Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Joseph Farrell, 1935-2011.

Over the long weekend there was an interesting obituary in "The New York Times" of Joseph Farrell, a market researcher and film producer. You can read the whole obit here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/business/joseph-farrell-dies-at-76-used-market-research-to-shape-films.html?hpw

Farrell, who had been an executive at the research company Louis Harris is credited with making the movie "Fatal Attraction" a success. As originally shot by Adrian Lyne, the Glen Close character killed herself--conducting ritual suicide to the music of "Madame Butterfly."

Farrell researched the movie and concluded "this is a great movie until the end..." and "They didn’t want to see her [Close] do herself in...They wanted to see her done in.”

Adrian Lyne reshot the ending. "In the revision, Ms. Close’s character and her paramour, played by Michael Douglas, have a violent struggle in which she is nearly drowned in a bathtub and is finally dispatched by a gunshot fired by his wife (Anne Archer)."

The movie went on to gross more than $300 million worldwide.

Of course, attitudes about research and its effects on creativity vary--in both the film business and ours. The "Times" reports:

"Whether Mr. Farrell’s influence was positive or malign was debated. Ron Shelton, the director of “Bull Durham” and “White Man Can’t Jump,” complained to The Los Angeles Times in 1992 that Hollywood’s reliance on marketing “contributes to the lowest-common-denominator mentality and the proliferation of formulaic movies and genres.”


George Parker said...

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If this doesn't kill "Crowdsourcing" Nothing will.

George Parker said...

I am urging all AdScam readers to vote for "Miss Van Der Volt http://adscam.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/12/vote-for-miss-van-der-volt.html
If this doesn't kill "Crowdsourcing" Nothing will.

Graham Strong said...

Hi George,

It's become apparent to me that "best" movie doesn't always equate to "favourite" movie.

Take Avatar for example. It grossed something like $2 billion, yet didn't win an Oscar for best picture. Why was that?

Art -- true art, if I can use that term without sounding pretentious -- requires some sort of engagement by the viewer/reader/listener. For many, investing that effort is well worth it. You get much more out of it, whether "it" is a movie, a painting, a book, a piece of music, etc.

However most people turn to movies for entertainment, not an art house experience. They don't want to think. In fact many people watch movies (and TV for that matter) for the specific goal of becoming disengaged.

Avatar did that extremely well, even if it wasn't a ground-breaking "story".

Certainly, Hollywood appeals to the lowest common denominator because that's where the money is. But the interesting collorary to that is in order to make the most money, you have to make the most entertaining movie that appeals to the widest audience. The cynical might say that's putting lipstick on a pig. But I think there is something to be said for making well-made, entertaining movies that have wide appeal.

(Sidenote: Neil Simon -- and I would imagine most playwrights who have the opportunity -- "test market" their plays before opening night, reworking them so that the laughs are in the right places among other things. Does this promote formulaic plays? I don't think so... perhaps the difference is in the intent.)


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