blaxploitation (noun) – the exploitation of black people (especially with regard to stereotyped roles in movies)
birdersploitation (noun) – the exploitation of birders (especially with regard to promotion of movies)*
The entire birding world has been abuzz with talk about the upcoming movie The Big Year which will apparently, to judge from the breathless pre-release buzz, bring birding to the mainstream and make birding the best thing since sliced bread. Audubon Magazine had pages of coverage, the bird blogosphere – including 10,000 Birds – has posted YouTube clips of previews and run interviews with everyone from the birders who the characters in the movie are based on to the director of the film. It is a perfect media storm in the birding world. There is only one thing wrong. There has not been a dime of money spent by Fox, the studio releasing The Big Year, on promoting the movie in the birding world. That’s right. No ads in birding magazines or birding blogs. No presence at birding festivals. No donations for conservation or birding education. Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. (Please do correct me if I am wrong but I can’t find a single example.)
What’s worse than Fox’s stinginess with the birding world? The fact that birders have done the work for free by promoting the movie in our magazines and online at every opportunity. Even here at 10,000 Birds we were eager to ship out some water bottles and bumper stickers with our logo to the makers of the movie, at our expense, in the hope that they would show up in the film. Even worse than that is the absurd fact that the National Audubon Society, a non-profit organization, is not only not getting paid for advertising in their magazine while pimping The Big Year for free but, according to Variety, is actually funding a marketing campaign for The Big Year due to kick off tomorrow. Yes, you read that right. And it’s not chump-change that Audubon is putting into it, either:
In fact, Audubon has sunk six figures into the Fox marketing effort — which includes media kits, private screenings in 20 cities and a massive social media effort that launches Oct. 10 — in a push to attract the 48 million birders in America, as estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This movie helps show the new face of birding,” says Yarnold of the pic that revolves around three men who compete to spot the greatest number of birds in the span of a year. “Any (bird enthusiast) could go to this movie and think that they’re watching themselves. How cool is that?”
For its part, Fox said through a spokesperson that it finds Audubon’s efforts “very gratifying,” though the studio declined to elaborate on a campaign still in progress. [emphasis mine]
Of course Fox finds Audubon’s efforts very gratifying! How could they not? Audubon is doing the studio’s work for it and getting what in return? Mention of Audubon in the film? Seriously? And then what? Moviegoers will rush home and send in membership dues to Audubon that will recoup the six-figures that Audubon spent? Well, according to the press release Audubon put out, which does not mention that Audubon is spending six figures to promote the movie, yes!
The film release will heighten interest in Audubon and its activities, providing a great opportunity for people to find out more about this popular organization, which serves to connect people with birds and nature. Audubon members come from every walk of life and demographic, and with nearly 500 Audubon chapters nationwide, it is easy to get into birding.
And what, exactly, does Audubon get in return for its six figure investment? In a PDF found on their website called “General Information and Press Packet” it looks like this is the sum total of what they get:
Audubon has a presence in the film:
- In the beginning of the film, actor John Cleese explains how the concept of a Big Year got started. He says people used to compete to see how many birds they could shoot over the holidays, but Frank Chapman and the Audubon Society decided to count birds instead of shoot them. Chapman made is appeal in Bird Lore magazine, which evolved into Audubon magazine..
- In at least two instances, Owen Wilson (who portrays the defending champion birder) is pictured on the cover of Audubon Magazine.
- Audubon logos and signs appear at several points in the movie.
- In general, birding is treated with remarkable respect throughout the movie. There are many scenes where the wonder of birds and the joy of seeing them are featured.
- The trailer for the movie highlights the “buddy comedy” aspects of the film, which isn’t really a bad thing. We understand that the studio has to sell tickets, and that a buddy comedy has a better chance of getting people in the theater than a birding movie. Moreover, this focus on the personal relationships isn’t a bad thing at all. We all know that one of the great joys of birding is the human relationships that form around it.
That sure doesn’t seem like six figures worth to me, especially considering that it seems likely that most of that would have happened anyway by Audubon giving permission to the filmmakers to use their logo.
The subtitle of the Variety article is “Studio partners up with National Audubon Society.” You know what you call a partnership that has one side getting everything and the other side getting nothing or virtually nothing? Exploitation. And the entire birding world, doing the bidding of an already rich movie studio while getting nothing in return and no control over how we are portrayed in the film, is being exploited as well.
And don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to blame the victim here. I am sure that the National Audubon Society and David Yarnold are doing what they see as the right thing to bring the joys of birds and birding to the wider world. Every effort counts and the more birders that there are in the world and the more people that are interested in conservation the better things will be for the birds. I hope that their efforts to recruit birders through The Big Year succeeds! I just don’t think that folks are stepping back and looking at the big picture here, the picture that has a major motion picture studio playing us all for fools while laughing all the way to the bank. The characters in the movie are supposed to be genuine characters, not the bumbling, silly, geeky, stereotypes that birders have had to live with for years. So why are real birders stumbling and bumbling and letting movie makers take advantage of us? We care about birds and they care about cash. They are using our naivete and hope for more birders to fulfill their goal of making more cash.
Will I see The Big Year? I will. I am a birder and I want to see how I am being portrayed in a major motion picture if only so I will understand the jokes that people will be cracking about birders for the next couple of decades. But I will certainly not promote it again nor encourage others to see it until I see Fox start putting money into the birding world. And Audubon had better do some damn good things over the next several years before I have to renew my membership – I don’t want to see my membership money going to promoting a movie that already has an advertising budget.
*I am not, by the way, saying in any way that birders are even close to being as exploited by the film industry as African-Americans were (and are). But the play on words is just too tempting.
Interesting. Maybe instead, they should’ve given us bird bloggers a few of those six figures for promoting birding.
I like the way you think, Jeremy!
I don’t find this strange at all.
The distribution company should spend their advertising dollars in the manner that will maximise the number of people coming to view the film. They are clearly aiming for a mainstream audience and spending their money in line with that. It is probably a safe bet from their point of view to assume that birding folk will already have heard about it, and if not, they’ll probably see the same mainstream adverts as everybody else.
As for Audubon, they should provide the kind of content and events that their membership base will most appreciate, and it seems to me that they are also doing a good job at that in this case.
I don’t think anybody is being taken advantage of here. I just don’t buy into this idea that the film makers have an obligation to invest in the birding community just because they’ve made a film about birding.
If the distribution company doesn’t want to advertise to birders then why would they partner with Audubon? They clearly want to advertise to birders but they don’t want to have to pay for it.
COREY WOW…PLEASE NEVER STOP WRITING…I HAVE BEEN SAYING WHAT YOU JUST WROTE SINCE THAT STUPID FILM SURFACED. i DID NOT, HOWEVER,KNOW OF AUDUBON’S $$$ROLE. FOR SOME REASON,AUDUBON HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY LEAST FAVORITES..SOMETHING THAT I JUST COULD NOT PUT MY FINGER ON. NOTHING ABOUT THEIR PAST BUTCHERY OF BIRDS,THOUGH THAT DOESN’T HELP HERE, BUT SOMETHING….TO ME THIS IS EXPLOITATIVE ,,,AND EVERY NON BIRDER AND “THOSE OTHER” BIRDERS , WILL BE LAUGHING AT WHAT WE DO FOR A LIFE TIME…I HAVE SEEN 2 TRAILERS, AND BOTH ARE SO STUPID, JUST LIKE FART JOKES ARE TO ME IN MOVIES. THIS MOVIE DOES NOT SHOW THE “NEW FACES” IN BIRDING…TO DO THAT ,IT WOULD NEED TO BE A DOCU. DID THE SAY ANYTHING OF 10,000 BIRDS..CORNELL LAB….OPERATION MIGRATION…..HELL KNOW…”THEY NEED MONEY AND DON’T MAKE MONEY……..” I AM GETTING MORE RIPPED AS I WRITE….IF INDEED IT BRINGS MORE BIRDERS GREAT…BUT NOT THE “BIRDERS” THAT BRING 7 SCREAMING KIDS AND 3 DOGS OFF LEASES..PLEASE GOD NO! BUT I HAVE A FEELING WE WILL BUMP INTO MANY BEFORE THEY ARE WEEDED OUT AND FIND SOMETHING ELSE TO DO WITH DOGS AND SCREAMING KIDS…LIKE MUSHROOM PICKERS: THERE ARE THOSE THAT TAKE WHAT THEY WANT TO EAT, AND THOSE THAT WIPE OUT ALL, LEAVING THE SPOT TRASHED AND DEPLETED WITH NO REMAINING SPORES TO CONTINUE ONWARDS..SEE MY POINT? TRAMPLING OF AREAS , LOOKING INTO NESTS, OMG,I BETTER STOP…BUT I DID LOVE THIS ARTICLE..WELL THOUGHT OUT AND IT HIT HOME WITH THIS POLITICAL BIRDER…………….
ON SECOND THOUGHT..I THINK I WOULD RATHER BE PORTRAYED AS A GEEKY “JANE HATHAWAY” TYPE BIRDER…YES SIR…BIG UGLY SHOES AND ALL…
One of “The Big Year” publicist contacted me and made an invitation to all Utah birders to attend an advanced screening on Monday, Oct 10th FOR FREE!!! Early and free, cool huh! I have heard thru the grapevine that similar advanced screenings are happening in other states…and hopefully the birding community is being invited too.
Interesting about the Audubon campaign. Sounds like they’re taking advantage of a great opportunity to spend some money to make some money. I’m with Jeremy though…an investment in bird bloggers making great publicity for the passion of birding would be a great way to go!
Robert, I’m glad you get to see the movie for free but I would be even happier for you if The Big Year would take out an ad on Birding is Fun!
From what I do know about the movie world, this sounds bad. Very bad. The fact that Fox has put little into promoting the movie (in the birding world; and they really haven’t done much in the non-birding world with it, either) sure makes it sound like Fox is expecting it to flunk right from the beginning. Most distro companies won’t spend much money on promoting a film unless they’re pretty sure it will be a box office hit.
This just makes it even worse that Audubon put a lot of money into it when it seems that Fox knows it’s not going to do well.
I don’t understand the assumption in this post – and in a lot of bird blogosphere talk about this movie – that the makers of The Big Year owe something to birders or the birding community. Though this movie is proving to be a very personal experience for a lot of us in that we’re kind of being “exposed” to the world, none of us has any ownership over birding that is required any type of compensation – even if it’s just for goodwill purposes.
I think the producers’ strategy of not needed to promote the movie within birding is justified by the existence of this very post (and the one on my website, and on tons of others, and the posts on many listservs and all the other media you talk about). As for Audubon’s payment, it strikes me as a very sound investment: knowing what we all know about how powerful The Big Year story is, I think it’s smart for Audubon to try to position themselves as the “go to” organization for all the new birders inspired by the movie. I’d be very interested to see what kind of membership bump Audubon gets – and what kind of readership bump this blog gets (I’ll be looking for waterbottles! – after the movie.
This is an interesting take on the subject Corey.
Two issues come to mind. One is the time worn mantra practically spat out at me over the years….
As a 20 veteran of the TV wars, Fox’s non-promotion does not surprise me. Audubon is another story. When Peter Berle long ago abandoned birds and embraced the fact that Audubon was going to become a Conservation organization and birds would not be the driving factor any longer, that fact caused me to abandon my membership.
More recently, Audubon built a brand new huge building in Manhattan and sold the old one. Now they are intent on building new state based organizations which just happen to duplicate the birder based organizations that sprang up on their own to serve birders. Certainly, There is a real benefit to the Nature centers they are also building. But they have really pissed off some birders and caused real rifts with (and within) state organizations.
I may contribute another idea tomorrow to this venue.
Because the actors who star in this film are comedic ones, I can only hope that the movie doesn’t make birders look geeky/stupid/weird. I’d be cautious about going to see the movie until I learned how birding and birders were portrayed. A movie that perpetuates the birder stereotype isn’t going to do anything positive for birding.
@Lindsey: I have some of the same concerns.
@Nick: So do we think that all 48 million birders (US Fish and Wildlife number) in the country are going to see the movie? In 2010 the average ticket price for a movie was $7.89. Should we expect the movie to gross at least $378,000,000 then? Or should we use Audubon’s estimates from the Variety article where they claim they can reach 4-5 million people which would be a gross between $31.5 and $39.4 million? And this assuming that no non-birders go to see the movie. Personally, I think that it makes sense from an economic perspective to spend some cash marketing to birders unless the studio thinks that every single birder is already going to show up, which I doubt.
Also, in my opinion, when a movie studio is taking on a culture in a movie it is only right to give something back to that culture. I don’t think that this is a radical idea but simply the right thing to do.
@Timothy Barksdale: I know that there is some pretty serious disconnect between Audubons and birders but I didn’t really understand the basis of it. Any more comments that you want to add would be appreciated.
@carolyn h: Hopefully they make birders funny in the good, laughing-with-us kind of way!
I think it’s the same reason that presidential candidates don’t spend as much money campaigning in their home states. Of course not everyone in the state will vote for them, but I see the logic in committing resources to those who need more convincing. I understand your disagreement with the strategy, but I don’t believe that it’s an illogical one.
I think I agree with the Audubon assessment that the “giving back” this movie will give will be in the form of new birders created after being inspired by the film. Just as all the kids (like me) who started taking karate classes after Karate Kid, the after affects of the film are likely to be much greater than any token gestures the film industry would undertake beforehand.
Hollywood cares nothing for giving back or doing the right thing. To even suggest they should is futile. It won’t happen. And as for the marketing, if I were in charge of it, and I know a few things about marketing, I’d never spend money on something that was going happen anyway, I’d spend it in places that I needed to. Or better yet, not at all.
I’m not saying any of that is right, it’s just how I’d do it if I were in charge of too. Not as a birder, but as a marketer. I’m sure Audobon will get something out of it. Will they get all 6 figures back? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t really know how much a membership costs and how many they need to sell to get it back. But as with all marketing strategies, it’s only as strong as the person developing it. I hope for their sake they used a good brain to do the planning.
As for the film, it looks like complete shit. I hope I’m wrong but like everything else these days, the people that are interested by it (birding) will get involved and the ones that aren’t will forget it even happened a month from now. All I can hope for is that it’ll draw enough attention to birding that people will seek out better films about it like Ghost Bird** about Ivory-billed WPs, Opposable Chums* about big day listing and maybe mine*** (if it turns out) about how not all birders are the geeks we are probably about to see in ‘The Big Year’.
I should mention that the book, The Big Year, was really amazing and nothing negative I say here about the film reflects how I feel about Mark or his amazing book.
That’s how movie advertising works. They get money for product placement in the film and then they hope the companies will help advertise the film.
It’s kind of like blogging. We don’t pay for advertising but we hope that other people will like our content enough to spread it around and maybe even send us on a few free trips to cover their area.
FOX knows this isn’t a superhero blockbuster so why bother investing in advertising like you would for Thor, X-men, Star Wars, etc.
Excellent point of view Corey. While I can’t argue with it, I would also say that the exploitation is mutual. And maybe, therefore, not exploitative as much as symbiotic. We all get something.
For our part, our 200+ member @LakeCookAudubon group in NE Illinois (Chicago-ish), is using the movie as a social event with a movie night followed by nearby dinner. The movie is a catalyst for creating community. Moreover, because it is not a (another) field trip or program, it is attracting our birding community’s non-birding friends and significant others. What a great way to engage others. Scheduled for Sunday night 10/16 our RSVPs are at 45 people and may hit 70.
I can’t think of any downside to this. Do I feel bad that we’ll also drop ~$700+ at the theater and an equivalent amount at the restaurant? Does Fox owe us something because we’re promoting their movie? No. Rather we’re happy for the kernel around which to build a nice alternative fun event. I’m cool with it. Bring on the birdersploitation. I’m all about Foxploitation.
I think birders are way too worried about this movie: it’s going to be funny (at least the Steve Martin parts; the other two actors seem to be pretty bad), and that’s that.
Birding doesn’t h a v e a public reputation to burnish, and no one is going to go out and buy a field guide just because they see this movie.
Remember the movie about Cords (or Auburns or Duesenbergs or something)? Precisely the same situation: the car clubs marketed it for free, their members went to see it, and then it was gone like the wind.
*Corey, that was one of the most important asterisks you’ve ever written. Yikes!
While I agree that it’s “only right” for Fox to sink some money into a culture they’re deriving so much free publicity from, it really is that: ONLY right, not mandatory. However, they surely could have made a lot more friends in the bird community if they had.
And it looks like they’re going to need all the friends they can get. As Lindsey points out, Fox has sunk precious little into promoting the film. No one outside of birding folks seem to be aware at all of the film’s existence. Given the money they spent on getting the high-watt cast, this likely means that the film has tested poorly with test audiences, and the studio is loathe to throw good money after bad.
If this is the case, the film will quickly sink from sight, having litle or no effect on the greater public’s perception of birding. And, thus, Audubon will have wasted their/our money for naught, money that people CONTRIBUTED to them for the purpose of conservation and preservation, NOT for promoting a Steve Maratin movie.
@Corey- What Tim Barksdale is describing, in essence, is the “Take Back Audubon” movement which was essentially a revolt by several Audubon chapters around the nation at the changing priorities of the national organization and its relationships with local chapters.
It was unsuccessful at changing the direction of big Audubon, but there’s more than a few of us in chapters across the country whose sympathies still lie there.
From Audubon President David Yarnold —
Like 10,000 Birds, Audubon has also been disappointed that Fox hasn’t played up the birding aspects of The Big Year in its marketing. For a movie that is wall-to-wall about birding, it’s actually amazing that they found two minutes of clips from the movie that weren’t about birding to fill the trailer. But while this is disappointing, this is also understandable. Fox probably think it can attract a wider audience by selling The Big Year as a buddy comedy. We would like to believe otherwise, but it is their investment.
While Fox may indeed by trying to exploit organizations like ours, it should be clear that Audubon is doing its best to exploit their movie. While it’s entirely possible that our promotion will help Fox sell tickets, our goal is really to make sure that birding’s rare moment in the Hollywood spotlight results in more people connecting to birds and Audubon’s conservation mission. That’s probably the same reason that 10,000 Birds lent the production those water bottles and bumper stickers.
A few vague facts from the Variety article got seriously jumbled by the time they made it into this post. Audubon has invested most of the six figures cited into an innovative social media campaign that has very little to do with the movie beyond its timing. What we’ve actually spent to talk about the movie is far, far less. Those screenings you mentioned were actually paid for by Fox, which invited local Audubon chapter leaders for free.
Lastly, you should edit your post to remove any comparison between lame stereotypes of birders with the struggles of African-Americans in this country. It’s offensive and beneath the otherwise noble service of this website.
@Garrison Frost (or should I call you David Yarnold?): I’ll leave the rest of your comment aside (and other folks’ comments as well) and just address the final portion of your comment.
The comparison I made is not “lame stereotypes of birders with the struggles of African-Americans in this country” but between the exploitation of birders by the film industry and the exploitation of African-Americans by the film industry. As Rick pointed out I even have a footnote to make sure that it is clear that I wasn’t even saying that birders are anywhere near as exploited by Hollywood as African-Americans were and are. There is enough of an issue here and enough to debate without pulling out an insensitivity straw-man.
Although I don’t completely agree with you Corey, kudos on a fascinating post and getting the word out. Now I would like 3 solid months of trip reports please.*
* totally kidding, obviously.
What’s with the moral melodrama? Fox/Hollywood/Jack Black etc. owes the birding community NOTHING. It’s FICTION. Fiction requires characters and institutions. It’s our turn. Our 15 minutes. Hooray!
Kudos to the clubs who have sought to utilize this random event for their own good. That’s playing it smart. Hey, maybe that’s the actual reason for this post? 😉
I can play that game too! See how I *really* feel about this whole topic by watching my latest animated short: Musings on the Big Year.
All – I’m making the call that the glass is half full. Let’s face it, Fox could easily have made the same film about the Competitive Eating Circuit, with Jack Black as Joey Chestnutt, etc., etc. You can substitute in ANY pasttime / obsession, but in this case BIRDING got the call. No matter how many (or few) people see the movie and decide to give birding a try, we win. If NAS gets the lion’s share of those new birders, kudos for them to make the effort and spending the bucks, and hopefully their costs are recouped.
As for the movie itself, through the efforts of others within the birding world, I got a call from the fellow in charge of procuring property for the filming. We talked for over an hour, and the net result was that we send multiple binoculars and a few spotting scopes out to their studio. They did not charge us to do so, and the products were either returned to us or bought outright (evidently, quite a few of the staff and crew got “hooked” on birding during production). We had no explicit contract for guaranteed product placement, (which would certainly have cost us money) and they never asked us if we wanted such an arrangement.
My REAL interest is this – what’s next? If the reviews are good, and the audience (Box Office $$$) meets industry expectations, what movie plot is the next one to involve birding? How about existing birding books like Kingbird Highway? Feather Quest? On the Road With John James Audubon? Maybe they can make a sequel (we know how Hollywood loves sequels) “The Big Year II – Going Global”?
When “A River Runs Through It” came out, the fly-fishing industry went wild with interest and growth. After a few years, everything went back to “normal”. I’d like to think that birding can take an infusion of new people and jump to a higher level of existence.
Clay Taylor, Swarovski Optik N.A.
Corey: You know I agree with you on most of the stuff you post, but as a friend, I have to tell you – on this one you sound a bit like a science fiction geek railing on George Lucas or Joss Whedon.
Did Fox handle either the material or the promotions the way I would have liked them to? Not really. Do I admire the cupidity of the studio system in general? Hell no. But as for what they “owe” the birding world, they paid that with the check they signed to Mark Obmascik buying the rights to his book. The rest of us don’t really have an ownership stake in it. The fact that the movie would market itself to bird geeks, freeing up some budget, was probably part of their calculation when they wrote that check.
And I have to agree that even if it wasn’t your intention, the use of the -sploitation suffix does bring the specter of race into a place it was better left out of. The post would have been better without it, purely from an editing standpoint.
I agree with Carrie and several other people above. Despite the disclaimer, the ‘blaxploitation’ reference leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.
@Carrie and jmj: You have your thoughts on it and I have mine. I wonder why folks are uncomfortable with the concept that one group’s treatment by Hoolywood can be compared to another?
@Lots of folks above: I am rather surprised by the type of comments that either defends the business practice of the big movie studios or basically shrug and say that’s the way it is. When I see something wrong I tend to at the very least point it out and the entire concept of ignoring it because that’s the way it has always been is foreign to me.
Now that I return to this, it looks like I’ll just never donate a cent to Audubon again, if they can’t make decent choices about what to do with money. And I’m young. It’s probably not a good idea for them to drive younger people away by making really stupid financial decisions.