I Love You Phillip Morris

April 3, 2009


I know, another post about movies. It’s either this or posts about SCRABBLE. I don’t get out much.

Anyway, I was recently reading about a new movie called you “I Love You Phillip Morris,” no relation to the tobacco company. It is a movie that recently premiered at Sundance and stars Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor. It was produced on a small, by film standards, budget of only $13 million. It is about, and I’ll quote for brevity’s sake:

Carrey plays Steven Russell, a married policeman from Texas, who comes out of the closet and then becomes a conman to fund his flamboyant gay lifestyle. He is sent to prison, where he meets and falls in love with Morris, played by McGregor. Following Morris’ release, Russell escapes from prison four times to be reunited with him. The film is based on the true story of Russell, who was sentenced to more than 100 years behind bars because of his repeated escape attempts.

The film received many glowing reviews at Sundance and I’m fairly excited to see it, and why not? It sounds fun, edgy, different, everything a good comedy should be. Then I read an article from London’s Times online, saying that the movie might not even be released in the US. Why? Because it’s apparently too gay. The movie is rated R because, among other things, it depicts scenes of “graphic homosexual sex.” Todd McCarthy of Variety says the “clingy physicality of Steven and Phillip” and “the spectacular, ride ’em-cowboy sex scene” would give some fans of Carrey’s mainstream movies a heart attack.

That’s probably true, but not all movies are meant to be seen by everyone. This is the burning fire under the whole independent film movement; that all need not apply. There is a very successful business model that can exist when you make movies cheaply, market them smartly, get those interested to see them, and then move to DVD. Not every movie has to be Pirates of the Caribbean.

The movie industry is one of the worst marketers of their products in the world. Honestly though, they don’t have to be that good, they just have to sink a lot of money into it. They follow the same strategies for an R-Rated comic book adaptation as they do for the newest PIXAR kiddie movie. A teaser trailer by this date, full trailer by this date, early reviews here, TV spots there, and surprise, their movie makes $150 million.

The only real innovation that exists in film industry marketing is in the independent arena, because they have to make what little dollars they have stretch as far and effectively as possible. Now any small movie wanting to get the word out has a Twitter account, a Facebook page, they are on Internet forums, they guerilla market in the streets and at festivals. They do whatever, whenever they can to get as many eyeballs on their film as possible. Since their movies are made on the cheap, that eyeball count doesn’t have to be huge for their film to be financially viable. “I Love You Phillip Morris” is no different. It is a small, independent movie that, if marketed smartly, would make millions of dollars in return.

See, this film isn’t picking up a distributor because the distributors know that the masses aren’t going to flock to this Carrey movie like they did to Liar, Liar or The Mask. The tween market, who camps out at midnight to see “Twilight,” isn’t going to spend their allowance to see a movie about gay lovers. But who cares? There is an audience that will want to see this movie. This is a niche product. So it can be marketed to a niche audience. How is this new? Thousands of products thrive because a small percentage of a given population consumes them with fervor and intensity. Movies really shouldn’t be any different.

The lessons? The first is that certain industries need to get better at using cutting-edge marketing tools to make products more successful and financially viable. The second, sadly, is that America still has a long way to go toward accepting a large portion of our population.