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Barbie vs Sound of Freedom: What Should We Learn From These Successes?

Los Angeles, CC0, Creative Commons

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Hollywood won’t necessarily learn the best lessons from success, nor apply their profits to help contribute to continued success, but what SHOULD they learn? And who should we continue to support based upon what we know?

After seeing the impact of Barbie ($350m) & Sound of Freedom, which is expected to reach $150m today or tomorrow, I wanted to revisit what their respective markets have planned in response. After all, Barbie’s success could have a variety of impacts on Hollywood, and likewise with Sound of Freedom, for good or for ill.

As film markets go, the differences of the market can explain the respective differences in box office, which is why $150m can be just as impactful as Barbie’s $350m. Meaning, there is a demographic potential in each market, and both Barbie, and Sound of Freedom did very well for their respective demographics, which is why both of these films are being discussed lately by industry people. These films have exceeded expectations, within that demographic.

Profits are what solidifies this difference, but also reach. I won’t be able to speak on reach yet, as it’s a bit early, but if you know a bit about Hollywood accounting, you know that they aren’t renown for their transparency. What we can do is estimate based upon past success or failure, and reverse engineer when a studio is into the black from that. For example, it was reported that WB spent about $145m on production and about $150m on marketing for Barbie. That $300m total is only a reported amount, but you can see then, from this, that they have only recently broken even, while Sound of Freedom broke even on day 1 (from Angel’s reporting), making their strategy far less risky.

What does that really mean? Angel may end up making less in total compared to Barbie (let’s estimate they make $200m during their theatrical window in comparison to $800m for WB), but they also have a less risky gamble. And when you consider their next moves in the market, with this money they can make 10 films of the same kind in the next ten years, while WB could only make two (2) films in next five (5) years, one of which could fail. This would end with a severe shortage in funds for WB if one of those two films fails, while Angel gets a decade of small, but continuous wins with this strategy.

The blockbuster strategy by major studios is, and has always been, risky, with big wins and big losses on the table. The marketplace has known this for some time (read Blockbusters by Anita Elberse), but by the studios buying into built-in audiences and winning marketing techniques they hedge their bets in massive ways. The fear has been that soon, these hedges won’t matter, because the idea that built-in audiences will always come doesn’t always take audience fatigue into account. Not to mention that some marketing ploys may track engagement, but even that doesn’t always translate into seats in theaters.

Essentially, Hollywood has become a hyper-sensitive marketing machine, in order to use technology to continue their protection of IP and their engagement with their market relationships. This makes it so that these hedges allow their big bets like Barbie, to pay off, and they’ve done an exceptional job at it. So much so, that even after people watch an obvious politically feminist propaganda piece that was good at pretending to be nuanced, people come out of theaters saying, “I had fun.” That is highly effective engagement with your demographic. In contrast, the message of Sound of Freedom has come across more transparently as a cultural moving force, which is a motivating reminder to get people to learn and be part of stopping the world’s destructive trafficking and human slavery problem. A very different mood and tone results. A very real call-to-action is presented, bringing audiences to a very different emotional reaction when they exit the theater.

Obviously for those who just want to have fun within the WB market demographic, they will find a reason to not see a film with such a serious message or call-to-action as Sound of Freedom. But how does this love for fun translate to “hating” a serious film like SoF though? Oh, what a difference marketing makes. It’s the powerful marketing messaging that can not only get someone to be attracted to a film through the poster or trailer but to also believe the messages to NOT SEE a competing film in “their marketplace”, because it is evil or some other toxic reasoning. This is a very powerful marketing machine, which has people by the socially-engineered shorthairs. It’s not about enlightening people to see the truth about a social issue, for this machine. It’s about signaling to people that if you give a messaging we don’t like in your own film, we will bury you financially. All the more effective to making your own film’s profitable at the same time. It’s the equivalent of dumping on others because you believe it will make yourself look better, as a result. And many will fall for it. This kind of “us vs them” thinking is very effective in marketing, as long as you know what you’re doing.

But, to put the immediate tactics aside, what are the strategies that will help these studios in the future, because each distributor is different. So you’re going to see a variance in how they respond. Hollywood is a huge marketplace, with sub-markets within it. Angel is working within that market to some degree, but only recently can we see the overlap, since Angel has gone into theatrical.

We can start with The Chosen theatrical events films, which went up to $14m but more recently we go to His Only Son, releasing earlier this year & only overlapped into the faith-based Hollywood boutique marketplace (such as Sony Affirm) to a minor degree, although it did do mildly better than expected, considering it has no built-in audience (from their streaming fans) like The Chosen does, which are probably the most recent faith-based films like His Only Son. This signifies to me that Angel Studios, and not just The Chosen, are becoming their own brand.

But now, it’s Angel’s intersection into the more mainstream heist-action (which is more of a thriller/suspense, in effect) film genre with Sound of Freedom that has really shown promise. Luckily the suspense & action genres has remained a fairly healthy genre (for conservatives), as can be seen by the Top Gun Maverick success from last year. Though there hasn’t been as much volume, it takes a large portion of market share, so this may have represented less risk than Angel may have expected.

As it comes to Hollywood’s reaction, we are seeing some rumblings in the market. But, I have to say, I always hope these people do better, but they ALWAYS seem to come to the absolute opposite conclusions they ought to. In fact, sometimes it get’s so ridiculous that you just have to make fun of it. That’s right, they are planning (you guessed it) more game & toy franchises, likely in tandem with more feminist messaging. If you want more of that, well here it comes.

RedLetterMedia mocks this with excellence.

They don’t realize it, but as trends go, they are making it probable that there will be a backlash to this glossy, candy-coated nonsense. Just look at how the French New Wave formed, or study how disco music died, and you’ll see my point.

I have NEVER been a fan of these kinds of knee-jerk market reactions from Hollywood power-players, the copy-cats with no personal convictions. They represent the opposite of an authentic film investing based upon good storytelling or creating good art. Instead, these impulsive investors attach themselves to political messaging that isn’t a significant part of marketing, which means you can never blame the messaging for a failure or a success in market. But the ideologues always do, anyway. If they fail, it was something else to blame (like maybe a dead brand), but if they succeed, it was because the marketplace agrees with your feminism, which couldn’t have been a factor in people buying the ticket, since no feminism was in the trailer. Hollywood engages in this inauthenticity constantly, because they are power hungry ideologues, more than businessmen, now.

Let’s compare this to what I’ve seen from the outsider distributors. I’ve only seen two things on the part of boutique marketplace distributors like Angel. One is that some small operations like Epoch Cinema, or Vision Video will be releasing previously existing product about human trafficking. These are people who get into social issues, even though the mainstream market may ignore them. Hopefully they will get more eyeballs on them now, as result. Here’s a documentary film on human trafficking, for example, that Vision Video just released.

Maybe it’s pretty small time in comparison to what Hasbro could do, but this has a true message. Sure, we will have to accept that Angel or or DW will not be able to pivot as quick as the big 5 studios like WB. In fact, this video above may have been released today, but they have other work on human trafficking, as well. A series called “Human Trafficking” from 2 years ago, and other videos as well. Frankly, I don’t think it was a pivot at all. In fact, none of these 3 larger “Hollywood alternative” studios (much less Vision Video) have updates that I’ve seen on new projects they are developing about this issue, due to this Sound of Freedom success, even though we do hear massive rumors that DNA Films will be releasing a documentary in association with Mel Gibson (though, Gibson’s involvement were greatly exaggerated here). But this is not a pivot either, and was already planned by Nick Nanton from DNA.

So what do I prefer, besides pivoting based upon past success? Is there anything to learn from SoF success? Yes there is, but mostly what I believe in is success based upon good storytelling and craftsmanship, not pivoting at all. Part of that is caring about current issues. Part of that is caring about the public. But most of it is just promoting and assisting a community of exceptional storytellers, so they can continue to grow. There is no knee-jerk reactions to “make” you care more as an artist. You simply care about what you see, you care about what you do, you do your craft with excellence. And then, you hope your community will care about your contribution to them as an artist. These are the real issues in Hollywood, which is evidenced in WHY the Hollywood unions like SAG must do things like go on strike. Because “the community” in Hollywood isn’t always caring for their craftsmen, and it shows. Supporting Hollywood supports this same lack of community, and lack of love for the real craft.

The community that “our” artists may have is virtually non-existent, but if it did come about in a more substantial way, it would have to begin locally, in our churches and communities, and it would be in places like Angel, Loor, DW, or other media-makers that share our values. So, there is something we can do if we don’t want to participate in Hasbro’s or Mattel’s next money grab.

But what does it mean to support people like Angel instead of supporting Hollywood? It means consider “paying it forward”, consider joining their Guild, and (on the easier side) staying in touch with their livestreams on YouTube and attending their theatrical releases. I mean, obviously if you don’t like their shows or movies, why would you do that? I agree. So start out by watching what they put out. They have quite a bit of content currently, in comparison to other competitors like DW or, so what they are doing seems to be working. And they have much more planned for the future. There is so much to have hope in and support.

For example, The Shift, a dystopian sci-fi film is slated to be released in 2024, has done well in it’s funding. But many more must come. You can watch what they call “Torches” which are often like short films or what a filmmaker would call a “proof of concept”. This is different than a trailer, but it does try to sell you on a larger concept, the answer to which is the completed feature film or series.

Watch them here.

There are torches like Truth & Consequences, which is a film about the propaganda battle that young Germans made against the third reich, and the price they paid for it. And there is David, a charming animated film about King David as a young boy. That one looks really great, especially for families. I have personally contributed to the funding of David, myself, but there are many more opportunities coming as films that have passed the Guild vote get into their rounds of funding.

Go here to see more on funding David.

There are also many more planned, such as the ones introduced during Angel’s last Illuminate event, earlier this year. You can see more about that event, here.

These torches passed the Guild and so will be funding soon.

Tempest (winner of Torch Award),
Gabriel & The Guardians,
Live Not By Lies,
After Death,
The Telegram,
Quitters, &
The Axiom Chronicles

My conclusion comes with this advice. Support true artists and craftsmen, not knee-jerk marketing decisions by an insular group of ideologues. And support Media Moses. The conversations we have here (and seek to continue here, such as podcasts and interviews) are like “marketing efforts.” These efforts make this article possible, and can hopefully make it possible for more hits for Angel, Loor and DW to happen in spades. This will take time, commitment, craft, and love for community. That’s what we’re here for.

Did you enjoy this article? Did you gain some insight into the complicated world of film industry marketing? Me too. Let us know your opinion on our social medias, or comment down below (with subscription).