When we all went to see The Blair Witch Project seven years ago (Seven years?!? I'm getting old.), what were we really paying for? The movie or the advertising?
(NOTE: I understand I'm breaking every rule of independent film marketing by mentioning The Blair Witch Project. Bear with me because I do have a point.)
I, like so many others, lined up around the block to see Blair Witch as soon as possible. I did it because the trailer was the most frightening thing I'd ever seen in my life. For those of you who don't remember, you got some ominous Phillip Glass-esque percussion and the following words on screen:
"In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary.
A year later their footage was found . . ."
Then you got the "I am so scared" eye shot and if you were me, proceeded to simultaneously piss your pants and cry for your mommy.
Later, when I saw what an utter dogturd the movie actually was, I learned a very important lesson about the film industry: When we pony up our nine bucks, we're not paying for a movie. We're paying for a marketing campaign.
Before I get too much further, let me make one thing clear: No matter how good the marketing is, there is no excuse for making a crappy movie, especially if it's made by an independent filmmaker. (Big studios are selling widgets, and even Scorsese has trouble getting good shit made, so there's some excuse in that case. Still, it seems that these Hollywood executives should realize there's a direct correlation between the quality of Beerfest and it's dismal box office.) You don't throw story and characters overboard, just because you have a good hook. My first priority is to make Women's Studies the best film I can.
That said, how a film is marketed is pretty important, so from the get-go, it's something Cindy and I have thought about with Women's Studies. Though she didn't major specifically in it, Cindy studied marketing quite extensively in college, so the marketing campaign started just about as soon as we decided we were going to do the film.
Marketing plans are pretty boring to just about anyone who isn't into advertising and marketing. So, just to give you a glimpse of how the process works, I'm going to break down how the Women's Studies teaser poster came to be.
The concept of the female symbol forming the "o" and "t" of "Women's Studies" is almost as old as the story idea itself. I'm not sure where it came from, but I'm fairly sure it was an accident. From the get-go, Cindy and I knew we wanted to incorporate it into the logo design, so we started there.
Enter Tyson Tate, a graphic artist who I became associated with through my work on the Great Society webzine. I ran the idea by Tyson and he worked out six basic designs for the logo which can be seen here. From there, Cindy and I picked #1, which we felt captured the elements we wanted. There were some tweaks of course. We asked that the female symbol be made larger and more pronounced, and played with the shape and "curve" of the other letters until we finally agreed on this:
My original concept was to have the logo printed in blood upon the ample cleavage of a woman a'la Sleepaway Camp III. (I know. I have exquisite taste in bad movies.)
However, my good friend Jim McGivney suggested that the well-endowed lady should be clutching a book with the Women's Studies logo printed on the cover. We thought the idea was brilliant and jumped on it. I guess technically, we had Tyson jump on it, which he did with aplomb. Tyson, being the visionary he is, understood the concept so well, he got it on the first shot.
So, we had the logo, and we had the book, now we just needed a model to pose for the poster. I was all prepared to put out a notice for a model when Cindy spoke up. "Why can't I do it?"
Being a man, I just blurted out, "I'm not sure you have the tits to pull it off."
A week later Cindy still wasn't speaking to me . . .
I'm kidding. Though we did have an honest (yet civil) discussion about whether or not Cindy should be the model. We had both agreed that the breasts should be part of the poster. I hear you ask, "Why is that, Mr. 'I'm making a movie about feminism?'" Because sex sells, that's why. Love it or hate it, breasts grab the attention of our young, male target audience. I know I like boobs.
Anyway, Cindy was offended that I thought her chest wasn't up for the job, so she bra-shopped. Victoria's Secret, Frederick's of Hollywood, the bargain bin at the cheap-o "Body Works" in the mall; Cindy was on a mission . . . a mission to find the perfect push-up bra. I came home one day to discover she had found it. After I wiped up all the drool, I agreed that she should be the model for the Women's Studies poster.
We hooked up with a photographer, Jessica Notargiacomo, and had a very fun night shooting the poster image in my basement. A few bits of trivia about the poster:
--That's a wig Cindy is wearing. She had just cut her hair short before the photo shoot. I wanted the figure to have long hair. Thankfully, Cindy had a wig left over from a show that worked perfectly.
--The original concept was to have Cindy holding the knife, but it looked really awkward. I think it was Jessica, the photographer, who came up with the idea to use the knife as the bookmark.
--In order to "expose" Cindy's chest enough, we used medium sized document clips to pin the shirt tight against her body.
Once the poster was done, we had to come up with a tagline. This seemed to be the most important part, and we engaged many a friend to help us out.
Some taglines that didn't make the cut:
"Class begins soon"
"Get ready to learn a thing or two"
"Prepare to be schooled"
"Cut to the head of the class"
"Anything boys can do . . ."
"History. Anatomy. Dissection."
"Equality cuts to the bone"
"Taking the kindness out of womankind"
Finally, the one that I loved, but knew couldn't be used: "And you thought differential equations was scary"
Credit goes to a cool cat by the name of Ryan Sparks who came up with the tagline that we eventually tweaked to be: "Open your mind before it gets opened for you." It seemed to capture all the elements we were exploring in Women's Studies pretty well.
And that's that. Simple, right?