Another Iger Interview: Wonder where the preordained flop narrative came from? Read this.

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Disney CEO is starting to talk about John Carter and what he has to say, first in a Fortune/CNN Money article, and now in Bloomberg, is extremely interesting, particularly coming now, publicly, the day after the Q2 financials were released.  Iger is interviewed by Bloomberg’s Carol Muller.

Iger: They’re all our babies and we root for all of them to do well….we’re relatively realistic about the prospects of our film when we see enough of each film…i mean, you get a good sense if you’ve been in the business long enough whether something is going to do well or not, before it comes out, research aside — it’s more…it’s an instinct.  There was a point before Carter came out that I had a very strong sense that it was going to be very challenging……

Muller: But at that point you were just too way in, right?  you have to run with it?

Iger: Yes. we weren’t going to not distribute it.  nor did we really run away from supporting it fully because i felt that given the size of the investment, we owed it to ourselves, to at least give it the shot that it deserved.

Muller: And you never know…..

Iger: No, you never know…..but we had a strong sense…i was very worried about it … not that I wasn’t cheering for it …..but I was worried about it.

***************

COMMENT:  I initially posted this with no comment because, frankly, I had to go compose myself after reading this.  It is astonishing to me that there is no acknowledgment whatsoever of any failures other than those of the film-maker.  What about the marketing team  Mr. Iger?  What about your production executives charged with overseeing the production?  Here, at a minimum,  is what you should have said. This is not a sarcastic jibe — this is what you should have said.

“You know, sometimes a film comes along that is hard to figure ut how to market. Andrew Stanton …. the director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo is a very, very unique film-maker. Now here he was, a unique film-maker, with unique material, and our marketing team worked hard to get synched up with the material and how to present it in the marketplace in a way that would resonate with the potential audience of 2012. Quite frankly, we just never cracked the code. It was a learning experience, and a painful one. Is the film perfect? No. But we culd have done better with it.”

Additionally, two more points:

  • It is very, very well established that the film tested well, first in the Oregon test screening in June 2011 and then in multiple Nielsen test screenings in November and December 2011.  Note that Iger says “research aside, it’s more — it’s an instinct.”  What he is saying is that, in fact, the testing was positive — but his infallible “instinct” told him it would fail.  Yet Disney’s actions regarding the film were those of a company who knew it had a marketing problem — not a problem with the movie itself.  Remember, Disney scheduled dozens upon dozens of advance screenings in an attempt to have these help overcome the poor marketing.  You don’t do that with a turkey — Iger knows that.  With a turkey, you keep it under wraps until the last possible minute; you limit access for reviewers, you embargo them right up to the last couple of days before release, etc, etc, etc.  So …bottom line, Iger’s comments are inconsistent with the actions Disney took.
  • If, as Iger says  when “we see enough of each film” we know — and in this case we knew, then why: 1) Did no alarms go off? You had a first time live action director and in December 2011, 14 months before the scheduled release, you didn’t like what you saw.  If that’s the case, did you not have a fiduciary responsibility to your investors to step in with a firm hand and right the ship?  Did you do that? Or anything approaching that?  And if you didn’t — if you knew from your “instinct” that it was a flop, but you did nothing to force the issue with the film-maker and get the film on track, how do you explain that ?

37 comments

  • Shape Shifting Shang – great phrase. I’m glad I stumbled upon this thread. Here’s what my “instinct” alerted me to during my most recent viewing of DJC (I think that’s the shorthand here, although I prefer JCM) regarding the Therns, or the Thah(r)ns as Dejah Thoris says it – The Therns feed off the destruction of a planet at the expense of the races – does this mean they enslave them and eat them? After Zodanga’s planned subjugation of Helium, did they expect more depressed Barsoomians to take the final trip down the Iss to a further destination where plantmen and/or white apes (and Therns) are waiting for hapless victims? Will the Thern sanctuary/hall of science on the River Iss turn out to be the source of their powers and shape shifting, without which they’d be reduced to the same level as the redmen? I know there is futility in expecting a sequel at this point, but these are the elements I see that could swing the plot back into line from where the movie veered off from ERB’s originals. BTW, many of you obviously know a great deal about the movie industry – very interesting stuff.

  • Paladin-

    I’m sure someone has a whole list on how to do emoticons but the way I did the smiley face was type colon, dash and a paranthesis : – ) as one word and it shows up. I hope that helps.

  • Paladin wrote:
    “The perfect can be the enemy of the very, very good.”

    Yes! As we saw when the “perfect” Andrew Stanton entered our lives. (I’m joking but I understand what you mean 🙂 )

  • Makes one wonder if Iger somehow benefited from the film not being a big box office success.

  • Dotar Sojat wrote:
    “What is your recipe for getting a sequel before we’re all too old to see and hear it? I’d be interested in your thoughts. I’m not talking about in your or our fantasy world — in the real world, here and now, trying to make something happen — what would you do? Realistically. Wait it out until Stanton is too far removed to ever come back? How long will that take.”

    And a happy Saturday to you do.

    I don’t have a recipe for getting a sequel made at this point. Do you? Because in the real world at this moment there will never be a sequel to this movie for a variety of reasons. From Disney’s-and that means Robert Iger-opinion the film was a failure to them. It didn’t double or triple their investment, it did not become their next Pirates of the Caribbean or what Stanton promised which was “Indiana Jones on Mars.” But at the same time they own the film rights and I don’t see them suddenly letting them go. Because what happens if another studio gets them, hires a filmmaker who does a bang-up job (and manages to respect the material), that studio does the right marketing and it becomes huge hit? It would look bad on Disney’s part because they screwed up again by loosing the sequel rights. Unless someone figures out that the first few books are in public domain and makes their own film version of them. Now there is always that dreaded word-reboot. It would mean starting over but sometimes that is for the best. If anything that would solve the issue of Stanton’s involvement. Also a lot of directors are not involved with the sequels as they used to be. I mean Marvel it seems usually seems to have to get new directors. I’m sure before too long we’ll hear that Joss Whedon won’t be involved with Avengers 2 and some new will be on board.

    “Thinking ONLY about THAT Carter, the one who settled back and was about to return to barsoom when the curtain went down, wouldn’t you agree the prospects for Gods of Mars are that the Carter character problem is over. He’s Galahad again.”

    Possibly the problem would have been solved. But who knows what Stanton had planned there. For all we know John Carter would have new things to whine over.

    “So that leaves shape-shifting Therns. They’re not going to go away. Is that really enough to derail the whole thing on the off chance it gets mounted again? Or could you maybe, just maybe, grin and bear it with the shape-shifting Therns?”

    It depends. Obviously shape shifting, floating people with the power of 9th rays and whatever else they have are not going to be afraid or worshippers of Issus and her followers because why would they? So where does that leave that story? Granted at this point I’m sure Stanton threw Gods into the same wastepaper basket as he did Princess so I doubt his plans for the sequel would have been any closer than he was the first time around so we would probably have been stuck with it and it would have beent he same worn out gimmick it was in the first movie. I guess on the plus side I would be prepared for it (even though I was prepared for it back when Mark Strong blabbed about it three years ago) but it would still be a nuisance to the storytelling.

  • MCR wrote:

    Sorry Patrick but I have to disagree. What the sequel needs is not to escape Disney. It needs to escape Disney and Andrew Stanton. Because just taking it Pixar isn’t going to fix the problems with the movie. It might fix the marketing-and teaming up with Marvel would do that-but it still means more of Stanton’s handling of the books. And trust me we need someone who embraces “Galahad” Carter since that story is pretty much who John Carter is-he’s a man who does the right thing, does not whine about it or is reluctant to get involved. That and to prevent any more Shape Shifting Shang. Since we would get more of that in the sequel.

    Ah MCR, Happy Saturday!

    So here’s a question. — What is your recipe for getting a sequel before we’re all too old to see and hear it? I’d be interested in your thoughts. I’m not talking about in your or our fantasy world — in the real world, here and now, trying to make something happen — what would you do? Realistically. Wait it out until Stanton is too far removed to ever come back? How long will that take.

    I have a suggestion. You’ve already suffered through the whiny version of Carter — that’s done. Wouldn’t you agree that the JC at the end of the movie is pretty much the JC you want. (Please don’t quibble about using Edgar as bait….it worked out fine, he was in control!)…..Thinking ONLY about THAT Carter, the one who settled back and was about to return to barsoom when the curtain went down, wouldn’t you agree the prospects for Gods of Mars are that the Carter character problem is over. He’s Galahad again.

    So that leaves shape-shifting Therns. They’re not going to go away. Is that really enough to derail the whole thing on the off chance it gets mounted again? Or could you maybe, just maybe, grin and bear it with the shape-shifting Therns?

  • Sorry Patrick but I have to disagree. What the sequel needs is not to escape Disney. It needs to escape Disney and Andrew Stanton. Because just taking it Pixar isn’t going to fix the problems with the movie. It might fix the marketing-and teaming up with Marvel would do that-but it still means more of Stanton’s handling of the books. And trust me we need someone who embraces “Galahad” Carter since that story is pretty much who John Carter is-he’s a man who does the right thing, does not whine about it or is reluctant to get involved.

    That and to prevent any more Shape Shifting Shang. Since we would get more of that in the sequel.

  • Patrick (Panda Lord) wrote:
    “The question now is what is Stanton and Lasseter to do. If by some twist of fate, I was within their circle of advisors, I would tell Stanton to write the script for the sequel. Get it as crafted and complete, and to hold firm to his vision of the John Carter films. To Lasseter, I would tell him to play hard ball with Iger. I bet if Steve Jobs were alive and healthy he would be right in this fray telling Iger exactly what he thought. If I were Lasseter, I would tell Iger that Pixar is going to finance the sequel to John Carter and that it will be Pixars first “live action” film. Not only that, but that Pixar will hire out a marketing firm that will properly market the John Carter sequel. I bet all of my Apple stock that if Lasseter were to make it so Pixar was to handle the John Carter sequel, it would not only be a massive hit, but it would wipe that smug smirk off of Iger’s face.”

    I support this idea 1000%
    Pixar should pick this saga as their pet project and eventually do all the books!

  • Here is a further point for discussion, as well as reflection. I mentioned previously how I would have Pixar take over the project from “Disney” which would effectively negate any further mishandling of the John Carter “franchise”. By doing this, Pixar would keep it in house and thus have their first “live action” film. Those within Pixar (Lasseter ect) would obviously handle the sequel with care and professionalism unlike how Disney (Iger/Ross) managed it.

    Another approach might be for Pixar and Marvel to team up to create/market the film. Marvel has a history with the John Carter material and they probably have a good relationship with those who are entrusted with the care and managing of the ERB properties. I am sure that Stanton can reach out to Whedon, for who knows better the feel of daggers in the back than Whedon. A Pixar/Marvel teaming would be very interesting indeed, and also would negate any notion of having Disney being involved within the project per se.

    I would imagine there is much more going on behind the scenes that we are able to perceive. I for one hope that Stanton and Lasseter are able to come up with an effective plan of how to ensure that a John Carter sequel is made, released and marketed properly.

    This film deserves a sequel!

  • Hello Everyone,

    I just wanted to say firstly that stanton is an genius and amazing writer/director his work on John Carter was truly that of a visionary of someone that modernize the stories of ERB and updated the feel for a 21 century audience.

    Than being said onto the things I find distrubing,

    I agree with the lack of advertising marketing and am somewhat left in awe at the comments Iger made reguarding JC. I think “imo” Iger didn’t want to put blame to Ross or Disney afterall it was Iger who Hired Ross in the first place and hence if he admittedly said it was all on Ross and the marketing team the problem then shifts to him as investors wont be happy to know that the business of Disney is being mismanaged by Iger.

    Stanton has showned us what he’s capable of doing with a franchise who’s stories has been milked from starwars to avatar and still manage to keep the ideas and story unique to JC intact. I want would like to have a sequel and hope that the ERB estate didnt license JC to Disney for more than a 5 year period at which time Pixar or another studio should pick up the licensing and then we may have a sequel.

    However…..

    Based on how Iger is looking at JC and the “please excuse me” the bullshit that he said only goes to show he’s the sort of person that only passes the buck as Hiring Ross was his decision and wherein lies the blame befalls him as well.

    DVD/Bluray sales not withstanding I don’t see Ross green lighting a sequel as that would mean he’d has to take back every word he said that’s derogatory towards JC.

  • Nick …. Stanton and Lasseter have not reacted publicly and I doubt they will, at least not directly. But I am absolutely certain that both of them, and the rest of the Pixar brain trust, are deeply troubled by Iger’s comments. Stanton has showed tremendous restraint and maturity in the aftermath of the release; the Iger comments constitute a new low and have to leave the entire Pixar team wondering about their association with Disney. But I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting to hear anything from Stanton directly. More likely, a response — if one comes — will come from another quarter.

  • These comments are by Iger are jaw-dropping. How could John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton both not be extremely disappointed and angered? Could these comments have serious repercussions within the “Brain Trust” of Pixar…a group very close and strong in their beliefs?

    I agree with poster Brad Blake, that any marketing person with half a brain at a major studio could get $1 billion from 3 John Carter movies…and if that marketing person had a full brain, he’d make hundreds of millions more on selling merchandise.

    Dotar, what’s the word on Stanton and Lasseter right now? Have they made any public comments? These Iger comments make me seriously wonder if both those guys have lost all their trust and faith in Iger.

  • I am not really all that interested in an analysis of what happened inside the Disney Company 12 or 18 months ago regarding “John Carter” — I want to see what plan for the future could lead to a sequel. I read and enjoyed the books years ago — AND I enjoyed Stanton’s movie. I went to the cinema to see a movie based on the books — and I loved what I saw on the big screen. All I want now is to see another enjoyable, well-made film that gives us a visual interpretation of John Carter’s written adventures. The question I would like Mr. Iger to answer is — “How can we make a “John Carter” sequel become a financially justifiable reality that will please the audience and bring profit to Disney?”

  • Dotar, I used your: “Iger shoots himself in the foot with smoking gun” when I tweeted this from my personal twitter acct. Too good NOT to use it. Couldn’t agree more with your comments and feelings on this, but I never do disagree with you so no surprise there (GMTA). 😉

  • “First, to “Spaceman Spiff”…I respectfully disagree with your notion that Stanton is to blame for the lack of support that Iger/Ross failed to provide by way of studio backing.”

    I don’t think anyone is saying Stanton is to blame for Ross and Iger failing him with the marketing. I think everyone-no matter what they thought about this movie-agrees the marekting sucked and that Disney was responsible through bad decisions and the wrong people calling the shots.

    Where Stanton is to blame is for not making that masterpiece that so many people seem to think this film is. As Dotar keeps saying he only got a triple (and that’s if your being generous) instead of a home run. Because Ross and Iger weren’t the ones who made John Carter a boring “damaged goods” character. Or showed a lack of respect for ERB’s material. Or ran up the budget because he was trying to apply a process that works great for cartoons but not live action.

  • Stanton did his job. It’s not easy to put a 100 year story that _everyone_ in the business has ripped off in print and on screen… erm, on screen. The Victorian dialogue and gender role ideas had to change – everything changes in 100 years, so you just have to capture the essence. Stanton did all of that, and did it well.

    And guess what, the Tharks and the ships are in the can now, and with all due respect to the thousands of people that put in untold hours, it’s all a downhill “whee” ride from here. There are 9ish more stories to tell, with built in spin-offs, and how many other series to utilize, once ERB is again a household name? Heck ‘made for Disney-TV movies’ abound if nothing else…

    Unless Stanton gets sucker punched by marketing. They did not live up to their responsibilities… by anyone’s Imagination…

    Period…

    And now, directly or indirectly, they’ve marketed ‘Andrew Stanton …. the director of Wall-E and Finding Nemo …a very, very unique film-maker.’ as a waste of effort, instead of bringing him on board and further developing his talent.

    And once again, so far as the big screen is concerned, one of the most prolific and groundbreaking writers of the 20th century is left to roll in his grave.

    Thanks, Disney.

  • Michael, I’d like to hear more about the test screening and why they ignored the positive results.

  • Instinct? Is that what it’s all about? Is this a joke? Nothing about the dumb marketing, that was deemed dumb by just about every commentator? Are those marketing guys in an ivory tower, impervious to what social media was telling them? Wasn’t Disney aware of the bad press campain prior to the release of the movie? They doesn’t read newspapers, nor read internet website? Did the “tracking numbers” took them by surprise at the last minute? They didn’t know there were many enthusiastic comments before the release, at a time when they embargoed full reviews? I guess they haven’t access to Twitter or Facebook. I wonder if there is running water and electricity in Disney’s offices… That’s crap, utter crap. “It’s nobody’s fault you know. Especially not mine. Nah, bad luck, really.”

  • Spaceman Spiff wrote:

    Does anyone consider the fact that Stanton is at 50% responsible for This? He was the director, he was responsible for what went into the film and from what I saw it was not a bad film but it was a VERY poor adaption of the source material. I personally would’ve enjoyed it far more if he had stuck closer to the original story.

    Ha! Spaceman, meet my good friends MCR, Henreid, and Tom Christiansen……You have some kindred spirits here.

    Here’s how I would approach the point you are making. For a film to succeed requires some combination of a film (director’s province, although studio has a responsibility to monitor it and intervene if necessary,but let’s say that’s the director) and marketing (studio’s province)……If everybody does their job, then director just has to hit a double, and fi marketing can just hit a double — the run scores and the film is a success. If one party screws up, the other party has to compensate or it fails. In this case, marketing screwed up so badly that Stanton was left needing to hit a home run and there was reason to believe he might do it — after all, that’s what he did with Nemo and Wall-E. But, alas, on this film he didn’t hit a home run. As someone else here said — a triple. Regardless of whether it was a double or a triple ….it wasn’t a home run, and failure ensued. But marketing just plain struck out.

  • First, to “Spaceman Spiff”…I respectfully disagree with your notion that Stanton is to blame for the lack of support that Iger/Ross failed to provide by way of studio backing. To translate a story to film is something that takes a deft hand. Certain story elements within the novels don’t always lend themselves to the medium of film. I had no issue with the “liberties” that Stanton took as a director. He created for me a vision of John Carter that was for me right on the mark! As I have posted here perviously, this film made me feel the “movie magic” that I have not felt for so many years, and I am one that watches a lot of films! So to my way of thinking he hit this out of the park!

    Now, in terms of of the news about Iger, as I posted a moment ago, the truth is now out as to who is responsible for the mishandling of the film. The evidence certainly pointed towards Ross, who had no real understanding of how best to present this epic film, let alone have any genuine passion for the project. Now we have this added “piece of the puzzle” as Paladin mentioned. It is now revealed by Iger’s own admission that he was responsible for the tepid and apathetic handling of the film. If I were Stanton, I would be seeing red right now. Here is Iger basically saying that his “intuition” informed him that the film would not be very successful, even though as it has been pointed out within the article that it “tested” well. I find it ironic that Iger wanted his “intuition” to be correct, yet in reality the film has done incredibly well within the foreign markets and has managed to bring about a ground swelling of supporters who desire to see Stanton’s vision fulfilled and realized. I count myself as one of those individuals.

    I can only imagine the reaction that Stanton and Lasseter have to this new divulgence of information. Perhaps they were well aware of the fact that it was in fact Iger who was ultimately responsible for crippling the chances of John Carter to be the blockbuster it was meant (deserves) to be. What makes me incensed about this is how smug Iger is throughout the interview.

    The question now is what is Stanton and Lasseter to do. If by some twist of fate, I was within their circle of advisors, I would tell Stanton to write the script for the sequel. Get it as crafted and complete, and to hold firm to his vision of the John Carter films. To Lasseter, I would tell him to play hard ball with Iger. I bet if Steve Jobs were alive and healthy he would be right in this fray telling Iger exactly what he thought. If I were Lasseter, I would tell Iger that Pixar is going to finance the sequel to John Carter and that it will be Pixars first “live action” film. Not only that, but that Pixar will hire out a marketing firm that will properly market the John Carter sequel. I bet all of my Apple stock that if Lasseter were to make it so Pixar was to handle the John Carter sequel, it would not only be a massive hit, but it would wipe that smug smirk off of Iger’s face.

  • I think if you’re at the “point of no return” on a movie like this, you had at least better embrace what it fundamentally is: a movie on freakin’ Mars. Yes, yes, they were scared because “Mars Needs Moms” flopped (and I maintain if the title alone kept viewers away, it was the “moms” in the title and not “Mars”).
    If he didn’t “get” the movie, then it was his job to try so that from a marketing standpoint the public would “get” it. Disney is a marketing machine, and they should have been able to do a better job without breaking a sweat on this.
    Yes, we know Mars is an arid, lifeless place. So you have teaser posters a year in advance that say something like, “You think you know Mars… John Carter” with a silhouette of a Thark or SOMETHING to catch our attention. And you don’t ignore Burrough’s legacy or those that borrowed liberally from him over the years, or those that were inspired by him.
    I don’t buy the “I didn’t get it” meme. “John Carter” may hark back to an older style of film making, but it wasn’t incomprehensible, and it could have been packaged to at least make a profit. Like a Martian flier its buoyancy tanks were shot out before it had a chance.

  • I wish I could use the headline: “Iger shoots himself in the foot with smoking gun”……but it would be too much. Still…..

  • So, there ya go….I will never understand how or why a CEO would not chase a quarter billion dollar investment down the darkest alley to pursue the best return achievable. Hell, the investment MANDATES it! Regardless of “instinct”, they wring the blood from every other stone – why not this one??? Something else went on here. Iger’s already checked out, and the board of directors should give him his watch and show him the door at once!!!

  • Paladin wrote:

    Finally we have the missing piece of the puzzle. This is the smoking gun that killed this film. It’s an instinct?!! It was pre-ordained to fail. This is why there was no couse correction with the marketing.

    EXACTLY. The word came down, it’s a turkey (even though it wasn’t), just let it run its course, go through the motions, it’ll be over soon. It’s really infuriating and remember — it TESTED WELL. Note how he says “research aside…it’s more an instinct”…..he’s saying that because he knows someone might say …”but the research said audiences liked it.”

  • Finally we have the missing piece of the puzzle. This is the smoking gun that killed this film.

    It’s an instinct?!! It was pre-ordained to fail. This is why there was no couse correction with the marketing.

  • Does anyone consider the fact that Stanton is at 50% responsible for This? He was the director, he was responsible for what went into the film and from what I saw it was not a bad film but it was a VERY poor adaption of the source material. I personally would’ve enjoyed it far more if he had stuck closer to the original story.

  • Mark wrote

    (2) With all due respect, since the definition of “unique” is one of a kind, nothing can be “very, very unique” or somewhat unique or not so unique. It is either one of a kind or it isn’t. (sorry to be the English teacher here)

    I have two answers, delivered with a 🙂
    1) Iger is, as you say, dumb. It was a hypothetical Iger quote. I rest my case.
    or,
    2) This falls into the category of “nuclear” pronounced “new-kew-lar”. Eventually, if enough people do something, it becomes accepted usage and you will see that, for example, “new-kew-lar” (and it drives me crazy) has evolved into acceptability. “Very unique” “truly unique”, etc is in such wide usage that it has, IMHO, passed into acceptability.

    3) Other arguments for “very unique”: http://sethoscope.net/spew/veryunique.html
    4) We’re on the internet, where each site receives stats from google for “unique visitors”, and “absolute unique visitors” ……ya better correct google on that one.

  • (1) You get what you expect. They expected a financial ‘flop’ & it became a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy because of the lack of merchandising, weak ad campaign, and so on.

    (2) With all due respect, since the definition of “unique” is one of a kind, nothing can be “very, very unique” or somewhat unique or not so unique. It is either one of a kind or it isn’t. (sorry to be the English teacher here)

    (3) Iger has his dumb opinion and it’s dumb and he’s entitled to it. Too bad a guy who can’t recognize the fact that John Carter was lovingly well-crafted, brilliantly acted, and chock full of fun, romance, and swashbuckling adventure had so much sway over what happened to this great film.

  • “…to at least give it the shot it deserved?” Like the exquisite ad campaign, tie-ins, and toys???!!!

    You are right, Dotar. Iger can’t leave Disney soon enough! Nuff said.

  • There’s an old saying that a friend of mine likes to say and may very well be appropriate here…”The fish stinks from the head.”

  • A very sad thing when the absolute top of the company can’t recognize a goldmine when it’s staring him in the face. All it would have taken is the right marketing and belief in this movie to propel it into a significantly profitable picture, with even MORE profitable sequels. They can still capture this with the more than $300M brought in globally from John Carter. Make II and III for half of what the first movie cost, and watch the numbers approach $1Billion for all three. But I’m not sure a guy like Iger would ever understand this.

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