The Nerds' Hollywood Takeover

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

The big comic book, science fiction and fantasy convention known as Comic-Con is to Hollywood what New Hampshire is to presidential politics: that is, it's simply the most important campaign stop of the year. Don't believe me? Just look at the directors who star trekked to San Diego this past weekend: James Cameron, Robert Zemeckis, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, John Lasseter, Robert Rodriguez, Timur Bekmambetov, Peter Jackson…and that's just a partial list from Thursday and Friday. It goes on through the weekend.

Now, before I launch into my diatribe about how comic book convention-going geeks have taken control of Hollywood, let me say in my defense that I hold a degree in computer science. I am one of you, so the nerd anti-defamation league can save its nasal-y sarcasm for someone else. Also, as a disclaimer, I must admit that I have never actually been to Comic-Con, since their press office has not only never granted me credentials, they've never even returned my e-mails.

Ok, back to my thesis.

Three elements have combined to make the annual hajj of the science fiction and fantasy faithful so important to the movie business. One is the sheer size of the event – 120,000 ticket holders, along with an amazing amount of press and exhibitors.

Second, the movies that are working most reliably these days seem to come from comic books or a comic book sensibility. Transformers, Up, Star Trek, Harry Potter, Monsters vs. Aliens and X-Men account for six of the top ten films so far this year.

Two more films that haven't come out yet – the second Twilight movie and James Cameron's long-awaited Avatar – will most definitely make it into the top ten…and there are plenty of other titles in this vein that could be surprise contenders as well. What I'm saying is that it's quite possible that all ten of the top ten movies this year could come from this genre.

The third reason Comic-Com has become so important to Hollywood is the Twitter effect – way before they're actually films, opinions about these projects are flying around the web at a ridiculous speed. For example, I googled "health care reform" and got 22,700,000 results. "Comic-Con and Avatar" got 26,000,000 results.

If handled correctly, this is a movie-marketer's dream. Think about it. When the movie based on Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones comes out later this year, grown ups will read reviews in the New York Times and listen to Joe Morgenstern on KCRW to decide whether we'll see it or not.

But comic book movies ride a wave of excitement pumped out of the adrenal glands of young men directly onto the Internet everywhere around the world.

Long before comic book movies even start advertising, the studios will have descended on the "core audience" at Comic-Con. And if they throw them enough fresh meat – photo ops with Megan Fox, trailer sneak-peeks before the general populace sees them, a chance to voice their opinions before the movie is done – in other words, if they make convention-goers feel important – which is not all that hard, then electronic word of mouth, on top of a standard marketing campaign, can almost assure boffo box office.

For the time being, this formula is working in an almost formula-free business. So you can bet that we will be seeing more and more movies where the hero can fly…to the exclusion of big-budget adult fare where people just sit around and talk. My advice? Put on your Star Trek uniform and just go with it. Live long and prosper.

I'd love to know what you think. You can comment on today's thoughts or subscribe to the podcast at For KCRW, I'm Matt Holzman.



Matt Holzman