This morning I was listening to Howard Stern interviewing Alec Baldwin:
Here’s a clip that is totally unrelated to what I’m about to discuss:
The bit that caught my attention was when Alec mentioned how movie studios package movies for the cinemas. He said that they will offer a big film like Jurassic World on the condition that the cinema chain gives a couple of weekends to, say, five other films that might not seem such obvious hits.
As soon as Alec said that I began thinking of the other occasions where this happens:
The movies themselves may well have a small number of great scenes/moments/lines (most of which appear in the trailer) that are surrounded by long minutes of boring crap that you also pay for. I get that in books/movies/TV shows the structure of story means that you need some downtime between the fireworks, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I mean that movies especially are often constructed around those trailer moments that make up maybe 10-20% of the finished product. But the other 80-90% must be filled with something, and invariably that ‘something’ is not as well thought out and has fewer resources dedicated to making it good. So you pay for 120 minutes of entertainment, much of which is simply filler.
Many albums hide a few crappy tracks around the good ones. I guess that the people responsible always intend to create a body of music that’s entirely of great quality, but 999 times out of 1000 they don’t manage it, and with a release date looming they have to put something out. So maybe they think that track that was shit a month ago is actually not too bad. Or maybe they couldn’t care less, because if a fan wants the good tracks they have to take a chance on the shit ones (obviously the Spotify era has altered a band’s ability to do this somewhat).
Many magazines offer five decent articles amid three dozen shit articles and 100 pages of ads . Yes, I enjoyed the interview with Jack Nicholson, but the ‘Ten Ways To Look Great With Your Shirt Off’ is probably not the kind of journalism that will trouble the Pulitzer judges. And of course magazines need ads to support themselves, but when you pick one up at the newsagent you don’t really think about how many of the pages are just full of messages from car or clothing companies that you’ll simply ignore. Imagine how thin magazines would be if the only contained the bits you actually wanted.
Finally, let’s face it, advertising creative departments, where you might get the superstars but you might also get the inept juniors or the unimaginative workhorses, also fall into this category. When clients pay huge amounts of money to ad agencies do they always get the very best people in the building? Unlikely. Instead, they get a random mix of unpredictable ‘talent’ that might be incredible helpful for their brand, or might just keep it treading water. Sure, the CDs are there to keep the quality as high as possible, but if the winning idea is generated on a lucky day by a team that is poor at execution then the quality of the finished product will suffer, but the client will end up paying broadly the same fee that they would for the best team in the department.
For financial reasons agencies have to operate by this model – and it’s the only way to give younger people an opportunity. But for the client it’s sometimes the equivalent of taking on Paul Blart Mall Cop when they paid for Mad Max.