24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Marketing

'Moneyball:' When is a baseball movie not a baseball movie?

September 24, 2011 |  7:54 pm

One of the great Hollywood story lines in recent years is reaching its climax this weekend as  Bennett Miller's "Moneyball," the drama about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his unorthodox methods, opens around the country. The ending is shaping up as a happy one so far -- the movie grossed nearly $7 million, a strong number, in its first day of release.

Based on Michael Lewis' baseball-heavy book about niche topics like Bill James and slugging percentages, "Moneyball" is very much about baseball. Except when it isn't.

In Sony's view, the movie was a little too much about baseball when Steven Soderbergh was set to direct it in June 2009. Soderbergh wanted to mix a scripted narrative and documentary-style interviews with players like Scott Hatteberg and David Justice. Sony pulled the plug just days before production, and Sony regrouped with Miller and writer Aaron Sorkin.

Now it's a broader story of redemption, but one in which minutiae like on-base-percentage and the futility of the bunt sacrifice are still featured, as is a lot of real-life footage from the A's 2002 season.

Feature writers, reviewers and box-office pundits have referred to it as a baseball movie. But, anxious about the limited audience for baseball movies, Sony has sometimes gone out of its way to de-emphasize the baseball aspects. As my colleagues Ben Fritz and Nicole Sperling wrote this week, even as the company has taken ads in baseball stadiums and on ESPN, it's also bought spots on Lifetime.  The tagline "What are you really worth?" conjures up more thoughts about empowerment than it does earned-run-average.

The baseball verisimilitude takes a further ding with the cast. Although Soderbergh wanted pretty much all the players to play themselves, Sony and Miller eventually decided to go with actors. Hatteberg, for instance, is played by Chris Pratt, the "Parks & Recreation" star who isn't exactly a household name with the sports-bar set.

Pitt hasn't shied away from the sports themes. When 24 Frames spoke to him at the Cannes Film Festival, he stressed the film's America's-pastime bona fides: "We hired real people, real scouts, real ballplayers," he told us. But producers and executives affiliated with the movie have taken pains to note that it's a feel good story about a man's redemption that can appeal to all audiences.

It all adds up to the more schizophrenic presentations in movie-marketing history. Then again, enduring sports movies are never really about sports.  "Rocky" had precious little boxing in it, and "The Natural" could just as easily have been about fly-fishing. "Moneyball" is continuing in that long tradition. It's very much about baseball. Unless you don't like baseball, in which case it's about something else entirely.


Sony pitches Brad Pitt on Moneyball

Moneyball scores big with film critics

Moneyball finally comes to the screen

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball." Credit: Sony Pictures


Is Steve Jobs' '1984' Apple spot an underrated film influence?

August 25, 2011 |  8:21 am

Steve Jobs, as news reports have been reminding us for the last 18 hours, has been a titan of technology and design. He also is a key figure behind Pixar, acquiring the platinum-caliber animation company 25 years ago.

But the recently resigned Apple CEO also may have had a subtle hand in shaping a different part of pop culture: live-action movies.

During the 1984 Super Bowl, it was Jobs' Apple that commissioned and ran the now-famous George Orwell-inspired spot for the newly created MacIntosh.

Directed by Ridley Scott, the dystopian commercial features a room populated by baldheaded  drones who sit transfixed as a propagandist leader brainwashes them from a giant screen. Into their room runs a woman, some jackbooted guards hot on her heels, who hurls a javelin at the screen, while a voiceover suggests that the Mac can help turn 1984 into something other than Orwell's (read: IBM's) dark vision.

Created by ad agency Chiat/Day, the spot became a sensation, helping to put Apple on the cultural map and launching the modern Super Bowl ad. (You can watch the commercial above; below, check out Jobs introducing the spot at a technology conference, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with  "Was George Orwell right about 1984?")

The spot's cinematic influences were vast -- the drones were a clear nod to Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and the ad came as part of a larger culture of cinematic dystopia that had already produced movies such as "Blade Runner," which was, of course, also directed by Scott.

But the commercial also would go on to influence a number of movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Ben Richards in "The Running Man" would contain shades of the javelin thrower, and it's hard not to think of the ad when watching Alex Proyas' 1998 cult hit "Dark City."

Over the last decade, Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men" and James McTeigue's "V for Vendetta" would take cues from the spot. Perhaps not concidentally, all three of these directors were in their impressionable late teens or early 20s when the Apple commercial hit.

The spot, which lasts only one minute, cost nearly a million dollars, an extremely large amount of money for a commercial at the time and a kind of precursor to the $100-million (and then the $200-million and $250-million) movie.

Jobs continued to reinvent personal computing and mobile devices in the decades that followed, and many current tech executives say they were inspired to join the digital revolution by that commercial. But a few film directors might have been watching too.


Steve Jobs resigns as Apple CEO but is named chairman

Photos: Steve Jobs and Apple's influence

How Ridley Scott came to direct the new Blade Runner

--Steven Zeitchik


Which Super Bowl movie commercial had the most impact? [poll and video]

February 7, 2011 |  1:29 pm

An online consensus seems to have formed around several spots that aired during Fox's telecast of the Super Bowl on Sunday: Bridgestone's "Reply All," Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit" and Volkswagen's "The Force" were deemed the best of the bunch.

But movie ads had their own parallel contest -- think of it as the Puppy Bowl to the Super Bowl -- with roughly a dozen commercials for upcoming films. Which ones did the best job of enticing viewers? The "E.T." stylings of the "Super 8" teaser? The strangely low-key ad for "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"? The whimsy of "Rango"?

Refresh your memories with the commercials below, then vote in our poll.

--Steven Zeitchik





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Super Bowl 2011: The force isn't with most film promos

February 6, 2011 |  8:34 pm

Movies figured into some of the biggest ads during Sunday's Super Bowl. Unfortunately for Hollywood, those weren't commercials for movies.

A number of the best-received spots referenced well-known films: Kia threw a slew of movie tropes at the screen — including a helicopter chase and an alien invasion — with a spot for its new Optima called “One Epic Ride.” Coke featured a bevy of computer-generated ogres with cinematic overtones in one of its commercials.

Meanwhile, Chevrolet used a car hanging off a bridge “Inception”-style, and a spot for Budweiser saw a saloon crowd join together in a rendition of Elton John's “Tiny Dancer” in the manner of a popular scene from Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous.”

Perhaps the most buzzed-about commercial invoked “Star Wars” as Volkswagen touted its new Passat in a spot called “The Force” that used a child dressed as Darth Vader to promote the car's remote-controlled ignition.

The actual movie ads? They landed with more of a thud.

Perhaps the most well received — or at least the most intriguing — came with “Super 8,” the J.J. Abrams-directed, Steven Spielberg-executive produced science-fiction film that comes out in June. While some Twitter users said it reminded them a little too much of Spielberg's “E.T.,” comments about the commercial were retweeted often and generously.

Another Spielberg-affiliated movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” earned a warmer reception than ads for previous films in that franchise, in part because the spot took a less noisy approach than earlier incarnations. (The Paramount Pictures film also teamed with Chevrolet for a post-game spot called “Bumblebee,” named after the auto-robot in the film; both the car brand and the movie were flogged in the commercial.)

But a pregame ad for the new Adam Sandler comedy “Just Go With It,” with a woman running on a beach in a bikini, was less well regarded.

Passing almost as quickly were short spots for “Thor,” Kenneth Branagh's Marvel superhero film, and Fox's ad for the talking-bird animated film “Rio,” which also tried to hook viewers with a multimedia campaign. A spot for Johnny Depp's animated movie “Rango,” directed by Gore Verbinski, did earn a reasonably enthusiastic reception.

Depp also saw his “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” promoted during the game in a commercial that emphasized comedy over action. "Captian America: The First Avenger," meanwhile, gave audiences their first look at the World War II action adventure.

Hotly anticipated coming into the game was a spot for Jon Favreau's genre-bending “Cowboys & Aliens,” which comes out in July. [For the record: An earlier version of this post said that the film was being released in June.] But the immediate reaction online was lukewarm. (The full video below.)

Companies paid as much as $100,000 per second to advertise during the Super Bowl. Nearly a dozen films were pushed before or during the big game, with the aim of appealing to the largest single-day audience on the TV calendar. Last year, however, that effort yielded mixed results: For every ad promoting mega-hit “Alice in Wonderland,” there seemed to be one touting a dud like “The Wolf Man.”

Hollywood did make its presence felt in other ways on Sunday evening. Popping up in several ads were the unlikely faces of Oscar winners: Adrien Brody, Timothy Hutton and Cuba Gooding Jr. all hawked products during the show.

--Steven Zeitchik




Who will win the Super Bowl (movie sweepstakes)?

February 4, 2011 |  5:47 pm

The Super Bowl is usually a good place to get a fix on upcoming movies. Last year, for instance, ads during the big game gave viewers a pretty decent idea of what "Shutter Island" was, and what "The Wolfman" wasn't (many things, not least of all a hit).

This year, the game's ads will feature a whopping nine films, most of them big summer releases,  including "Captain America," the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" and the Gore Verbinski animated film "Rango." And on more general cinematic subjects, there's also Volkswagen's rather inventive nod to "Star Wars." (You can watch the ad below if you haven't seen it yet.)

Perhaps the most closely scrutinized spot, though, will be for "Super 8," the J.J. Abrams science-fiction project that's been a more closely guarded secret than the events at Roswell. (More in this space on all of the ads after the game, and check our sister Hero Complex blog on Sunday for more details on "Super 8.")

In the past, Super Bowl commercials have tended to be heavy on pyrotechnics and explosions. We're not sure we'll avoid that fate this year, though one usual culprit, at least, shows some restraint: The "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" commercial, also below, is a car-morphing spot done in conjunction with General Motors.

--Steven Zeitchik





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