Movies That Matter

This weekend two of the major films of the year came out: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and Syriana. Both films are getting good reviews and making headlines. Narnia is the first in a classic series of children’s fantasy books by C.S. Lewis. Syriana is a controversial political thriller that portrays corruption in the oil buisness. These films interest me for another reason though. They have been produced by two increasingly visable production companies: Walden Media and Participant Productions. Unlike most production companies, which are ventures mostly built around a founding actor or director, these two companies have a purpose which binds their projects together.

Walden Media is led by former Miramax president Cary Granat and an “educational entrepreneur” named Micheal Flaherty. They focus on making family-friendly films, inspired by classic children’s books like Holes or Charlotte’s Web. They have partnered with Disney on several recent movies. In addition to making the movies, they produce educational materials for schools as well as sponsor events and contests that promote learning. In addition to promoting education, it’s smart buisness. Connecting with kids in kids in the classroom gives them free marketing. It seems the company’s success has encouraged authors to allow them to adapt their books. I was excited to see they are planning an adaptiation of The Giver, a book I felt certain would never make it onto the screen.

Participant Prodcutions is also interested in eductation, but more for adults than children. eBay founder Jeff Skoll launched the company to produce films that raise social issues in addition to entertaining. Not surprising these types of movies attract a lot of star power. George Clooney directed and starred in Good Night and Good Luck for Particpant this fall before starring Syriana. In addition to producing movies, they use them as platforms to launch public awareness campaigns on their website Particpate.net. The issues publicize the movies and vice versa. I expect that Participant’s movies will also be recieving several nominations this award season.

So what’s the big deal? For starters, both companies are using alternative marketing to capture bigger box office revenues and DVD sales. I don’t know how successful they are money wise, but they both seem to be doing well. What interests me is the fact that these two companies are creating incentives for Hollywood to invest in quality entertainment. I imagine we will be seeing more production companies in the future that use their brand to cater to a specific audience.

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