Two weeks after my return from Paris my brain is back, slightly battered but in better shape than my soul.
I don't think it is anything more than a simple observation of fact to point out that advertising for When You're Strange has been pretty much non-existent. The other night I ran into a friend on the street right in front of the Angelika theater here in New York. When I mentioned the film he said he didn't even know it was playing. I'll never forget the astonishment on his face when I turned him around and pointed across the street to where the film's title was in the marquee.
The manager at the Angelika told me the film was doing well, but could be doing much better if there was more advertising. And this week, because of dwindling attendance, the film leaves the Angelika for a smaller venue.
With a strategy like this the film's fate could not have been more predictable. Elaine and Renata have written in detailing their heroic efforts to revive the film in Atlanta. They expressed puzzlement, as did many of you, as to why the film played at the theaters it did, and why for such a short amount of time.
I too, was puzzled. So, this is what I learned.
The deal with PBS to televise the film in May was made before a theatrical distribution plan was in place. PBS chose the May 12 date because it allowed them to get the most attention for the film during Sweeps Week. This is great for them because it helps garner higher TV ratings. It's great for the producers of the film because they made money on the deal.
However, it wasn't so great for the theatrical release of the film. Since the release date was on April 9, movie theaters wanting to show the film had only a very small window to reach audiences before the film was available for free to millions of people. Therefore, ALL of the first-run theaters passed on the film. They did not want to spend time and money on a film that would only be 'fresh' for a little more than a month.
And so, only the smaller, independent theaters took the film, knowing they could show it for a week, or in some cases--a day, and not expend a lot of effort or cash. This is why the film played in a college auditorium in Atlanta and why it will play for only one night in several cities around the country.
The distributor's strategy appears to have been the classic "No Ad" approach. I'm not an expert so I don't really know how effective this approach has been in the past. Apparently it saves the distributor the annoyance of spending any money to advertise the film. When I did question them about the 'minimal' advertising in newspapers they responded with the reasoning that "nobody reads newspapers anymore."
So, imagine my surprise as I opened today's paper and saw a quarter-page ad for a new indie film distributed by the notoriously tight-fisted Sony Pictures Classics. Not only did they run the ad the week before the film opened, they foolishly ran it again in color on opening day. I felt horrible for not calling to tell them to stop wasting their money. What were they thinking running a color ad in a paper that no one reads!?
I know I'm a moron about these things but that idiot part of me keeps wondering what might have happened if When You're Strange had been given just one quarter page ad, in color.
Of course this leads us inevitably to the Reviews (in the same papers no one reads). Two pissy reviews in NYC and LA almost effectively strangled the film there--especially with no advertising to counter them. I thank you all for your support and suggestions not to take them personally. The truth is, I learned this lesson very early on. Here are two quotes from "major" critics on my first film, Johnny Suede:
A MASTERPIECE IN A MINOR KEY
P.J. Flooring, The Guardian, UK
MUCH HAIRDO ABOUT NOTHING
Everett Klempf, NY Times
Even though I just made the second one up the point is if you believe one you have to believe the other. I discovered quickly that the only thing that matters is how I feel about the film. An honest assessment of what I've accomplished (or not accomplished) is the only way I can proceed to the next film. False flattery, especially from myself, leads only to falseness.
The only reason I'm bothered by negative reviews is their potential to prevent people from experiencing the film on their own. And, if no one goes to see the film it directly impacts my ability to make another one. To me, this system is criminally insane.
Is one person really any more capable of determining what is 'good' or 'bad' than anyone else? Based on what I've seen over the last 40 years I'm not convinced. I've never read a review of one of my films that informed or illuminated something I didn't already know. In general critics either recount a film and call the filmmaker a genius or they recount a film and call the filmmaker a dumbshit. As far as I can tell, only two people benefit from this; the filmmaker lucky enough to get a 'good' review and the critics themselves as they solidify their position as the 'true' arbiters of taste; as if their masturbatory scribblings are in some way as important as the films they write about.
I think at the end of every review it should be compulsory for the critic to end with,
This is only my opinion. I really know no more than the guy behind you at Starbucks. I'm just some lucky bastard who gets paid to sit in the dark. I urge each and every one of you to go see the film and make up your own mind.
So, what function do critics really serve? Without them, films would still exist. Without films, they would not. The writer Guy de Maupassant (1840-93) had some thoughts about what a good critic could provide.
Guy de Maupassant
This is from the introduction to his novella Pierre and Jean.
A critic should be without bias, should have no preconceived theories and should not strictly adhere to ideas from any 'school' or trend. He must distinguish and explain the most contrasting and diverse artistic aims. Most critics reject anything outside their own aesthetic system. Instead, a critic worthy of the name should have an understanding open to everything, should so exceed his own personality that he can reveal and praise works of art that he personally dislikes but as a judge he is obliged to comprehend. The public is made up of millions of people who cry out, "Console me, amuse me, make me sad, make me shudder, make me weep." Only a few people ask the artist, "Do something beautiful in the form that suits you best according to your own temperament."
Or as filmmaker Jean Luc Godard (Breathless, Weekend) said a bit more simply:
A critic is a soldier who fires on his own troops.
Thanks for writing in. I’m glad you liked the film. But you should watch it on dvd, or blue ray. It is the original uncensored version I made, not the thing that PBS sanitized.
…….in this case Joshua Tree National Monument.
Thanks for your responce and comments.I understand that you may not be able to respond right away. I’ve always felt very fortunate whenever coming into contact with an artist such as yourself. I’ve always found it rewarding.
I did appreciate an understanding and insight into the amount of film, and the total access you had to the existing Doors film and video.
ALL THE BEST!
Good to hear from you. I’m pretty much entrenched in NYC for the next few months. I’ll take a raincheck on that drink offer for the next time I spend some time in LA.
Please forgive me for taking so long to get back to you. I’ve been traveling a lot this last month.
402 488 0359
After watching WYS something compelled me to see if you had a site. I lived in Europe (West Berlin) for a while and was surprised at the positive reaction your film received there. My impression was the Doors weren’t widely known in Europe. Thihgs I’ve been involved with might interest you. I have spoken with D.A. Pennebaker at length and a good friend did synch work for Jimi Hendrix’s unreleased “Rainbow Bridge” concert footage.
I was involved with the documentary “The MC5 a True Testimonial”. Film I shot of the group when I was 16 (1970) was included in the film. Bruce Botnick did the tape transfers for the film and Danny Fields Director of Publicity for Elecktra (68) was interviewed.
Some questions I’ve had were answered, so forgive me if I repeat anything or please direct me to answers you have already provided.
Mr. Edmonds spoke about trying to recover a Canadian broadcast of “The End” and footage shot in Germany of “Hello, I Love You” which as you know was recovered.
When I first heard of your project I understood all the film shot of Jim Morrison was being reviewed. I’m still amazed by the concert footage and how it was used. I know you can’t comment on everything but I was real impressed just on how you were able to portray the Miami concert and how you also were able to bring out the other Doors on stage during the film. Can you comment further on the access you were given? Did they give you selected access, or did they open up the archives? I have several questions about the performance footage… were many filmed and after having an overview of the existing concert film could you characterize how their concerts were covered and was there anything that stood out in the performances that you really couldn’t show in the film? Were some of the concerts filmed but film not synched to existing sound? I also wondered, were there outakes from the Hollywood Bowl that were of interest(?) and were there other sources besides what the Doors shot themselves? Of course I am familiar with the Roundhouse & Danish television footage, etc…
Sorry about so many questions but I find this such a unique opportunity. I also have many other comments but will wait and hopefully can ask more sometime in the future. For now I just want to say that it was a masterful work of editing and a beautiful combination of film with an insightful narrative. It might sound over the top but judging by the comments I’ve seen and the way you put together the film, it is in a sense like a stained glass window (a lasting work of art) where everyone comes and looks and walks away with their own experience of what they’ve seen. As a long time Door’s fan I sincerely appreciate what you have done.
Here is one thing I did not count on, or even think about, when I began this career: Which is having a forum to champion small movies, indies, and underdogs I genuinely believe should be seen. They don’t come along often, but occasionally a film will be shown to me in its early stages prior to finding distribution, or later after its struggled and not found an audience, and I can let all my readers and viewers know about it. I have television, print, and online forums (mostly niche; my longest-lasting freelance outlets are the Syfy Channel, L’Ecran Fantastique magazine, and Horror.com) through which I can utilize to share my opinion on films I believe deserve an audience. I love being able to turn film fans onto something cool they might not otherwise have known about.
What I enjoyed about your article was your attention to detail and to the specifics of what Ray, John and Robby each brought to your interview. You found the little sliver of personality in each. And that, sir, was a sign of eyeball skill and soul/mental coordination.
Good to hear from you again. I’ve never deleted comments from the blog so I know our exchange is back there somwhere. Please don’t take my ramblings about critics too seriously or too personally. Perhaps I wouldn’t have reacted so strongly if there had been some advertising to counter-act some of them and at least keep people aware the film was still alive.
Now you’ve got me all worked up again! Now you see what I’m saying about this guy Cranium. He should have excused himself from writing about the film; he was clearly already biased by his own pre-historical experiences. Just the guy you want to write an indepth review, right?
Oh, god help us all.
I have to agree with you; there are an abundance of intriguing and thought-provoking comments here. Some could lend themselves to days of responses.
The interviews with Jim’s Dad and sister gave insight and rounded out Jim on a more intimate level. There seemed to be a longing in his Dad’s heart to have known his own son better. He is almost remorse at times but I can tell that it comes from unconditional love. It’s quite beautiful and honest. It’s funny how parents are sometimes too quick to say (paraphrasing) “You don’t have what it takes to ___ ____ ___ (fill in the blank DREAM)” then when the achievement is reached there is an awe and surprise. I believe the comment was “I told him he wasn’t a singer… Then I saw him on national television!”
I’m of the thought that people in dreams are NOT always you…usually the “You” part of dreams is in the “transportation” (house, train, car, boat, roller coaster, flying dragon, …) where “YOU” are moving yourself somewhere. People are people. An abstract thought I always have is WHO ARE the people in your dreams if you have never met them before??? ((Sorry, that’s a philosophical question that sometimes makes me laugh.) I can respect those people saying your dream friend “is you” but have to agree that it was most likely Jim.
I’m enjoying your “Trivia”!!! That’s remarkable how my brain “made” the guitar into another sound. It’s great when music works as a tool to “manipulate” critical moments. A trivia fact right back to you… In the famous shower scene in Psycho, there is no shot to identify the knife ever connected to the body but the magic of editing let the viewer “fill in the connection” to create what isn’t told. I think this happened here with me and I’m laughing at myself! Hitchcock would be proud of you! – LOL!!!
You didn’t come off as insensitive. I felt your questions were honest and sincere. Just know I’ve experienced some intensely bizarre reactions to this film, especially from “knowledgeable” journalists.
Thanks so much for writing. It really is encouraging to hear from you and others who found the film on their own. I really appreciate it.
Thanks for your comment. You state that you enjoyed the film and I appreciate that. But, you do draw some puzzling conclusions.
I’m glad you made your point to the journalist. Too bad it wasn’t with the end of stick.
This is a fascinating comment to me: “The wailing of the coyote is painful to hear as well.”
I should have known you would have already written to the “critic” and expressed yourself.
It’s pretty crazy isn’t it? A guy trashes the movie based on an assumption that only proves his own idiocy.
What can you do?
Thanks again for the assistance.
Good on you. I think you done a good thang. No reason for these people to think they operate in a vacuum.
I’ve had that same frame/dissolve appear several times before, when I was editing. Quite a profound coincidence really.
Ironically, I think this may have escaped a lot of people, and a lot of critics. Not only were they thrown by the new Morrison footage they had no way of knowing how I cut it together. What the hell. I thought it was cool.
Tom, thanks for saying I should not feel compelled to do anything, but as I wrote before, I felt I owed you one, you made a wonderful movie that deserves defending, and though it was totally infuriating for me to re-read that guy’s bs and respond to it, it was the right thing to do. However, now that it’s done, and unless you make WYS 2, 3 and 4, we’re even, ok. And I hope you don’t mind but due to my strict no-pearls-to-pigs policy I did not ask your coyote question.
Have a great weekend everyone.
Please don’t feel compelled to do anything. I was only cracking the door in your imagination to the possibility. Most people never respond to these fools and their egos keep feeding off themselves like a fungus gone out of control.
People absolutely have the right to express their contrary opinions to them.
They are after all, only human.
Elaine did it, though, she wrote that guy! Elaine, that was so cool you did that. And thanks for the tips regarding this issue, I will go to the website and e-mail him too, and thanks also for the invitation to go to Athens with you. If it’s ok, I’ll write you directly to see if it´s possible to arrange it.
You wrote this about a review you read:
Maybe I should add that my local paper (the Orange County Register) DID have an ad for the film when it was released last month. So there was some advertising (I clipped it out).
Thanks again for a job well done.
having watched “when you’re strange” for the 2nd time now (the first time in philly, no one would shut the fuck up)…i definitely have a lot to say about it, for good or ill (def. the former), but I really would LOVE to contact you n discuss some things…perhaps we could do an interview? or maybe jus have a discussion…i myself am a writer… in no means a “critic” persay…but i do review music & film that i hold near n dear to my heart…if only to get out to the masses that they need to WAKE UP!!! this stuff has a message….please feel free to message back or contact me at the email provided…or simply google “lucy tonic” n youll find some of my stuff.
As for the critics, the problem in my opinion is that too many reviews nowadays are just inane, ignorant and self-centered, filled with limited, ego driven and petty likes and dislikes. If they just present, as they should, the educated context of a movie, and some basic, ACCURATE information, most readers can make up their minds as to if they want to see it or not. No need for extreme bashing or gushing over. Ultimately a critic should aim to make a movie seem interesting enough that people will want to go see it and judge for themselves if they like it or not. At least that´s the kind of critic I like and respect. Unfortunately in the case of WYS there were some really bad (as in blatantly incompetent) reviews. Here in Atlanta a reviewer even got away with writing that the HWY bits were “a dramatic REENACTEMENT of Morrison racing through the desert on some sort of pilgrimage to the Joshua Tree”, further adding that “Shots of a hirsute young Morrison STUNT DOUBLE behind the wheel directly reference Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 French new wave film – and Morrison favorite – À bout de souffle.” (Capitalization is mine). I mean, what kind of crap is that? Is this guy supposed to have had an education as a critic? If so, are they not taught to check basic facts before putting pen to paper/fingers to keyboard? What a joke.
Anyway can reviews really make a movie the way advertisement can, I don´t think so either. Man sure I wish WYS had had the advertisement it deserved. I do believe it would have become much bigger in the US if that had been the case. But I agree with others here that it will be more of an event abroad. I´m from Brazil, and there The Doors seem to still occupy a much larger space in the mainstream and public awareness. I´m curious to see what happens there.
Listen, I’m absolutely ok. I really appreciate your concern but believe me I am definitely not sitting around moping or feeling hopeless and futile.
Please keep in mind that the goal of making films is to have your vision of your story told globally. This film WILL find its audience. You did an outstanding job, and as Wayne posted, you DO INSPIRE people and make them look inside themselves with your projects. YOU got me to feel emotions in the way you created the documentary. YOU took me (and I’m sure others) on a journey. I learned about life and the band in ways I would never have imagined – with kindness, truth, and a level of caring about craft. This goes for the band AND you. I never expected to get emotional watching a film about a band I knew nothing about except for a few songs. YOU got to the heart of four incredible souls and the passion behind the words/music.
Ms. Ann Onimuss 🙂
All I can say is that, sadly I agree with you. I think it was a squandered opportunity.
You are right, the Amazon listing got several things wrong, including the spelling of my name.
The film runs 86 minutes. Nothing was cut.
If something about this experience has inspired you to write a paper then I say, go for it. And you can write whatever you want. I’m serious.
You are right, of course. It is becoming rarer and rarer for films to have any extended life on the screen. I’m still living in the days where independent films lingered in smaller theaters for months as audiences discovered them.
Thanks very much for your heartfelt words. They do help. I too have seen how the film affects audiences. My only disappointment is that I really believe it had the potential to reach many more.
I appreciate your assesment from a legal point of view but I think the writing was on the wall all along.
1. Yes, the DVD will be the exact same film released in theaters and on PBS. It is my cut. There is no longer version.
I don’t know anything about the DVD postponement. But, rest assured there will definitely be a release. This is where the producers are expecting to make their biggest profits. So, don’t worry. Keep your eyes open.
And like I said, I think there will be some extras on there, like the interview with Jim’s father.
good to hear from you. Yes, the similarities to the Delirious release are unsettling. I did not expect this. We got some very strong press from major sources and with Johnny Depp coming on board with the narration I thought the band deserved a stronger push than this.
I love what you said about the The Doors being more of a global band. I have high hopes for the upcoming French and UK release. I know both countries are planning full-scale theatrical releases, with posters, advertising and even a premiere.
thanks for this and your comment above. Wow, I didn’t know so many critics read this thing. I applaud your sense of humor mightily. It seems you are grounded in an unusually clear reality.
I don’t know about the physical assault. It has been tempting. I once ran into a critic by accident who had just given The Real Blonde a scathing review. In fact I was in the act of shaking his hand in a warm greeting when it struck me who he was.
I appreciate your comment. Let’s take a look at it.
This could be true to many so called critics out there, but it’s totally unfair to those who actually studied film and do know more than the average guy at starbucks. Or maybe even more than you, if you can accept that.”
I run a small literary journal called, The Toronto Quarterly, and would love to do an email interview with you about the The Doors film for our forthcoming summer issue. Please let me know if that might interest you.
My email address is email@example.com
My respect and admiration for you just skyrocketed. If anyone had the right to call me a pompous hypocrite it was you.
This could be true to many so called critics out there, but it’s totally unfair to those who actually studied film and do know more than the average guy at starbucks. Or maybe even more than you, if you can accept that.