"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The "Field of Dreams" Principle

-"If you build it, they will come."

(Nope! This post is not about that particular movie. But, ultimately, it is about a couple of other movies: one current, and the other ten years ago).

My best friend and former co-worker at a software company, at which I was a programmer for 12 years (1986-1998), thusly described the apparent operating philosophy of the owners of that company. We developed what may well have been the finest GIS (Geographic Information System) software used by (all too few) companies in the petroleum industry.

This was attested to by those users, and by observation of the competition at annual SEG (Society of Exploration Geophysicists) conventions. We had a foothold in Shell Oil and Fina Oil & Chemical (now part of Total), and a very good shot at a contract with Saudi Aramco. A good enough shot that I was one of those who had to get a passport in case I ever had to fly out there.

BUT, we spent very little on a sales force to go out and promote that product. When you are a small outfit (maybe a dozen and a half employees at most) and your chief competitor is a subsidiary of Schlumberger, well, you might well guess that "If you build it, they will come" just ain't how the world works. That contract never materialized and the big guy won. Our company closed it's Houston office in '98 and, instead of becoming fabulously wealthy (or at least very well to to) I was out of a job for a loooong time.

The Field of Dreams Principle seems to apply to the movie business as well.

For several months now, I've seen posters in movie theaters for ...
From beyondhollywood.com

Synopsis for Phantom (2013) ...
'Ed Harris' plays the captain of a Cold War Soviet missile submarine who has secretly been suffering from seizures that alter his perception of reality. Forced to leave his wife and daughter, he is rushed into a classified mission, where he is haunted by his past and challenged by a rogue KGB group (led by David Duchovny) bent on seizing control of the ship's nuclear missile. With the fate of humanity in his hands, Harris discovers he's been chosen for this mission in the belief he would fail. 'Phantom' is a suspense submarine thriller about extraordinary men facing impossible choices.

Ok. I kept an eye out for it, and when I got home from work Friday, saw in the IMDB showtimes that it had arrived. Cool!

Clicking on it showed that, out of 55 theaters within a 25 mile radius of my zip-code (with God only knows how many hundreds of screens), it was showing at precisely ONE, in the middle of the day at 11:30 AM and 2:20 PM, at the Star Cinema Grill (a very nice place) in Missouri City. nearly 20 miles away. As it was too late for me to go Friday, I went yesterday.

While waiting for it these past months, I never saw one preview for it, nor a single commercial. Predictably, when I reached the auditorium, I saw that a couple in the middle were the only ones there besides myself. I suppose the psychic powers of our population are just not enough to compensate for the total lack of promotion.

The technical term for this is "dumping". After spending millions to make the movie, they seem to find nothing in the budget for marketing and advertising for it, preferring to spend it on something they probably invested a lot more in and promising far greater returns. Sometimes, what happens is a change at the top when a rew CEO takes over the studio and promoting the efforts of his predecessor is not even on his "to-do" list, as he has his own mark to make on things.

"Phantom" is a damn fine movie, worthy of far better treatment than it's getting, but if I find it to be completely gone next weekend, it wouldn't surprise me a bit. If it's showing anywhere near you at the moment, keep that in mind. Otherwise, you'll have to wait several months for the DVD.

That DVD will be worth getting.

(Update - 1415 CDT 23 Mar 2013 - That "next weekend" (of Friday, 15 Mar 2013) has come and gone, as has the movie. Not really a great insight on my part;  it was (in the words of one of Robert A. Heinlein's characters in "Methuselah's Children") "like predicting an egg will break when you see it already on its way to the floor". The DVD will probably be released by (or shortly before) summer. I promise you, it's worth it.)

This is a case of history repeating itself.

In late 2002, I saw posters for Below (2002) ...
From impawards.com

... about a WWII submarine, supposedly haunted. Mostly a psychological thriller (it's left open as to whether anything supernatural is involved or maybe gas buildup from the batteries is causing hallucinations), this is another first-rate movie that had posters everywhere, no previews nor any  commercials and only appeared in a handful of multiplexes the first week, was down to one the second, and gone by the third. In 2002, you had to wait about nine months after theatrical release before the DVD came out.

That DVD is still available and I highly recommend it.

So!  If you build it, will they come?

Sadly, I kinda doubt it. :(

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