Was the giant SCOTT PILGRIM banner on the Bayside Hilton the shark jumping moment we’ve all been suspecting for the love affair between Comic-Con and Hollywood movie studios? Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply report that the bloom is finally off the Comic-Con rose for some movie studios:
Comic-Con, as a growing number of movie marketers are realizing, has turned into a treacherous place. Studios come seeking buzz, but the Comic-Con effect can be more negative than positive. The swarm of dedicated fans — many of whom arrive at the convention in Japanese anime drag or draped in Ewok fur — can instantly sour on a film if it doesn’t like what it sees, leaving publicity teams with months of damaging Web chatter to clean up.
“It’s a red-letter opportunity, but you shouldn’t go simply because it sits there on the calendar,” said Michael Moses, co-president of marketing for Universal Pictures. “You have to be absolutely certain you have goods ready that can really make a difference for your film.”
This year, Disney, WB, the Weinstein Co., and perhaps even Marvel are avoiding the Hall H presentation bingo pageant. WB was burned on SUCKER PUNCH last year and Disney on TWO YEARS of TRON: LEGACY promos. Everyone thought that the Flynn’s Cafe Disney set up in the Gaslamp district was the coolest thing ever, but the TRON sequel box office was middling — perhaps the 150,000 people who go to Comic-Con every year are not enough to boost national box office?
While it seems obvious that studio heads have wised up to San Diego buzz’s minimal effect on box office performance, there are other factors at play according to Hollywood insiders that The Beat spoke with. No one is surprised by the news–“I’m not shocked at all and actually have been discussing this quite a bit with my colleagues in LA over the last few weeks,” one Hollywood/comics producer type told us — but it’s also a part of the larger belt tightening going on in Hollywood. Both Disney and WB have had huge layoffs over the last few days. It costs up to $1 million to make a Comic-Con splash—and all it might do is get some onlookers wet. It’s a budget item that’s looking more and more like something that can get easily cut, another producer said. “If that marketing spent for Comic-Con isn’t paying off, then why not throw those dollars into an NBA playoff TV spot, which is going to reach more people?”
While insiders see things scaling down –“I just think it’s going to go back to what it was 5 years ago or so—so the show will still be overcrowded, and movies/TV/games will still be marketed there; it just won’t be the biggest financial outlay of a studio for that month or quarter,” one Hollywooder predicted — don’t expect to see nothing but Lucasfilms, Mile High and Bob the Angry Flower at Comic-Con this year. Although they may have learned some kind of lesson with SCOTT PILGRIM last year, Universal is giving it another try with COWBOYS & ALIENS, which will have a huge premiere at this year’s Comic-Con, according to director Jon Favreau:
“And not only are we going to premiere it there, we’re going to find a way to include as many of the fans as possible. I feel like they’ve come out for me, they’ve supported me.”
Note well, however, that C&A opens on July 29th, right after the con, and a big push will fit right into other marketing plans.
Meanwhile, TV shows are expected to remain well represented at Comic-Con–that kind of ongoing audience appreciates the kind of burst that Comic-Con provides. So while the Big Show might be getting a TEENY TINY bit less insane, you will still need to pack that sleeping bag and MREs if you want to get into the hottest Hall H panels — a possible Steven Spielberg appearance and other things yet to come.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.