Why Is Everyone Suddenly Concerned About Steven Spielberg?

There was a really weird media narrative that cropped up just prior to the release of Ready Player One that focused on the career of director Steven Spielberg. That trend, exemplified by but not limited to this Indiewire story, started worrying that the director *really* needed a box-office hit.

Even as stories like that acknowledged he has a track record over 40+ years of filmmaking that’s unparalleled (he recently became the first director to cross the $10b global revenue mark) there was a distinct wringing of hands over whether or not anyone would keep letting him make movies if he didn’t release something popular. While it’s true that his films of the last 10 years haven’t always been high-grossing, they continue to do well and are usually critically-acclaimed and receive awards nominations.

These stories all seem to come from a belief that anyone in Hollywood would say “…nah” to Steven Spielberg, a position I find hard to fathom.

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How About Something New?

I’m not opposed to the idea, as floated by director Steven Spielberg, of a woman taking on the fedora of Indiana Jones. This doesn’t sound like a gender-swapped reboot of the character after Harrison Ford takes the character out for one last spin, but a continuation of the universe with a woman at the helm. Sounds cool and I’m actually all for it.

Surely, though, there are at least a dozen screenwriters hanging around Hollywood who have scripts sitting in a folder for *new* female action heroes that aren’t tied in some way to a legacy male character. One or two of those have to be decent, right? Why can’t we get one of those?

This is the same problem I’ve had with the comics industry for several years. Both Marvel and DC have long histories of introducing female characters who are derivative of male characters. In some cases, they’re given their own agency and motivations, but too often “Like X, but a girl” is the beginning and end of their character development.

I want to be clear here that this is not me trolling female fans who love these characters. I’m 100% in favor of more characters who aren’t white guys. As someone who’s been a Hawkeye fan since the early 1980s I can say I love Kate Bishop and want more stories featuring her. And from what I read the character of Rori who was inspired by Iron Man to become her own armor-wearing hero was great. More of all this.

But how about more characters with no ties to those who have come before, ones that have their own backstories and motivations for doing what they’re doing?

The idea of a female character taking over for Indiana Jones when he rides off into the sunset (which he literally did at the end of The Last Crusade) is fine, but how about a swashbuckling adventurer with no connection to Henry Jones Jr. in a story set in 1890 San Diego, someone out for fortune and glory during the Gold Rush?

Derivative characters are fine, but they seem like a half-measure. Let’s stop rebooting the same handful of existing female action heroes that have been around for a while (a la Tomb Raider) or making new ones that come with the baggage of male predecessors already around their shoulders. Instead, let’s ask for more original characters that are free of what’s come before and are able to stand on their own.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Ready Player One – Marketing Recap

ready player one poster 2Based on the hit book of the same name, Ready Player One is finally ready to hit theaters. The story follows Wade (Tye Sheridan), a high school student living in 2045 Columbus, OH amid “The Stacks,” a series of makeshift apartments built out of stacked together campers, trailers and other vehicles. That’s the only kind of living space most people can afford due to extreme poverty, lack of natural resources and other societal problems that have cropped up. The only place he and his friends go is The OASIS, a virtual world that’s free to use and which is where school is held, work is done and fantasies played out.

The creator of The OASIS James Halliday (Mark Rylance) has died and left behind an unusual legacy: He’s hidden the key to controlling The OASIS somewhere within the world itself. While Wade can’t afford the fancy gear others can, he has studied Halliday obsessively, including the genius’ fascination with the pop culture of the 1980s and 90s. So he sets out to see if he can find the key, literally an “easter egg” Halliday has placed behind a series of puzzles and riddles.

Wade and his friends Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) and Aech (Lena Waithe) aren’t the only ones searching, of course. In addition to the millions of other OASIS users there’s also Innovative Online Industries, a massive corporation headed by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), who want to monetize The OASIS and turn it into big business. So Wade and his team are not only out for fame and glory, but also to make sure The OASIS remains the world of escapism and connection people like him so desperately need.

Oh…the movie is directed by Steven Spielberg. Did I not mention that?

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The Post – Marketing Recap

the post poster 5The Vietnam War still looms large in the collective American psyche, an instance where the cause being fought for was more muddled than usual. So too, the tendency of powerful figures to use whatever tools available to silence dissent and maintain their secrets is as old as time. Both of those realities came together in 1971 when former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg leaked what came to be known as “The Pentagon Papers” to The New York Times in 1971. While the Times published a number of stories on the documents, which contained a classified analysis of the Vietnam War, it wasn’t until later that year when The Washington Post picked up the story that things really heated up.

The Post, the new movie from director Steven Spielberg tells that part of the story. Meryl Streep plays Katherine “Kay” Graham, publisher of the Post from 1969 to 1979. When she’s informed by editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) that he intends to publish reports based on The Pentagon Papers it sets off a whirlwind of corporate and legal action. The Nixon administration moves to stifle that reporting, just as it did for the Times, citing national security concerns. Graham and Bradlee, then, must weigh the threat of being arrested for treason against their duty to inform the public of the real reason behind the Vietnam War.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Revival Marketing)

Sony Pictures is celebrating the 40th anniversary of a modern science-fiction classic as it rereleases Close Encounters of the Third Kind to theaters this weekend.

The movie, director Steven Spielberg’s follow-up to his breakout film Jaws, tells two stories that eventually converge. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is a husband and father who works for the local electrical utility. When widespread outages are reported he goes out to investigate and winds up having a mysterious experience he can’t quite remember or make sense of, but which is with an expedition of aliens that are circling Earth. Meanwhile, a team of scientists and others are investigating a series of mysterious incidents, many of which involve the return to Earth of people, ships and more that have gone missing over the last 50 years. Those two stories come together as mankind makes meaningful contact with alien visitors for the first time.

To promote the release, Sony has engaged in a decent marketing campaign.

That started with a cryptic teaser titled “This Means Something,” which is a call back to a line Roy repeats throughout the movie as he seeks to figure out what happened to him and why he can’t get the image of a particular mountain out of his head. There was no footage shown, just visuals of an air traffic control display that are played while we hear dialogue from a key scene involving air traffic control and reports coming in from planes in the air. Familiar music plays at the end and we’re asked to visit WeAreStillNotAlone.com, which is just an email newsletter signup conversion form.

Later on, a new trailer for the re-release starts out with the traffic control team dealing with the pilots who are reporting a UFO of some sort. We see shots of Roy’s truck shaking before he has his own encounter with the visitors followed by other scenes of him and others seeing the ships and trying to find out what’s happening. After having the different kinds of contact explained to us we’re invited to “Make contact…again.” The pace of the trailer picks up to make it seem like an all-out action movie, which isn’t totally accurate if you’ve already seen it. Still, it sells you on the idea of experiencing the film on the big screen, which is an attractive option.

There was also a new poster created. It uses one of the most famous, iconic images from the movie, showing the alien ship descending down on Devil’s Tower. The “40th anniversary” event is touted at the top while the same title treatment from the original release is used further down, followed by the value proposition that it’s been digitally remastered in 4k.

Activity on the movie’s Facebook page has also ramped up during this campaign. The page had previously been used only intermittently to occasionally share random stories about the movie or Spielberg but had been largely dormant since November 2015. In the last couple months, though, it’s been sharing the marketing materials as well as offering fan art contests and other reminders of the upcoming theatrical showings.

Sony’s been advertising the event online and on social media as well, with short videos that let people know it’s returning to theaters.

It’s certainly not at the scale of the marketing of a current release (though it’s actually more substantial than many campaigns) but it has gotten people talking about the movie again, which is a good thing. Whether or not the re-release comes off as successful remains to be seen, but the more people who appreciate what I consider to be one of Spielberg’s top three movies, the better.