In 1982 the release of E.T. captured the hearts of America. As ticket sales soared to record heights on this $10 million production others became eager to cash in on the success including Atari owning 80% of the video game market at the time.
The head of Warner Communications championed a deal with Spielberg to program a video game version of the film. The project was rushed through development in only a few short months in an effort to capitalize on the fast approaching 1982 holiday season.
The company manufactured a reported 5 million E.T. game cartridges for use with their 2600 console. Nearly all of the copies were returned by retailers citing malfunctions. The game was almost impossible to play.
The company quickly found themselves with a massive amount of merchandise that couldn’t be sold. A short time later 14 truckloads of the useless game were dispatched from the company storehouse in El Paso, Texas to the Alamogordo landfill in New Mexico and dumped before being covered with concrete.
The company suffered a loss of $310.5 million in the second quarter of 1983 and contributed to the video game crash of 1984 lasting two years.
Inspiration for Hollywood prop builders can come from everyday items. Changing the scale, color, or context of a household item can make the ordinary extraordinary.
Can you trace these two once common products to the movie that made their look famous?
One became an evil space fortress. The other made everyday garbage into fuel. The Panosonic radio (right) seems a likely inspiration for George Lucas’ Death Star.
The Krups “Coffina” 80s era coffee grinder became Mr. Fusion on the back of the Delorean in Back to the Future II & III.
Both products were produced in the very decade in which the featuring film was made. The Panosonic radio can be yours for as little as $10 on Ebay. However, owning your very own Mr. Fusion could easily set you back $140.
It seems cold fusion is not cheap even in our modern times.
The financial investment of several large companies would suggest that product placement does in fact work. Consider the decision made by Exxon to pay $300,000 to earn prominent placement in Days of Thunder, or Cuervo Tequila paying $150,000 to be featured in Tequila Sunrise. Even Pampers Spent $50,000 to be in Three Men and a Baby.
The results of product placement can be impressive. Reese’s Pieces enjoyed an 85% increase is sales after the release of E.T. where the candy was featured. Ray-Ban’s “Predator 2″ sunglasses, a major costume element in Men In Black, tripled in sales from $1.6 million to $5 million after the release.
Even the US Government has taken notice. The US Navy set up recruiting booths in major theaters in an attempt to capitalize on the thrill of Top Gun. They experienced one the highest application rates ever.
Colin Fitz Lives starring William H. Macy was one of the most praised independent film of 1997 winning five awards at major film festivals and receiving a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. It was believed to be a passport to success for the director Robert Bella.
Then the movie was never heard of again.
The film was completed with the impossibly small budget of $150,000, but that was just he beginning. After being accepted to The Sundance Film Festival Robert had just 8 weeks to finalize the picture by building the sound design, cutting the negative and generating the final 35 mm print all at the additional cost of $100,000 achieved by maxing out 20 credit cards.
After incredible praise at the festivals Robert got an agent, lawyers, and plenty of meetings. Hollywood wanted to buy the film but in order to deliver he would have to pay an additional $250,000 to reformat the film to the appropriate specifications necessary for a theatrical release. The distribution deals didn’t cover enough of his accrued debt and he couldn’t move forward. It would be years before digital technology could shrink these costs.
The picture faded from memories and Robert was forced to begin the burdensome climb out of debt. It would take him 8 years to pay off his obligations, then another 6 years to slowly purchase back the pieces of his film that had ended up in the hands of the vendors. He recalls having no place to go and sleeping in storage:
“For over a month, I would sneak into Manhattan
Mini-Storage at night and shut the door to my rented cubicle and think very dark thoughts. Lying beside the Colin Fitz film canisters, I seriously searched my soul.”
Years later the film finally was back in his hands after he bought the last pieces. He remixed the sound, finalized the cut and had his print.
Then finally one night fifteen years after what seemed like the promise of a wonderful career in film Robert was asked by a representative from Sundance Selects, “What ever happened with ‘Colin Fitz’?” He told her he had it in a closet at home, he offered to sell it to her, she offered to buy it.
“I couldn’t believe it.
After all those years – it was just that easy.”
Colin Fitz had its debut on IFC Films’ Sundance Selects and its LA premiere at the American Cinematheque in August of 2010.
…for best title cards.
The category was almost immediately retired as the influence of The Jazz Singer ushered in the element of sound and synchronized dialogue to feature films.
American playwright and film editor of the silent movie era Joseph Farnham was the only person to ever win an Oscar for Best Writing – Title Cards in the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.