This 1950s studio first produced posters and then adapted films of them

Here’s a really interesting way to green light a movie…

What does your ideation process look like? For me, I try to come up with a problem and then figure out what characters populate that world. Then I go more into building the beats into the story. And I only go into it if I know the ending in advance because otherwise it feels like a waste of time.

But I am aware that everyone has their own process. Especially executives.

Today I wanted to look at a film studio from the 1950s that had its own process. You’ve done things backwards. And it worked for her.

Check out this video from the Royal Ocean Film Society, and let’s talk after the jump.

This 1950s studio first produced posters and then adapted films of them

What are some of your favorite movie posters? I have to admit, my office is full of stuff from the 1950s. I’m obsessed with those stupid movies that sold us high quality concepts and salacious art. It turns out that film studios were very into her too.

Film studios used to have theaters. There was a landmark Supreme Court case that ruled that the vertical integration of theaters was an unjust monopoly, and it was broken apart. When that happened, movie studios lost a lot of the money they made marketing and showcasing their movies. Theater owners used their power to change the way films were distributed.

Films were shown in Double Features. The A-movie was usually an expensive blockbuster. These films made the studios money by having high box office sales. The B-Movie was the second film shown that evening. It didn’t need the box office, instead the studios making B-movies were paid a flat fee to show their work.

There was a lot more money to be made if you could make a popular A-scan. But many studios didn’t have the resources to get the bums in the seats needed for these kinds of movies. Instead, they focused on flat-fee B-movies.

Well, that wasn’t good enough for American International Pictures. You as a studio were not interested in these flat rates. Instead, they decided to make two cheap films and sell both to the cinema as a package. But they knew that the only way to get a theater to buy these films was to have an excellent markup package that would get people to see the films.

Instead of buying scripts, making films, and commissioning posters, they did it the other way around.

They had their marketing department create lists of titles for them. From there, they selected the best tracks and sent them to artists. These artists made posters featuring crazy monsters, sexy ladies, and dashing heroes. Once they had a poster they liked, they presented it to the focus groups. They used the feedback to change aspects of the poster, adding characters and elements that people expected or wanted. Once the poster was ready, they hired a writer to write a screenplay based on it and sought out a filmmaker to make a low-budget feature film.

These posters promised too much sex, action, violence and the size of movies. But they attracted people. Many sat for what they believed to be an incredibly high blockbuster, only to get two very cheap B-movies that the posters lured them to.

Thing was, cheap monsters and sex guaranteed success. And they might embellish with lines like, “Leave the kids at home…” or “If you’re squeamish, don’t watch this movie….”

AIP started with horror movies but eventually expanded into teen movies. They had posters of teenagers in swimsuits or hot rods and added pop songs to trailers. Teenagers raved about these films, and the studio could make these low-budget films so quickly that they always tapped into the culture of the moment.

It reminds me of how Hitchcock sold Psychotelling people not to be late because it would be too shocking.

You can get mad at them for baiting people, but you have to admire how well they knew their audience. And I think that’s an incredibly creative way of finding stories. To this day, one of my favorite writing exercises is to go to a museum, look at a painting, and try to write down the scene it depicts. Also, I think AIP’s strategy didn’t just stay in the 1950s. We see clickbait everywhere these days. From salacious headlines and images on Twitter to movie posters selling sex, hyperbolic reviews, or even trailer shots that aren’t in the real movie, this practice has never left us.

And if you’re trying to sell a spec, let me tell you, the funnier the title, the better.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

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