Pen Densham explores the forces behind the studio system – a need for financial security in sequels but also the unavoidable fact that audiences want films that are new, exciting and different.
I first came to Hollywood as a young Oscar-nominated moviemaker from Toronto. I was very lucky; Norman Jewison mentored me here, and the Canadian government paid my way. John Watson also joined me in founding Trilogy, and, thanks to Jewison’s reputation, we were given access to high-level people at the studios.
We discovered studios had marketing analysis people who tested films on real audiences to help tweak and launch them. We persuaded Willette Klausner and Richard Del Belso, working for Universal at the time, to let us buy them lunch with the ulterior motive of picking their brains to unlock the secrets from their studies of audience reactions to hundreds of movies: The Holy Grail to filmic success. So, over the salads, we popped our burning question: “Considering you guys test the audience reactions to every movie that gets made here, what works?”
Their answer was simple: The audience wants movies that are “new, interesting and different.” Their testing systems told them that communicating novelty and creating curiosity were major components in bringing an audience to a movie. Their testing revealed that audiences crave originality.
Neurobiologists have peeked inside our brains with MRIs and have discovered that novelty is a fantastically powerful stimulus, and the more novelty, the more we seek to explore it as a reward in itself.
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