Marketing a film to moviegoers is a precise job. With so many different audiences, you need to determine what about the film will interest each one, and make them want to see it. It’s not an easy job, but luckily, when someone like David Sameth is at the helm, it’s a successful one.
Sameth, who is the Executive Vice President of Marketing for Walt Disney Studios, was a guest of Jim Fredrick’s Entertainment Marketing class last week, and shared some of his experience with the students. It was clear that Sameth is a busy man, as when he saw his desktop projected onto the screen (to show some clips later in his talk), he marveled at all the items on it.
“There’s a lot of movie stuff here,” he joked to the class. He pointed out silent films, Woody Allen shorts, and more, all saved on his hard drive to check out for inspiration when he needed it.
When his talk began, he explained that he always loved the movies, but didn’t really know he would wind up in the business.
“I started as a runner for an animation company in New York City, and somehow worked my way up to become producer of animation,” he explained. Eventually, he moved to California to look for a new job.
“I looked for jobs in the morning, and went to the beach in the afternoon,” Sameth joked about his work ethic.
The first film he worked on in Hollywood was Blade Runner, and a few years later, became a movie executive at Universal Studios for a bit. Over the years, he’s worked with Amblin Entertainment and Dreamworks as well. However, he’s been at Disney for 7 years, and has loved every moment of it. He talked about some of his strategy when marketing movies, and how he approaches each one.
“Part of marketing films to people is making that first statement to excite them. Not to sell the movie to them yet, since it won’t open for some time, and they do not have to purchase a ticket yet. But, to at least put the idea of it in their head,” Sameth said.
For example, Sameth and his team have found great success with a few Disney animated features by not creating a traditional trailer as the first impression, but playing out an entire scene.
“When people are sitting in a theater, and watch 5 trailers in a row, they tend to zone out a bit. By doing something different, it brings them back into focus, and makes what we do a bit more memorable,” he said. They did this recently with Zootopia, and the gamble paid off, because the film has been doing quite well.
Surprisingly, this is what they also did with Frozen, one of the biggest hits Disney Animation has seen in years. The initial look at the film was essentially a short between Olaf, the snowman, and Sven, the reindeer.
“In fact, I banned using the word princess for that marketing, and hide the fact that it was a musical until very late in the process,” Sameth explained. It’s hard to imagine the strands of “Let It Go” NOT being used in the marketing, but Sameth and his team did just that, and convinced millions of movie-goers to check it out.
Sameth also gave some good advice to the students, on how to approach things when they first start out.
“Make lots of mistakes in the beginning, so you can learn from them. It will only help you grow more, and make sure you don’t make them later on in your career.”