the beginning. But when the 'net-heads got ahold of it and started talking amongst themselves, the studio & media read more into it than they should have. I mean, I sent off many emails about SoaP, but most of them were joking and/or sarcastic. It was the idea that this was an actual movie that was awesome. If it had been a ChappelleShow sketch people would still be talking about it for years, but as an actual, pay-$10-for-it movie... eh, not so much.
Joni, of course SoaP isn't great cinema. That's not the point. Its supposed to be a riot of Sammie Jackson kicking the shit out of some snakes and yelling obscenities, and you know what? It Delivers! Sure, it could have been even more over the top, Sammie could have let himself get eaten by that huge anachonda and then sliced it up from the inside, but that would have been icing on the cake.

I went to SoaP to hear one line, and I heard it:

"Enough is enough! I have had it with these MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES, ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE!"

That, my friends, is great cinema.
What I find the most interesting 'bout all this is that nobody not nobody not nohow really understands or can understand the influence the interwebs-super-information-highway is having on the world-culture in a flock of ways, expressed in the attempt to analyze the repercussions of MotherFuckingInternetBuzz on ThisMotherfucking Movie.

It's a "force" to be reckoned with, and we're right in the middle of a high-impact phase of this new power. I think these conversations will go on and on until we've passed through this phase and can look back with a little big-picture distance.

I love that it stirs up the paintboxes for marketing & advertising. All I knows is that this ain't your grandmother's world o' entertainment.

"Q: Yes! How did you enjoy gurgling with a pen in your neck?

Joss: You know? Uh, good times. And I'll be able to explain it all more when it's done. But that came not from Universal saying, 'We have a marketing idea'; that came from Universal going, 'What's weird? What’s fresh? What's fun?' And me going, 'I have a silly notion...' " -- Joss Whedon, The CulturePulp Q & A, 9/24/05


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