Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Bums on Seats

How do you get people to go and see your movie?  It’s a question that is on the mind of me and the rest of the Chalet Girl team this week.  Because we are now officially T minus One Week.  There are 100 Red Nose Day Screenings happening around the country this Sunday, but the film kicks off its ‘nationwide release’, on something like 380 screens, next Wednesday, 16th.  And we are crossing every last digit, limb and internal organ that, after all the hard work to make the film and all the noisy shouting over the last few months to promote it, some people will actually go and see it.  Because, come Monday morning, there is no hiding.

The situation was explained to me by the lovely Janine during the (wonderful and well-attended) Munich Premiere last week.  She is a sales analyst for Paramount Germany (who are distributing the film over there) and Monday mornings are her big thing.  The group will have been monitoring a film’s performance during the course of the weekend (the Friday to Sunday period where you might expect 60-70% of your weekly takings to come from) so they will have a fair idea about how it has done.  But it’s on Monday morning where they pick over the bones of the weekend’s winners and losers and, crucially, decide what to cut and what to push.  There is no point flogging a horse that barely made it out of the starting gate (if that’s not confusing my metaphors), and equally an unproven tryer who might have been an each-way bet on Friday might now be worth backing.

At some point later on in the day on Monday, all the distributors will be ringing around the exhibitors (cinema chains) trying to book their films onto screens for the coming week/end.  The distributor might want to persevere with a particular title: they may have sunk a load of money into promoting it, or they may think it will be a slow-burner that will gather momentum as word spreads, or they may just feel an obligation to the producers or the star to stick with it.  But the exhibitors rarely have such qualms.  If they are screening these films to empty houses, then they are losing money.  As James Schamus wonderfully put it, at the dearly-departed SWF in Cheltenham in 2009, the six most important words in the film business are ‘No Outside Food Or Beverages Allowed’.  No punters equals no popcorn sales.  And, given that there will inevitably be a host of new releases coming up the next weekend, the exhibitor might not be wild about the whole ‘slow burn’ concept, particularly if there is little evidence to suggest that the burn will ever become more than a gentle smoulder.

So the first weekend is massive.  MASS-IVE.  Since the release date for Chalet Girl was confirmed, I have been eying up Monday 21st March as a career game-changing date.  Particularly since it is now also opening (as Powder Girl) in Germany and Austria on the same weekend.  By somewhere around coffee time, we’ll know if we’re a hit or a miss.

Which puts a huge amount of pressure on us to get bums on seats in the opening weekend.  Obviously, success breeds success.  People do like our movie when they see it, so if we get off to a flyer then the word of mouth impact could be significant.  The worst thing would be for the opposite to happen – we sort of limp out, we don’t get that early momentum, and the film is yanked before word has had time to spread.

All of which leads to the big question.  How?  How the hell do we, or more pertinently does Momentum, get somewhere in the order of 200,000 bums off their own sofas, out of their house, onto the bus seat, into the ticket queue, and finally settled back down into our seats in the cinemas?  That's 400,000 individual buttocks.  It’s an insanely difficult job, and one which can so easily go plop if any part of the marketing package (or indeed the film) fails to hit.  So we’ve got the reassuringly ubiquitous bus shelter ads, the TV spots during Gossip Girl, the radio ads, the generally-quite-decent reviews and the Euro-paper-mountain of press coverage (‘Confessions of the real Chalet Girls’ etc).  Awareness is getting there.

But is awareness enough?  We need action.  We all know that teenagers go to the movies more than the rest of us, and fortunately Chalet Girl hits that demographic (it’s not fortunate, in fact, it’s entirely deliberate).  But will they want to go and see it?  Will they think it’s too cheesy and that they’re way too cool for this sort of nonsense?  Or will the lure of I’mChuckBass, coupled with some snowy wish-fulfilment, convince them that it’s worth them spending their eight quid (plus bus fare)?  Will it just be teenage girls, or will they drag their boyfriends along too?  And what about the older audiences?

I’ve talked elsewhere on this blog about knowing your audience but if we are honest with ourselves we still don’t know who this will chime with the most (if any).  One of my recent pastimes has been monitoring #chaletgirl on Twitter and the tweeting has told me that there is a fairly even spread of interest (and disinterest) in the project – old and young, girls and boys.  One tweet from this morning, from someone who looks like a guy in his twenties: “'Chalet Girl' is nowhere near as bad as the pouting toff on the poster makes it appear. Ignore the 'snow-mance' and its a decent film.”  The two user reviews on imdb are from blokes reluctantly dragged along by their girlfriends, and they both really love it too.  So what do we really know?

I don’t work in marketing, thank God, because it’s a tough old job.  The onrunning debate with this film, as it is with many I would imagine, is whether we sell hard to one audience, at the risk of alienating the rest, or whether we try to appeal to everybody and end up appealing to nobody.  So the ‘teenage girls strategy’ still holds weight, I’m sure.  Let’s get them in and then word of mouth will hoover up the others for us.  But there are two whopping assumptions just in that one sentence.

So I’m nervous.  Excited, but nervous.  We’ll see what Monday 21st March brings.  And to my eight blog readers, please go and see it (and take fifty of your closest family members) and then let me know what you thought, both of the film and the marketing.


  1. Hi Mr Williams!
    I've already seen Chalet Girl. I live in Belgium and it was released at the end of February.
    I truly loved it!
    You have a wonderful story, its well made and a kick ass cast that delivers! I'm sure everything will work out just fine!

    Best of luck in the next week!


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  3. Thanks for your comments guys, lovely to hear that the film is going down well and that the blog is proving interesting. Tell your friends, and good luck with your various projects! Tom

  4. Now your 9th blog reader :) We will be one of the 400,000 bums on seats this weekend Tom, so only 399,998 to go!

    Good Luck - will be thinking about you around coffee time on Monday morning!

    Cheers, Kerry & Dave - The Yew Tree pub

  5. How tremendous to get a post from the pub round the corner! Thanks for your support - I'll be in to celebrate / drown sorrows soon. ps it's 400,000 cheeks, 200,000 bums - so 399,996 / 199,998 to go respectively (unless either of you has been in an unfortunate accident that I don't know about - after all, I only see you from the waist up)

  6. haha! typo :) 199,998 to go! mind you, I have been following Chalet Girl on twitter and reviews seem fantastic!!

    see you sooooooon!

    ps..... Dave only has one bumcheek :( (he he he)

  7. good luck man. Hope it does really well.
    : )