Overproduction, Defects, and How Disney’s “John Carter” Might Flop

Posted on March 12, 2012 | in Defects, Lean Wastes, Overproduction | by

The process of Hollywood movie production has always appeared to work contrary to lean principles.

Studios will invest lots of money on talent, technology, time, and marketing for films that run the serious risk of tanking at the box office simply because few folks end up wanting to see them. Some of the causes of low interest in a film include uninteresting actors with little buzz, a poor story or poor execution of the acting/filming/effects, and competition from other “better” films airing at the same time.

The investment is made in the actors, producers, directors, computer animation, and all the other behind-the-scenes work while few individuals have any knowledge of whether those efforts will be successful or pay off because the investments occur way out in front of those yet-to-be-realized problems.

As a result, we have Disney’s film “John Carter.” The New York Times is suggesting that John Carter is the new “Ishtar” – a film from the 80’s widely acknowledged as perhaps the most catastrophic film investment of all time – because John Carter cost $350 million to create but only made a little more than $30 million its first weekend (traditionally the biggest money-making point in a film’s tenure) and probably won’t come close to breaking even.

So what is the problem? Well, the creators have made a movie that apparently the public doesn’t want to buy, whether it’s because of competition at the box office or story lines or actors or something else. In other words, a movie with features the customers don’t want was produced well in advance of when it might be wanted.

This is the essence of a) overproduction and b) defects wastes.

How can this wasteful activity – or in this case, extremely expensive wasteful activity – be prevented?

The essence of marketing is not to push your product onto the masses but to identify what the masses want to consume and then produce it, thereby filling a known market need. So how did advance marketing knowledge indicate the need for this movie, which clearly is in error? What does this movie have or not have that makes it unwatchable in the public’s eye?

Is there any way to use test marketing or focus groups with a “simplified” version or short simulation to make a preliminary check that a $350 million investment will be worthwhile? In my uneducated opinion, this would be very hard to do but Hollywood might have some tricks up their sleeves…that might not have been applied in this case.

But now that the film is completed, what can be done to maximize revenues? Hollywood employs lots of marketing analysts and focus groups to make sure what they’re producing will be consumed by the public or if necessary their marketing mix (commercials, web content, magazine ads) can be altered to better reach target markets.

This is somewhat advanced business thinking that your typical manufacturing and service industries have been using for many years and now the sports industry is doing it. As for the entertainment industry…from the article:

Studios have repeatedly pledged in the 25 years since to modernize their clubby business practices, but the more Hollywood promises change, the deeper it seems to fall into its ruts — as evidenced by “John Carter,” a big-budget science fiction epic from Walt Disney Studios that opened Friday and flopped over the weekend.

But perhaps there’s more to the story than making money. Also from the article:

Disney spent lavishly (some say foolishly) on the movie in large part to appease one of its most important creative talents: Andrew Stanton, the Pixar-based director of “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E.”

I’m not one to judge the merits of that plan, other than to say I have better ways to spend my money.

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2 Responses to “Overproduction, Defects, and How Disney’s “John Carter” Might Flop”

  1. Mark Graban says:

    I thought part of the problem with Hollywood was that they often focus-group the heck out of everything (TV shows, movies) instead of somebody having a Steve Jobs-ian vision for how the product should be.

    I’ve heard it said that the more writers a project has, the more doomed it is (because of the rework and new visions that people have — or the story just stunk to begin with, requiring the rework).

    Also, in this case, the name “John Carter” just sucks. I thought it was about some pilgrim in the Mayflower days. John Carter makes me think of “Coach Carter” or a movie more like that.

    • Chad Walters says:

      I think that films, television shows, and music are using data analysis and focus groups more often and more “effectively” these days when it comes to sales and viewership. As a result there’s less “art” and more “sell-ability” with these projects. I also think it says more for society these days when arts and culture is pushed aside for business, math, sales, and straight objectivity. What used to be art is now faux-art because everyone has to make a living and the arts is taught less or given less emphasis in schools so students don’t grow up with a greater appreciation for art and music.

      But I digress.

      That all being said, if one is going to invest $350 million in a movie they sure as heck better be right.

      And I’ve actually heard that the more marketing and advertising you see for a film the worse it is (Hollywood doing whatever it can to salvage sales for a trainwreck) and haven’t ever really thought about the number of writers. Ha!

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