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John Carter Bombs. What Can We Learn?

Like many others I mistook the first John Carter trailer I saw for a Pepsi commercial. And like so many others, I did not go to see the film when it opened last weekend. So I cannot say whether the film is truly terrible, or a masterpiece. That is not the point of this post. 

In other words, I am more interested in how this $350 million train wreck happened than I am in watching a $350 million train wreck in 3D. As it turns out, there were preventable mistakes that went uncorrected, and many of these mistakes were catalogued in a recent New York Times article that dubbed John Carter “Ishtar on Mars.” 

The article reports that after betting the farm for an Avatar-style blockbuster, Disney’s chief executive Robert A. Iger has told senior managers there will be no finger-pointing. And yet, the buck has to stop with someone, and the fingers are all pointing at the film’s director Andrew Stanton. 

Due to a lack of experience in live-action filmmaking, Stanton’s direction led to lengthy and expensive reshoots. Stanton also overstepped his bounds by exerting a heavy influence on the marketing of the film. Worse yet, Stanton seemed to always get his way, so there was no check on his decision-making.

This formula is precisely the opposite of what has made Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios so successful, a lesson that was explored in a previous post by Tim Harford, Britain’s answer to Malcolm Gladwell. 

According to Harford, instead of preventing errors, Pixar is really good at fixing them quickly. To put it another way, Pixar’s President Ed Catmull embraces a process of rigorous critique in which the studio ensures that films go “from suck to nonsuck.” Films are scrutinized right up to the last stage of production.

If Disney’s management is hoping to learn from its mistakes with John Carter, they would do well to watch this video below:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @Daniel Honan


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