One of the articles that caught my eye while
surfing idly performing important research for Lateral Action was The business behind The Watchmen by Dan Matthews. The author gives some of the back story of a production process that has lasted over 20 years, and argues that ‘the film’s success was sealed off-set’:
Like Cloverfield and the Dark Knight before it, box office receipts for The Watchmen will be inflated by events leading up to the film’s release. In Cloverfield’s case it was a clever marketing campaign, in the Dark Knight’s it was the untimely death of Joker actor Heath Ledger.
But The Watchmen will enjoy a few more bums on seats thanks to a high profile court case between Warner Bros, the studio behind the film, and Twentieth Century Fox, who claim the original distribution rights…
…the case has turned the film from a niche geek flick into box office alchemy of X-Men proportions. It may turn out to be the biggest film of the year. The legal drama allowed marketing to start earlier than usual and sales of comic books and related paraphernalia have soared.
Throw in a big social media campaign, in the UK led by the Picture Production Company (PPC), and you have the ingredients for an absolute smash.
Reading this, it reminded me that I first heard about the film version of Watchmen via an interview with Alan Moore, in which he said ‘I will be spitting venom all over it’ and even suggested he had put a magical curse on the film.
So far, I can go along with Matthews’ argument that off-screen events will have a big influence on the film’s reception. But he goes further and argues that there is something wrong with this:
Early reviews suggest it is visually stunning although the translation from comic to film is not as smooth as modern classics such as the Batman, Iron Man and the X-Men.
But with the cult of business media so firmly behind the film, who cares about the critics?
Call me cynical, but I’m not sure what the problem is here.
Matthews seems to be suggesting that a film ‘deserves’ to succeed or fail commercially based on its intrinsic artistic merit (as judged by professional critics). Marketing, PR and even social media are part of ‘the cult of business media’ – so if they turn Watchmen into a box office hit it will be a travesty.
It’s a nice idea, but I can’t think of any creative field where this is how things work. Even in the fine arts and sciences, those who achieve public recognition are invariably either good at marketing and self-promotion (like Shakespeare) or have ‘champions’ who do this for them (as Thomas Huxley did for Darwin). As a seasoned journalist and author, I’ve no doubt Dan Matthews knows this, and is being deliberately provocative.
Yet there are a surprising number of artists and creatives who seem oblivious to the need to promote their work. These are the ones who spend their time complaining about not being ‘discovered’ and carping at those who achieve fame and fortune – instead of working out how to bring some art to their marketing and show the world how great their work really is.
I’m not saying artistic and commercial success are the same thing. But if you only care about artistic merit, surely it shouldn’t matter whether anyone notices your work or not?
What Do You Think?
If Watchmen succeeds, will it have gained an unfair advantage from the pre-launch controversy?
Should commercial success be linked to artistic merit?
As a creative person, do you believe it’s your responsibility to promote your work?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.