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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Pioneer in marketing research for film dies

Joseph Farrell died this week.  He introduced marketing research to the film industry; most famously, he suggested changing the ending of Fatal Attraction (Glenn Close's character was originally seen committing suicide):  “They [the audience] didn’t want to see her do herself in, they wanted to see her done in.”

It's hard not to have a gut-level negative reaction to this guy's influence.  On the other hand, I was struck by his quote:

Mr. Farrell defended his work. “The film is the athlete; I just give it every training tip I know. Filmmaking is a creative pursuit but must ultimately go commercial. Market research, a town meeting of sorts, lets the filmmaker know if he’s communicating effectively with the public.” 

It depends on what you're trying to accomplish with your film, I guess.  Some films are trying to be commercially successful, and his approach would be helpful. 

But for a lot of filmmakers, this probably feels like tyranny.  Ron Shelton is quoted in the obit also:  “I want to confound expectations in my movies, not cater to them.” 

And Farrell's method was hardly foolproof.  He famously thought Ghost would flop.  And many films which did not seem commercially oriented, like Dances with Wolves, connected with audiences way beyond expectations.

Still, his influence is undeniable, for good or ill, or both.



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