The Future Is Now: Studios Turning To Movie-Goers To Develop Their Films

Hollywood has always taken note of movie-goer's tastes and preferences. Perhaps it doesn't always seem that way, but from test screenings to reboots, Hollywood looks at what we want and what we watch and tries to adapt accordingly.

Need examples? How about the fact that the ending to Patriot Games was reshot, after test audiences complained that their idol, Harrison Ford, would never kill Sean Bean's character in cold blood? Or, consider the current plethora of superhero films, many of them being rushed to screens as soon as possible after Marvel realised there was a burgeoning market for this sort of thing. Staying with the superhero theme; remember the casting of the new Spider-Man? Lots of rumours and 'confirmed' details being released all over the place regarding who would get the part? Conspiracy theorists will tell you that those were planned releases from within the walls of the studios. Tidbits of information designed to gauge how audiences would respond to this or that actor in the role, using online media as their delivery method of choice. This is all nicely summed up by last week's shenanigans, where reports claimed that the Wonder Woman costume for the new TV series was altered after negative reactions online.

Now though, SyFy and entertainment site IGN are taking the philosophy of audience feedback one stage further.

Dubbed 'B-Movie Mogul', a small section of the site has been given over to various voting processes, designed to shape the future of SyFy's next release.

Currently, the two active votes concern whether viewers want to see the lead character save himself using a glow in the dark yo-yo, a turkey baster or a bowling ball and whether audiences would prefer the 'token character of wisdom' to be a preacher with a crossbow, a museum owner or a vagrant. They're minor details but nevertheless audiences are having a direct impact on exactly what will happen to a film production. And that's not all.

SyFy's latest home-grown film, Ferocious Planet.

Earlier on in the process, IGN readers were asked to decide the very framework in which the script would sit, choosing between Roswell, 2012 or The Bermuda Triangle as potential themes. The vote came down on the side of Roswell and voters now seem well on their way to fleshing out the finer details of what will no doubt be marketed as 'their' film.

All well and good but the elephant in the room for this particular topic is the fact that, in the end, we're talking about a direct-to-TV SyFy release, probably of middling-to-dubious quality.

Nevertheless, this level of audience interaction with more visible - even major - releases in the future is exhilarating to consider. It's fairly well accepted that the Spider-Man casting came down to three names; Lerman, Josh Hutcherson and eventual winner Andrew Garfield. What if those three, having been screen-tested and flagged as preferential by Marvel's big-wigs, had then been put to an audience vote, perhaps limited to Marvel comics subscribers or some other relevant sample? What about Nolan's choice of Batman villain being put to the test? Or, to change genre, allowing the voting public to choose the small-town shooting location of Fox Searchlight's next indie drama?

The possibilities are numerous but the monetary returns of SyFy and IGN's collaboration will need to be closely monitored for other projects to take a similar approach. Part of the motivation for the project is obviously to encourage IGN readers to watch the finished product - their product - when it airs, in all likelihood, on the SyFy TV channel. Pandering to the 'geek' market has in the past promised lucrative revenues but the high profile 'failures' of Scott Pilgrim and Sucker Punch to light up the box office will surely see execs reluctant to trust the film-fan crowd; exactly the market at which projects like this seem most likely to be aimed at.

Then again, maybe not. If Justin Bieber's Never Say Never had allowed fans to decide the order of the set list or the star-studded guest line-up then a viral sensation could have been born and that might be all it takes to make the big studios sit up and take notice of giving movie-goers an even more direct influence on the development of their productions.

Tapping in to audience participation for a release like Never Say Never could pay huge dividends for studios involved.


  1. I don't know how I feel about this. In a way it helps people have a choice but at the same time it forfiets any responsibility on the makers and just allows the audience to dictate everything. Does it make sense for any respectable person to make a bad TV show or movie just because the audience didn't want thwe good outcome. In a sense it's just a gimmick for a cash grab as, if you voted for how it would go, you have some sense of responsibility to watch it.

    I don't know.

  2. Interesting points there Mike, perhaps I've given it an overly positive write-up! Your point on responsibility is a good one; do audiences have to take some of the responsibility if they are influential in producing a bad film? Perhaps. Do the studio have to take responsibility if they make a bad film because they only follow audience feedback? Definitely.

    I think there's probably a middle ground somewhere - somewhere between gimmick (which it absolutely is) and genuine attempt to make films better.