Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh recently spoke at the San Francisco Film Festival, giving his take about what’s wrong with the movie industry today. (Yes, of course it’s a long article. Think about how much is wrong with today’s movies!)
Along the way, he made a very valuable point about after-action reviews (or project debriefs, as I prefer to call them), using the attendance figures for his own recent film Side Effects as the example. Here’s the key passage:
How do we figure out what went wrong? The answer is: We don’t. Everybody’s already moved on to the next movie they have to release.
How many projects don’t get debriefed because “everybody’s already moved on to the next” project?
Yet without debriefs, Soderbergh’s question remains hanging: How do we figure out what went wrong? Equally importantly, how do we figure out what went right?
People make assumptions. Sometimes these people are smart about project management (or movies). Sometimes they’re not. And even smart people can draw the wrong conclusions.
A project debrief takes only a small amount of time even on a large project. I figure it works out like this:
- Project manager: 90 minutes (prep, meeting, summarizing)
- Attendees: 30 minutes (20 minutes for the meeting, another few minutes reading the summary)
More time would be valuable, but even 30 minutes/person can make an enormous difference in the success of future projects – and the happiness of the team.
Oh — and if you ever go to movies and wonder why there aren’t more good ones, or think about the movie business at all, listen to the talk or read the transcript. (Note that it has three or four “blue” words in it.)
Here’s the full passage from which I quoted (“[laughter]” in original):
But let’s go back to Side Effects for a second. This is a movie that didn’t perform as well as any of us wanted it to. So, why? What happened? It can’t be the campaign because all the materials that we had, the trailers, the posters, the TV spots, all that stuff tested well above average. February 8th, maybe it was the date—was that a bad day? As it turns out that was the Friday after the Oscar nominations are announced, and this year there was an atypically large bump to all the films that got nominated, so that was a factor. Then there was a storm in the Northeast, which is sort of our core audience, Nemo came in, so God, obviously, is getting me back for my comments about monotheism [laughter]. Was it the concept? There was a very active decision early on to sell the movie as kind of a pure thriller and kind of disconnect it from this larger social issue of everyone taking pills. Did that make the movie seem more commercial, or did it make it seem more generic? What about the cast? Four attractive white people …this is usually not an obstacle. [laughter] The exit polls were very good, and reviews were good. How do we figure out what went wrong? The answer is: We don’t. Everybody’s already moved on to the next movie they have to release.