promised-land-matt-damon-frances-mcdormand

Okay, I’m going to talk today about a movie many of you probably don’t even know about. Which is okay because that’s the point. I’ve become strangely fascinated by this movie because I read (and reviewed) the script last year and it was a really good script! The kind of thing I may have even put in my Top 25 when I first started the site. The script and movie is called Promised Land. And while it attempted to position itself for the Oscar race (coming out at the tail end of 2012) it failed miserably. It made 8 million dollars at the box office and was promptly never heard from again. My question is, how come a film with one of the biggest movie stars in the world (Matt Damon), one in which everyone involved was confident it could compete for the Oscars, simply disappear? And what does that mean for those of you trying to write similar scripts?

As I said, Promised Land was a really good script. It was about this guy, Steve Butler (played by Damon), who worked for a major energy company, who was responsible for going into small towns and cutting deals with the residents to allow the company to frack on their land. Fracking is a controversial procedure that involves drilling deep underground for natural gas. Typically, converting residents is easy because you’re giving them more money than they’ve ever seen in their life. But things get complicated when certain members of the town start challenging the safety of fracking. And when a young, arrogant environmentalist, Dustin Noble (played by John Krasinski, who co-wrote the film with Damon), starts exposing the big bad energy company for the con artists they are, not only is converting this town in doubt, Steve Butler’s entire career is in jeopardy.

The script is really well-structured and well-written. We have a clear goal for Steve – convert the town. The stakes are huge – if he fails, he’s going to lose his job and his career in energy will be over forever. And we have urgency in the form of a ticking time bomb – he’s got 2 weeks before the town votes on whether to allow their town to be fracked or not. We have a fun little villain in Dustin Noble. Obstacles are constantly thrown at Steve, making his success more and more unlikely (in screenwriting, you always want to make things harder and harder for your hero as your story moves on). It even has a great little twist ending. There really wasn’t a whole lot this script or movie did wrong. So why the hell didn’t anybody see it?

That’s the question that’s been dogging me ever since the film came out. And it’s an important one. Part of your job, as a screenwriter, is to track every single movie in the business and how it does, and then be able to explain, to a reasonable degree, why it succeeded or failed. Why? Because you’re writing movies for the same market. If you don’t understand why something works or doesn’t work, you won’t be able to accurately position your own scripts for the market.

In fact, you should try and keep track of projects from the inception stage, when they were first purchased or announced. You should then make predictions on how well you think the project will do. If you’re right, it means you have a reasonably good grasp of the market, which means you understand what kind of screenplays do well. Prisoners was a great example. I knew when that script sold it was probably going to make between 20-25 million dollars opening weekend. It was something that could easily be marketed, but didn’t have splashy enough elements to take it beyond that. It opened at 22 million dollars.

promised-land02

Which leads us back to Promised Land. Why wasn’t it able to keep its promise? Whenever something fails at the box office, the first thing you have to look at is the concept. Promised Land is about fracking, which isn’t a very well-known practice in the public’s eye. It also sounds like a political issue, and one of the least lucrative subject matters at the box office is politics. Yesterday I pointed out that there are movies that you feel like you “should” see and movies that you “want to” see. No doubt Promised Land feels like the former. And the problem with movies you feel like you should see is that you usually never get around to seeing them. Which was clearly the case here.

And that brings us to the sad reality of where we are with this kind of film – Promised Land is the kind of movie that audiences don’t care about anymore. They used to. It used to be that audiences enjoyed going to the theater and watching a character-driven drama. Even as close back as Good Will Hunting, another Matt Damon writing-starring project (even directed by the same director, Gus Van Sant). But the reality is that these days, there’s too much competition. Not only has the amount of product quadrupled since then (there are like 10 new movies hitting straight-to-video every week), but you have video games (Grand Theft Auto just made 800 million dollars in its first week of release) and the internet. Not to mention we’re in the midst of the Golden Age of TV. Seriously, how fun is it to just lay back, bust open a bag of chips, and watch your favorite show while surfing the net? THAT’S what these movies are competing with. Which is why they’re suffering so badly. They don’t provide that big “oomph” factor that a film like Fast and Furious does to actually motivate you to get off your couch and go to the theater.

Oh, and don’t get confused with what makes YOU get out of your seat and go see a movie. You’re an anomaly. You want to be part of this business. So you see everything. And you get excited by quirky little independent films that the average moviegoer has no idea about. That doesn’t count. I’m talking about the guy in Middle America with a job that tires him the frack out every week with three kids. That’s the guy you gotta convince to get off the couch.

There’s only one exception to all this. If the movie is fucking amazing. If the movie is amazing, like American Beauty amazing, then a film like this can break out. But how often does that happen anymore? And this is why producers are so wary about this kind of script. Because they know that even if they do everything right – even if they cast one of the biggest movie stars in the world! – that the film could still bomb. If you’re a producer with two kids at private school and a $7500 mortgage every month, are you really going to take a chance on that kind of film? Of course not. It’s too freaking risky. Which is why I tell you guys to avoid these scripts – as spec scripts – like the plague. The sad reality is, if Promised Land would’ve come to me as an amateur spec, I would have said, “Holy shit! This is really good. But sorry guys, it’s too risky to gamble on.”

Another thing I believe doomed Promised Land was the lack of a memorable character. It’s my belief that the more “plain” your concept is, the more important it is to have a big memorable character, like a psycho therapist who will choke you if you fuck with him (Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting). I think they tried to do that here with Dustin Noble, but he wasn’t memorable enough. And that left us with a plain idea with plain characters. What’s there to get excited about? Matt Damon should’ve done more with his character. I mean, if he hadn’t written this himself, would he have wanted to play the straight-forward Steve Butler? My guess is probably not. You HAVE to have memorable characters in your script, especially with a drama, because the eccentricity of those characters is probably going to be the only thing you can market in your trailers. No effects. No exciting plot. But at least you’ll have a character we’ll want to see.

I have a new term I’ve been using lately – SOFT. The more I look at the movie industry, the more I see that the movies and scripts that fail to stand out are “soft.” There’s no edginess to the plot or characters or anything. They don’t really take chances. Instead of throwing you around, they massage you. And to me, those are the easiest movies to forget. Promised Land was really soft. And people don’t go to see soft. The concept was too “blah.” The characters were too “blah.” And that softness guaranteed people weren’t going to show up. But I’m interested in what you have to say. Did you know about Promised Land? Did you not go see it? Why not?

  • MaliboJackk

    Thought THE SWEAT HEREAFTER was an AMAZING movie.
    Yeah, it had no big name actors and it was a drama
    — but only 3 million in box office?

    • rl1800

      Is that the porno version of The Sweet Hereafter?

      • MaliboJackk

        Wow.
        (Too little sleep. Too little time.)

  • Poe_Serling

    Per Carson:

    “… the Character Driven Drama Is Dead..”

    That makes an interesting bookend with this recent article about the declining box-office receipts of romantic comedies and the lack of interest in studios producing these type of films nowadays.

    http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/rip-romantic-comedies-why-harry-634776

  • ximan

    I knew about Promised Land, but I didn’t go see it because it seemed like a political film about a controversial concept I wasn’t well versed in yet (fracking). I was surprised when everyone else stayed away as well. Now that I’ve seen Gasland 1 & 2, I’d be a lot more interested in seeing it. So it may have been a timing thing as well (I like to have my own informed opinion about something like this before I watch a film and expose myself to the filmmaker’s opinion.)

    But you’re right. It also did seem very “blah” and “soft” IN THE TRAILERS, so I would give Marketing an equal part in the blame for its lack of success.

    God bless the writers who can keep themselves enthralled to write scripts like this (or even the masterful “Desperate Hours”). I read those scripts and I’m like, WOOOW. The same passion I bring to my high concept scripts is being brought to this character driver drama. I just CAN’T do it! I’d get too bored.

  • http://www.jorgeosvaldo.com/ Jorge Osvaldo

    Damn, Carson is right. This genre is so “soft” I’m even having trouble coming up with anything interesting to contribute.

    The thing is, these movies are the great little gems you stumble upon on a lazy saturday afternoon on HBO or Starz. I can see the industry shifting their prestige dramas and romantic comedies into VOD releases; and as more and more people start using this new medium, the films will begin to make enough money to justify the relatively high cost of producing them. When this happens, we can expect the resurfacing of the drama spec market.

  • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

    Agree with Carson. This movie was very bland, the concept was meh, the execution equally as meh. Acting is good, to be expected, but the film is just too cookie-cutter and frankly, boring. Doesn’t help when everything goes down as expected.

    Carson should review the van Sant/Damon film Gerry. Now that’d be entertaining.

  • jlugozjr

    Love the term “soft”. Great way to explain how average the story was.

    I saw the movie and liked it, but definitely wouldn’t rent it again. There’s just no reason to.

    On another note, I recently joined Triggerstreet and was surprised how many drama specs there were. Hundreds. Either these amateur writers don’t know the difficulty in selling a drama or they don’t care.

  • MWire

    I didn’t go see it because it looked like a ‘message’ movie to me. And I’m just not in the mood to be beaten over the head with yet another message. Particularly not a political message, which from the trailers I saw, was the direction this movie was going to go.

    Carson calls it a character-driven drama but even he admits that it lacked a memorable main character. So, maybe it’s not really a character driven film. Without great characters, all we have left is the message. No thanks. I’ll happily watch a good character-driven drama but this one didn’t strike me as being one.

    I did like the observation that we scriptwriters are anomalies. We are. We’ll go see all kinds of wacky crap. Sometimes we forget that we’re not the norm.

  • Alex Palmer

    I listened to a radio interview with Matt Damon about the film and it’s failure to break out. He talked about Elysium and The Promised Land, as well as the way his own opinions on fracking influenced the film.

    And that was the whole problem.

    No one wants to see a message movie. No one wanted to before, and they sure as hell don’t now. T

    • filmklassik

      Bravo, Alex. Yeah, I thought the same thing when I saw the first trailer: “This movie is agitprop, plain and simple.”

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      Sent you Desperate Hours.

      • Alex Palmer

        Thank you :)

    • Linkthis83

      “No one wants to see a message movie. No one wanted to before, and they sure as hell don’t now.”

      C’mon, Alex, you know that’s not entirely true. Plus, you can’t quantify the actual impact that movies like this may have. Just because it doesn’t directly affect you or people within your circle or people within your internet reach, doesn’t mean it doesn’t still serve a valuable purpose.

      • Alex Palmer

        The funny thing is, I don’t mind movies that dramatise a political message. I LOVE In the Loop. And I’m a sucker for a good old ‘Nam film, which tend to lean anti-war (I think it’s the law or something).

        Perhaps what I wrote sounded like hyperbole. But even if I don’t know every cinema-goer in the world, you can’t get away from the fact that films that appear to have a “message” tend to alienate people. Valley of Ellah Flopped. Promised Land Flopped. Feel free to add others.

        Maybe we need to qualify what a “message” movie is. I don’t think THAT actually a workable term for it as it’s too vague. Anyway, “message” can sometimes be indicative of theme, and I would NEVER argue a film is better without a theme.

        The thing is, including politics in a theme requires more care and attention. I mean, a film’s resolution is your insight, your personal view of reality’s truth. And that’s fine if you’re dealing with universal subjects (love, Identity etc.), but pupating that one’s own politics are the “truth” rings insincere.

        I’ve got an example: the original Godzilla. It’s all an allegory for the dangers of nuclear power etc, but it’s a) More subtly woven into the plot b) more about the idea of humanity having to face consequences. The original cut ends with the monster defeated, and the most important thematic element as the protagonist’s sacrifice.

        In the alternate ending (that was banned by Japanese censors), the scientist ends the story with a monologue about nuclear power. In my opinion, by shifting the story away from the idea of sacrifice and onto preaching, the ending suffered. So it’s a good thing it was cut :)

        Sorry about the rambling, Link. If you can get through that, let me know your thoughts.

        • Linkthis83

          What I should’ve also included in my reply to you is the basis of my own post = This movie was made with a PURPOSE. I don’t want to call it a message. It’s an avenue to deliver some awareness to the rest of the nation on a topic they MAY care about. People are way over-reacting to this film. And they haven’t done any research on this actual film. Even the ones who have seen it just react to it. Which would normally be fine accept they apply it to the whole of Hollywood or Politics. And it’s not doing either of those things, in my opinion. Some might argue that it doesn’t come out completely 50/50 on the issue, but then so what. It still doesn’t make it preachy or pro one side more than the other.

          This is just a straight-forward simple awareness story with a Drama genre base. If you read my post you will see an interview regarding this movie and why it was made.

          • Alex Palmer

            I agree with your post. I wasn’t trying to argue a film should balance it’s ideas completely evenly.

            And it’s possible people are over-reacting. I haven’t seen the film. Who has? (Zing!)

            They took a huge risk in their marketing approach. Whatever the finished film became, the trailer made it out as “that fracking film”. I don’t think it paid off.

            I’ll have a look at the link, though. Thanks for the link, Link :)

          • Linkthis83

            I’m just fired up this week for some reason. Promised Land at its simplest = hey America, here’s a story about fracking that you MAY find interesting and because you MAY find it interesting we wanted to tell you some things. We don’t take a side at all and just wanted to tell you some stuff through a medium that is conducive to the citizens of America.

            Somehow, people have turned this into a MESSAGE MOVIE with an AGENDA that they will be BEATEN with REPEATEDLY while viewing.

            AND IT’S FRACKING AGGRAVATING!!!!!!

          • Alex Palmer

            Well, very little of that outrage has spilled out into the UK. It’s early days when in comes to fracking across the pond. And that probably alienated the British public in a way that, say, Good Will Hunting (bringing it back to the article) didn’t.

          • Jonathan Soens

            I’d disagree that the movie doesn’t take a side. I thought it obviously sided with the argument that fracking is dangerous and destructive.

            In fact, that becomes such a one-sided thing, that it reaches a point where it stops being treated as an argument at all.

            It’s no longer a question of whether it’ll ruin the land, because the story seems to be saying that’s a foregone conclusion.

            It’s then only a question of whether the money is worth it and whether the land is worth saving in the first place (because the town is going through a tough time economically, so why worry about fracking killing an area that feels like it’s already dying anyway).

          • ff

            Well fracking DOES destroy the land.

    • rl1800

      I think many “message films” have succeeded in the past and will continue to work in the future, as long as the message is wrapped in an entertaining, riveting story. I haven’t seen Promised Land, nor have I read the script, but I remember seeing the trailer and just thinking “why would anyone want to see this?” I knew what fracking was, more or less, but it didn’t feel like a compelling enough subject to wrap a movie around. Throw in the fact that the marketing didn’t really clarify what the actual story was about, and you have a recipe for box office failure.

      Look at a film like The China Syndrome. You couldn’t have a more blatant political message in a film. They pretty much whack you over the head with it. But just from the subject, you knew this story had huge stakes. Possible nuclear meltdown? Political skullduggery? Corporate hitmen? That’s a lot more thrilling than drilling in someone’s yard for gas. Add strong characters and incredible tension and you have a great script and movie.

  • Robert_Ward

    So true Carson with the notion of soft. Screenplays are like walking barefoot. What grabs your attention and retains it… Carpet or a piece of sharp jagged metal. Our scripts, more than ever, should be sharp jagged metal. Thanks!

    • Acarl

      love this–“sharp, jagged metal.”

      • Robert_Ward

        Would be a great name for a prodco… Sharp Jagged Metal Productions.

  • leitskev

    I didn’t see it, but I read the script. I don’t think the failure of this movie sheds any light on the viability of character driven drama at all. People didn’t want to see this movie because who wants to pay $11 to be preached to by Matt? Fair or not, that was the public perception.

    The uneducated crowd wants to see bullets and car races. Those are the ones that don’t know about fracking. But most of the rest of us, those who stay informed, know that fracking has proven mostly safe and is greatly benefiting everyone…including the environment.

    This doesn’t prove people don’t value character driven film. It only proves people don’t want ideology…from either side…pushed on them.

    • filmklassik

      You and I seem to’ve been writing the SAME POST at the SAME TIME practically. (Read down) So, obviously, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    • ff

      Fracking safe? Are you serious? Hundreds of articles like this…

      http://io9.com/scientists-find-radioactive-fracking-waste-in-pennsyvan-1440683860

      • leitskev

        Does this strike you as an even remotely scientific journal? If you’re going to post a link, don’t waste people’s time with stuff like that. And radium in the water? Jeez, that’s a natural element always found in the environment. There is nothing connecting that to fracking.

        Look, I think the impact should be studied vigorously. And it has been. By government agencies filled with environmentalists HOPING to find evidence of problems. And they simply did not. So far there is little solid evidence that fracking leads ton any environmental damage.

        But there IS solid evidence that it helps the environment by increasing our reliance on natural gas, which burns much cheaper. Our carbon output has dropped dramatically in recent years, not because of Kyoto, but because of fracking.

        AND…it is leading to affordable energy which is bringing about a revolution in the American economy, which we are only beginning to feel. This makes any stimulus spending look like a pin prick. It’s bringing back jobs and growth in a real tangible way over the next decade. A miracle, actually.

        And then there’s foreign policy…no more wars for middle eastern oil. Don’t you guys like that?

        Fracking is probably the most important thing to happen to this country since WWII. No, I don’t work for the industry. I just stayed at a Holiday Inn Express!

  • ripleyy

    You get really bold characters and stories in TV which is really weird, because wasn’t it only under 5 years ago we got really soft and cheesy concepts?

    Ray Donovan is a show I’m currently watching and that show is as bold as they come. It’s dark, it’s not as edgy as you’d believe but it’s got the characters and the story that makes it stand out because it doesn’t fuck around. Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones (which has incest). Lost wasn’t soft but was bold because of the concept.

    So, really, it comes down to being bold but I feel writers – especially amateur – are terrified of writing bold in case they cross some sort of threshold that isn’t even there. They believe “if I write this far too bold, will people not like it?” Truth is, is it’s better going bold and full-on than being soft.

    TV is really doing a number on film and it’s a recent thing. TV was NEVER like what it used to be now. It’s really the past four years that we’ve got TV concepts that really show how it’s done and the thing is, bold TV concepts work.

    Films need money because they have ONE chance. TV has MULTIPLE chances. If something doesn’t work in TV? It can be changed. Films have one chance and one chance only to hit it on the head or they lose. They’re out. That’s why TV is winning.

    As for the film, “Promised Land”, I don’t know why it didn’t work but it wasn’t really a concept that was going to win in the first place.

    • Hadley’s Hope

      I think it is weird to think of “bold” for Hollywood movies. For me, something that pretty much fits the perfect mold for “bold” would be Robocop. Actually, a lot of Paul Verhoeven’s work is wild and crazy, but Robocop is the most iconic and well regarded so I’ll put it on the pedestal. I’d love to write that kind of thing, but then look at the upcoming Robocop remake. It looks kind of “been there done that”, or as Carson might say, “soft”. So I have to question the notion of Hollywood (at least in terms of specs and mainstream movie material) wanting all this really bold stuff.

      I do agree with your overall sentiment of writing for a bolder take on the story rather than holding back and being politically correct or timid. I’d rather be offended by a movie that has some balls than someone trying to copy and paste what they think audiences want.

      Speaking of TV, Ray Donovan is one of my new favorite shows. I’m so happy that it has already been renewed for a second season.

      • ripleyy

        I was speaking more about recent movies. Definitely in the 90s, even the 80s and beyond, the movies weren’t bold because they took chances. Like you said, “Judge Dredd” and “Robocop” back in the day were bold. The remake of “Judge Dredd” was really good. I loved it but the new Robocop just feels…I mean, Joel Kinnaman as the staring role makes me feel really weird.

  • Tailmonsterfriend

    In addition to what Carson pointed out, I also think this movie suffered from anemic marketing.

    My first reaction to the early trailer for Promised Land was “Fuck yeah, I wanna see that!” But then, nothing for a long time. It’s almost like they completely failed at marketing this movie to their target audience: young, idealistic geeks who hang out on reddit a lot and talk about saving the planet and fighting the good fight against greedy megacorporations. They didn’t know who they were making this movie for.

    Also, GTA V made $800 million in its first DAY. North of a cool billion dollars in its first week. Carson’s right. This is serious competition for the quiet, character-driven drama. Then again, maybe that kind of movie could be successful if they shifted from theater distribution to Netflix distribution.

    Had Promised Land been a Netflix release, you can bet your sweet ass I would have seen it on the day it came out.

  • filmklassik

    As a registered independent who has voted for plenty of Dems and Republicans in my time, I have little or no patience with right or left-wing agitprop, and — sorry, kids — PROMISED LAND was agitprop, plain and simple. The company that made it? They’re in the business of making agitprop. What’s more — it SMELLED like agitprop — as did Damon’s 100 million dollar disaster THE GREEN ZONE and his 150 million dollar disappointment ELYSSIUM.

    Were these stories well-written? Maybe. But so what? Agitprop is a polite word for “political screed” and most of us choose not to spend our hard-earned entertainment dollars on something that is going to preach to us.

    And it’s been my experience that the ones who defend any given piece of political agitprop most strenuously, with arguments like “It’s more entertainment than propaganda” and “The message is buried so deeply in the story you don’t even realize it” and (my favorite) “It makes an effort to show both sides” — are — I’m sure not coincidentally — invariably people who “just happen” to already agree with the politics of the story.

    • leitskev

      And it’s not really well written either, IMO. It’s formulaic. Very. From page one, it feels like a competently written, by the numbers political commercial. Matt’s character is clever where it’s supposed to be, his flaw is set up so you know where it’s going, blah blah blah. It’s not original, it doesn’t explore…all of which would be fine if it entertained…but it doesn’t. And even the twist feels like it was patched into a later draft and comes off as a device. The writers are talented guys. If they drop the agitprop and and take a few chances I’m sure they are capable of great work.

    • pitchblack70

      I’m agreeing with filmklassik, here. Personally, I haven’t seen Promised Land (so I can’t attest to the quality of the actual film or the writing). But having read the SS summary, I can say right off the bat that I personally find the political theme of the story dull from the get-go. No, I’m not saying that fracking isn’t necessarily an important issue – just that using it as the centerpiece for a feature length film is…well….booooorrring. As is the character’s motivation. At risk for losing his job? Gee, never saw *that* in a film before! :P

      But the failure of this particular flick at the box office isn’t, in my opinion, a damnation of the future of character films in general. Just that this particular MacGuffin is… ill advised. Definitely not something I’d pay $11 a ticket to see.

      • ff

        Promised Land is a great movie that brings up the subject rather than hit you on the head, which is exactly what I think is important-Get people to think, not tell them HOW to think. And it did it very well.

        Maybe you guys should actually WATCH the film first before ripping on it and it’s ‘political’ message.

  • jaehkim

    I saw this movie and I enjoyed it very much. I was kinda surprised to read that it bombed so badly.

    the movie had all the ingredients for a successful film and the execution was well done. but I enjoyed it more as a writer than as a movie going audience. I knew exactly where the movie was going and except for the little twist at the end, nothing surprised me. I enjoyed it for its execution more than anything else.

    right now I’m watching the last few episodes of breaking bad and I have no freaking clue what is going to happen. every time I think something is going to happen based on past movie or TV show experience, the show would go in a different direction, and it’s awesome.

    the question is, can you do the same with a movie script?

  • Linkthis83

    Carson, I think you should’ve used a different movie to support the notion that the character driven drama might be dead. Anything I say after this will just be to support why Promised Land was not a good choice to explore this concept.

    The company I work for rented out a theater (the discount cinema, not the feature) in order for us to go see this film. The reason is because we are in the energy information business and also my company is just cool like that (they have a mandatory beer fridge if you want to know just how cool).

    From start to finish Promised Land is just a good movie, which frankly, I personally want more of from Hollywood. This particular film though comes from Jeff Skoll and Participant Media. Anytime I’ve had the opportunity to discuss a script with a writer here on SS, the first thing I ask them is “What is the goal of your story? What story are you trying to tell?” I mention that because Participant Media has a specific purpose for creating a movie like Promised Land; and it’s not to have the American Beauty type impact. I think that’s really important to factor in with this article here. Their movies serve a bigger purpose than just making money.

    Here’s a snippet from an interview with Jim Berk of Participant Media (from Deadline website in January 2013):

    DEADLINE: You have three films in the Oscar conversation. Why did you say yes to Promised Land?

    BERK: This came to us in a script draft from Matt Damon and John Krasinski, and the issue was of great interest. We’d done four films with Matt, and Gus Van Sant is a master storyteller. We look for 3 things; commercial reliability, social relevance, and quality. And given the package and distributor, and issue that impacts small towns, and the energy issue, it was perfect for us.

    DEADLINE: Of those criteria, which is most important?

    BERK: The issue comes first, it has to be a tangible issue that affects millions, where the film can make a difference for those people.

    DEADLINE: Would you reject a film that took a stand you didn’t agree with?

    BERK: It’s not our role to necessarily tell people what to think, but to put these issues into the zeitgeist and give them information to think about. It’s more empowerment than a specific set of agendas. The purpose Jeff made clear was to serve a role toward peace and sustainability by empowering people with information and ways to get involved, whether they choose the left or the right or somewhere in between.

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      Yeah, the character driven drama is not dead. Never will be.

      You can’t compare Promised Land to Good Will Hunting, or American Beauty. As many people have said, Promised Land is a movie about something that a lot of people don’t know or care about, the trailer was boring, the subject matter is boring. And the rather mediocre reviews certainly don’t help a film like that at all.

      Good Will Hunting not only had rave reviews, but it has a very appealing concept. It isn’t high concept, but it does have a catchy idea – “A 20 year genius works as a janitor at MIT…” Obviously there’s significantly more than that at work in GWH (which is why it’s not high concept), but it does have a much better concept than Promised Land.

      American Beauty likewise had critical raves and a relatable theme/characters.

      Point is – a drama about fracking that has a 51% on rottentomatoes isn’t shocking me when it doesn’t make any money, even if it does have Matt Damon in it.

      So to answer the question, no, this movie proves nothing.

  • ArabyChic

    I think you kinda hit it on the head and then you’re still there wondering why it didn’t do well. Fracking, though an important and controversial environmental issue, is a hard subject matter to make “romantic” – I mean that in the sense that it has an allure that draws people in, something larger than life – especially when you’re focusing on one character’s emotional dilemma about his part in it.

    Look at Erin Brokovich. Basically the same subject matter. But in that movie, the corporations are an evil entity, covering up exploitation of the innocent, and only our scrappy little hero (played by an A-List star) can save them. THAT’s romantic. American Beauty is a movie that was MADE to sell to audiences; the guys cutting that trailer must have been giddy. The main characters seek out forbidden sex, love, drugs and anti-authoritarianism – all wrapped up in a murder mystery. The thing practically sells itself.

    I’m not knocking the script of Promised Land, or the movie (which I haven’t seen), but I don’t think it’s an indication of any of the sweeping statements you make. Character pieces are still making a boat load of money. Whether they be biopics, or stories exploiting hot button issues. This one just wasn’t hittin’ people’s buttons.

    • shewrites

      It’s interesting that you mention Erin Brockovitch because that’s the movie that came to my mind when I read the Promised Land script.

      One thing that EB did which PL totally failed to do is to have a compelling protagonist. We cared more to see Erin win that to see the victims of the evil corporation be vindicated. Or at least as much.

      I don’t think PL failed because of its political bias and/or topic. I think it failed because we didn’t care enough about the Matt Damon character to see him win. The stakes, him losing his job, were so underwhelming.

      However uninteresting, mundane, or controversial (politically or socially) the protagonist’s goal may be, we will want him to succeed only if we are invested in him. Walter White from Breaking Bad is proof of it.

      I really think it’s too bad that the shooting script focused more on the issue of fracking than on the protagonist which makes me think that maybe PL is not really a character driven drama after all?

      Participant Media, if its goal was to educate and inform audiences to the dangers of fracking, should have made an effort to make it more entertaining which brings me to the thought that the weak marketing campaign may not be as much to blame for the movie’s failure as one may think. Indeed why spend millions of dollars to market a movie that most likely tested soft (to use Carson’s word) before its release?

  • AlanWilder

    I’m not sure why more people didn’t turn up for Promised Land, but I felt that the movie in itself had several problem that probably originated on an early script stage. First of all, I found it perplexing that Matt Damon’s supposedly very competent lobbyist couldn’t handle an antagonistic guy simply laying out some very basic facts about fracking. Shouldn’t that be pretty much the one thing that he’s supposed to be able to handle? That was such a major part of the story and it didn’t hold up to any sort of scrutiny. Secondly, the twist with Justin Barta’s character was way too over the top and in no way believable considering the level of personal conflict between him and Damon. Thirdly, the ending was telegraphed in the second act and then not given any sort of twist or surprise when it actually came.

  • mallet

    Like others have already said, it is really all about marketing and getting the film into theatres.

    First, the companies and studios have to get people interested in seeing the film. Just having a big name actor in a film isn’t enough anymore (well except for a few really big named actors). Unfortunately a lot of these smaller drama films don’t have “trailer” moments, so it is a lot harder to make them looking interesting.

    Second, they have to open the film wide. Opening on 5, 10 or 25 screens is not enough for a smaller drama to build up momentum and word of mouth. Heck, opening small even sometimes hurts big films. Look at RUSH which opened small last week. It did good, but not great on 5 screens, so of course the reports all said it was “under-performing” and things didn’t look good for the film, etc… So they have already started coloring peoples perceptions of the movie before it even opens wide. Sure it becomes a cost/benefit decision to make more prints, book more screens, etc… and if it still ends up bombing, then it can hurt future rentals and sales (what is worse then a movie no one has heard of? its a movie everyone has heard sucked or was boring).

    Also take a look at the movie A SIngle Shot that opened last weekend as well in only 10 theatres. it looked cool. The trailer was decent. Good actors (Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright, Jason Isaac, William H. Macy), look like a good, moody, thriller with action, etc… reviews were mixed, but a lot of positive ones. BUT there was next to no advertising. I didn’t even know it was out until I saw an online posting about it the day before it was released. I would have gone to see it, but it didn’t open with in a 100 miles of my house. So, now it has tanked and I’m betting it was pretty good, so that is a shame.

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      I thought A Single Shot was boring. I love slower films – if the slowness has a purpose behind it… but what I mean is I like a lot of films that other people dismiss as boring, so it’s not like I have a short attention span or anything.

      Love Sam Rockwell. Thought the trailer was good. He’s really good in the film. It was just too uneventful for what I was expecting (I was expecting something along the lines of A Simple Plan/No Country for Old Men).

      Unfortunate.

      • mallet

        That sucks to hear. I was hoping it would be a hidden gem.
        I loved A Simple Plan, and also thought this looked similar.

  • Jones

    It failed because actually it wasn’t a very good movie. And the character was WEAK. That’s right W-E-A-K… In fact, the early part of the movie TELLS us how great Matt Damon’s character is at his job. So great in fact, he’s getting bumped up to a bigger job. But he has to do this last one first. He’s never in danger of losing the one he has. They just want him to complete this one. The dynamic between him and McDormand’s character is really strange — seems to be he’s the boss — but then she knows more than him? And when he finally gets to town to do the job he’s supposed to be so Great at… We never see him be good at his job. In fact, he stumbles at every turn. Weak character. All of his actions are simply reactions to what’s going on around him. He never drives the narrative.

    And the “Twist” is so preposterous it only weakens the lead character further. That he is so ignorant to what’s going on in his own company — even if he wasn’t directly involved with the deal in question — that he could be so blind to the rearview of his own deals… Again, makes him a completely Weak character.

    That he could be so easily manipulated by the stooge, the townies, the girl and his own partner… Again — makes him weak.

    That’s pretty much why this “character drama” failed. There was no character to follow that we were really rooting for. And the way all the information is laid out from the Krasinski character and the Damon character, as an audience, there’s no clear-cut sense of who’s telling the truth or not until after “The twist” — which is just far too late.

    Oh NOW…. We’re allowed to root for him as he does the right thing.
    Ummmm No. Weak.

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      Tell us what you really think ;-)

    • Linkthis83

      This argument is W-E-A-K and L-A-Z-Y.

      Being cynical is easy. Especially if you don’t care to understand the plot and the characters. Matt Damon is great at his job. He gets the land and he gets it for an absurdly cheap price. However, this town isn’t like all the others. This character hasn’t experienced this before at this level. Everybody has a price he believes. Of course he’s reacting. He’s also counter-reacting, which I think means being proactive.

      The “twist” is to show to what lengths the money machine will go to in order for them not to get put behind schedule. There’s a shit-ton of money to be made and they will do what they need to. They don’t have to inform the rest of their employees. Does your company make you aware when they are doing something shady and underhanded to better the business?

      He’s not weak, but perhaps weakening. Perhaps the role he is playing in this fracking situation might be taking its toll on our main character. He’s not Gordon Gecko. He has to look these people in the eye and take advantage of them.

      “That’s pretty much why this “character drama” failed. There was no character to follow that we were really rooting for.”

      The purpose of this film wasn’t to give you a character to root for. Perhaps in the future when you find yourself despising a film and its merit, you’ll put forth some effort to get a little more informed before dishing out your criticism. I realize it’s unrealistic on my part to think that will happen because it’s so much easier to view something once, form a COMPLETE opinion on it and then share it with the world. Which is actually WEAK. And LAZY.

      • guest

        Um Link, I do believe Jones is entitled to his opinion, the same as you are. There is no need for you to call him or his comment weak or lazy.

      • jones

        “Especially if you don’t care to understand the plot and the
        characters. Matt Damon is great at his job. He gets the land and he
        gets it for an absurdly cheap price.”

        — Actually he gets the land for an absurdly expensive price which is why people are willing to sell it to him. They just don’t realize what the process will do to their land down the line.

        “Perhaps the role he is playing in this fracking situation might be
        taking its toll on our main character. He’s not Gordon Gecko. He has
        to look these people in the eye and take advantage of them.”

        — He absolutely does not look these people in the eye and think he’s taking advantage of them. He truly believes he’s doing them a solid. It’s only after Krasinski’s tactics does he begin to doubt his company and the effects they have on the land.

        And apparently the information wasn’t all that hidden from company employees, since it was so easy for him to get information when he asked for it.

        I would suggest I’m not the one who misunderstood the plot and characters.

        And there’s certainly very few if any people out there in the world who are gonna remember the character Steve Butler.

        • Linkthis83

          My reply was really misguided and unnecessary. I’ve been fired up with these posts the past couple of days. I was especially frustrated by the collection of comments regarding this particular film and for some reason chose to take them out on you.

          I was out of line and my apologies.

          • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

            Hey, everyone does it, very few admit it and apologize.

            I just know you aren’t the kind of person that ever intends to be critical or wants to be seen like that, which is the only reason I commented.

            :-)

          • Linkthis83

            After reading his reply I even asked myself what my problem was and then I read your comment and realized I needed to take some action.

            Thank you for your assistance. Much appreciated :)

          • drifting in space

            And people say we only tear each other apart on here. PFT!

          • Linkthis83

            This matter doesn’t concern you, asshole!! LOL

          • drifting in space

            DOWN VOTE, YOU JERK!

          • Linkthis83

            Oh no you didn’t go ALL CAPS on me did you?!?!? I yield, I yield. Please no down votes. Anything but that. Please sir, show mercy.

      • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

        Disagreeing with Jones is one thing – a great thing – but there’s no need to say his opinion is weak or lazy. It seems like he put a decent amount of thought into it (and I largely agree with him on this film). In my opinion, it’s not even close to a weak or lazy argument. It’s certainly not offensive or anything, so I’m not sure why you seemed to take offense to it….

        • Linkthis83

          That was just plain awful by me.

  • Jim

    I think whether one is privy to Fracking is dependent on where they live. It’s certainly a big topic in New York and many residents – even the ones you might think would be clueless – have quite a bit of knowledge on the subject, not to mention the more knowledge they have, the more vehement they are.

    I can’t speak to having seen the movie (I recall wanting to) and why it may have failed from that standpoint, but my gut tells me movies about environmental issues just aren’t big with the public unless it’s something made with, unfortunately, 20/20 hindsight, when consequences are fully realized and appreciated.

    That’s the problem with fracking at this point: proponents say it’s safe, activists say it isn’t and legislators are caught in between without any rulings. That the movie’s apparent main character is for it and, in my eye, can’t be very appealing to the public – regardless of how it ends because nobody is going to want to root for someone doing something… scratch that… embodying a big, scheming corporation. This is quite the opposite of Erin Brockovich (I see I just echoed ArabyChic’s sentiment with this).

    Last but not least, it’s straight from the news and not something I think people would want to escape to. Again, some of that goes back to unknown consequences at this point and the scale of the story – obviously a story based on the dozen or so Japanese people who decided to enter Fukushima, knowing they’re going to die of radiation poisoning, is ripe with conflict and drama on a much more profound scale.

  • brenkilco

    One fundamental weakness I’m sensing(Like virtually everybody else I haven’t seen this) is that it’s an “about” movie. It’s about fracking. Damon wanted to make a movie about fracking. Everything else, character, plot, everything came after. I don’t want to see a movie about fracking. I don’t want to see a movie about the Great Depression, the crusades, the Johnstown flood or even the Holocaust. I don’t want to see a movie “about” anything. When somebody tells you a story it should start. There’s this guy, interesting guy. Let me tell you what happens to him…..If you’re more concerned with the frame than you are with the picture you’ve got a problem.

  • Citizen M

    I didn’t see the movie. I didn’t have to, because I read the script and it was obviously not going to be a success.

    First, it was promoted as “the fracking movie”. I’ve been following the fracking debate for years, and I know a lot of people were keen to see the movie based on that alone. Except it wasn’t about fracking. It was about the underhand methods the drilling companies use to get leases from property owners at below-market rates. You won’t know any more about fracking after seeing the movie than you knew when you walked into the theater. So it failed to fulfill the promise of the premise.

    The one demonstration of fracking to the school kids was in my opinion ludicrous.

    Second, everything revolves around the decision of the town meeting. I stand to be corrected, but AFAIK the individual property owners are not bound by a town meeting decision, so the meeting is actually meaningless. So the whole plot falls apart.

    Third, the characters were unsympathetic. When Steve (Matt Damon) starts throwing his weight around “Do you have any idea what you’re up against?” type of thing, I started losing sympathy for him. He started off so clever, with an answer to everything, it seemed unworthy of him. Not to mention his repeated “Do you do all the work?” joke with the kids. Makes him into a real sleazeball. I mean, seriously, who are we supposed to root for in this script? Plus, Frank was underdeveloped, and Dustin Nobles’ mission didn’t make a lot of sense, even knowing the twist.

    The script did start off well. I loved the first 30 pages. Very character driven, smart dialogue, good action paragraphs. I couldn’t believe a couple of actors wrote this. Signing up all the farmers was like something out of that great movie Erin Brockovich, only evil.

    But the writers didn’t present a definite point of view one way or the other regarding fracking, so the movie limps to a conclusion rather than ending with a big finish.

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    Almost every day I was passing by a movie theater that had the movie’s poster hanged . And every day I had the same question. What is this movie about? I see Matt Damon in jeans and a shirt in a meadow and the title “Promised Land.” Who is he? What he wants to do? What’s the theme of the movie?

    I want those questions to be answered immediately just by looking once at the poster, the tagline, through the kind of fonts the movie title is written in.

    That didn’t happen with Promised Land’s poster, and I never bothered searching it on the internet. We live at times where the people’s attention span is the shortest ever, I want those answers, and I want them immediately.

    • jlugozjr

      Good point. The movie poster should sell the movie. It should grab our attention.

      But the poster is only as good as the concept. Clearly the concept of this movie was mediocre at best.

      • Panos Tsapanidis

        Exactly.

        Take American Beauty’s poster for example. It surely doesn’t tell you what the movie is about, but there’s a certain mystery as to what the movie could be about. Something intriguing.

        But you don’t feel the same way when you see Matt Damon in jeans and a shirt standing in the middle of a meadow.

        • jlugozjr

          Haha. Very true. And look at the poster for Gravity. Pretty cool. With the tag line: “Don’t let go.” Sold, I’ll go see it.

  • ThomasBrownen

    Hmm… I think this movie didn’t do well because the script wasn’t as good as Carson thought it was.

    I read this about a year ago, and I don’t remember much beyond that it was cliched and lacked a strong/interesting main character. I remember comparing it to Erin Brockovich, and concluding that this movie was nowhere close to being a story like Erin Brockovich.

    UPDATE: Here’s what I said at the time:

    I thought this was well done from a technical perspective in certain parts, but I thought it was a weak story.

    First, what I liked. I think there were some scenes that were well done. When Steve meets the girl in the bar, and he guesses her occupation, I liked that exposition. It was clever, and it got me interested in the story. And through most of the first act, the script did a really good job at keeping scenes lightly humorous and intriguing.

    I also thought the authors did a good job with Sue. She had an emotional back story, and was an interesting character. Was she just in it for the money? Was she in it for her son? She seemed conflicted. I wanted to know more about her.

    Ok, now for what I didn’t like. First, this story was as cliched as I expected it to be. With the exception of the twist (which I’ll cover in a second), everything went exactly as you knew it would from page 5. Nothing, and I mean nothing, felt new. I was ok with that in the first act, when the scenes were well done, but the second act really dragged and lacked originality.

    Nor did the twist help. It was preposterous, and makes no sense. It felt like the authors were well aware that they had just written one of the most cliched scripts of the year, and knew that they needed a twist, so they gave one of the characters a surprise backstory.

    Also, I didn’t think the GSU was as strong as Carson thought. There was an election (which also seemed unrealistic — what kind of local government operates like that?) and Steve and Sue needed to get people to sign leases, but besides that, there were no significant mini-goals along the way. After the first act, I thought that really hurt the script and dragged it down.

    I didn’t feel much for the main character. Steve seemed flat and uninteresting. The authors tried to give him a backstory, but it was as cliched as possible. Again, I though Sue was interesting, but that was it. There were some other characters, but these relationships were not explored very well. Sue/Rob was never explored. Steve/Alice only popped up a few times. The school teacher was set up to be the hero of the movie, then disappeared for most of it. I thought the story might have been too ambitious in this area, and lost control of itself.

    But even though I thought the story was as cliched and as predictable as possible, this did have some technical aspects that were well done, as I mentioned earlier. So I’d give it a [x] worth the read for its technical accomplishments, but I felt the script was lacking in the storytelling department.

    ON BEING COMPARED TO ERIN BROCKOVICH:

    Yeah, I kept thinking of Erin Brockovich, but that only made me like this screenplay less. In Erin Brockovich you had a main character who was dealing with all sorts of problems — her boyfriend, her kids, her job, and the fact that she was looked down upon as a woman on top of all that. There was some great character work in Erin Brockovich.

    And Erin faced real conflict and urgency — people were dying! And she was their only hope at helping them get justice in the legal system!

    Here… I thought Steve seemed shallow in comparison to Erin. He didn’t seem to have any relationships that he cared about, or anybody who really cared about him. Maybe Sue, but that was it. I think the authors wanted to go for the conflict that you’re talking about, but I don’t think they made Steve sufficiently relatable in the beginning, or his character arc convincing enough. From what I remember, he became ethical when he realized that Dustin was really working undercover for Global. But… that whole twist felt really unconvincing and preposterous, and so Steve’s conversion felt forced as a result of that. And I’m not surprised it felt forced — this is a screenplay designed to make a political point after all. Political screenplays can be great movies, but I think this was too predictable and on the nose for me.

  • https://twitter.com/deanmaxbrooks deanb

    I don’t think it’s fair to characterize Promised Land as “character-based” as much as “issue-based.” But regardless:

    Sifting through the Dramas on BoxOfficeMojo, and a possible answer materializes: ‘Promised Land’ lacked a big enough concept to attract a mainstream audience.

    Take, for instance, some well known character-driven dramas that were both critically and commercially huge hits:

    Forrest Gump ($329m) A savant experiences the 60s and 70s. It’s the Baby Boomer’s love letter to themselves, and features a stellar performance by Tom Hanks.

    The Truman Show ($125m) A seemingly ordinary man realizes his whole life is actually a 24/7 reality TV show.

    Million Dollar Baby ($216m) A determined woman becomes a professional boxer, but suffers a tragedy and becomes paralyzed. Aside from its great performances, this film cut into the controversial subject of assisted suicide. What could be more depressing? Yet it was a runaway success.

    Additionally, it seems many of the more successful dramas through the decades all share one thing in common: they explore a broad and/or controversial HUMAN (as opposed to simply political) issue, and tend to play on a cultural zeitgeist or social taboo. For example:

    Marty – Mid life crisis
    Lolita – Pedophilia
    The Graduate – Identity crisis, MILFs
    Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? – Interracial marriage
    G.I. Jane – Gender equality in the armed forces
    Crash – Racism in modern America
    Precious – Sexual abuse

    Environmentalism alone as an theme has historically been a tough sell, even when it’s sexed up with violence or some other intrigue. Steven Seagal’s On Deadly Ground and Fire Down Below both under performed, and this year’s The East hardly made a blip.

  • Midnight Luck

    I saw Promised Land opening day.

    I am one of the anomalies.

    I also have never seen a Fast and the Furious and never will. (I stop myself from seeing certain movies when it is apparent they will suck Intelligence out of my Brain, last thing we need are more stupid humans) or maybe I just have WAAY better and more important things to do.

    I will see an indie movie any day over a big Over-the-Top splash movie. Especially if they put certain pieces I enjoy together, like Damon and Krasinski (sometimes) and Gus Van Sant (most of the time).

    I agree, it was pretty soft though. It didn’t carry a thrill throughout it, but the Twist was a nice surprise and helped it, yet you had to wait until the end. So, 90% of the movie had to carry you to that point, and it wasn’t strong enough too for most people.

    Now I personally did still enjoy it, but I am someone who enjoys interesting quirky movies. The SUBJECT MATTER alone was interesting enough to keep me watching PROMISED LAND.

    I also saw a movie with some of the same kind of Environmental / Political issues, called AT ANY PRICE with Dennis Quaid and Zack Efron. Another indie. It dealt with Farmers and a Corporate conspiracy involving the Seeds they were planting (with a company acting like MONSANTO). Although it also threw in Car Derby Racing (or something) at the same time which was odd. I know the Derby stuff was mainly to get the point across about the separation between father and son and the son trying to strike out on his own, but still it just didn’t fit well.

    I bring up this movie because I really think these average Americans you are speaking of, with the job, family, beer bellies, suburbanites, or the middle American farmer, or NY socialite or Big City urban worker, or stay at home Mom (or Dad), or Teenager: absoluetly Fucking HATE and/or are REPULSED by anything having to do with The Environment, or deemed a World ISSUE. Therefore, the LAST thing they will do is go see a movie about it.

    It is interesting to note though that other movies like The INFORMANT (also with Damon) get more interest overall. Also you have a movie like ERIN BROCKOVICH which just EXPLODES at the B.O. (at least for this kind of movie) and even wins Academies. I will agree, Erin was a phenomenal movie, but I have to wonder if people are just plainly more interested or willing to see some of these movies because they were Based on Real people or on Real Events? Is that enough to bring them in or catch their interest. I cannot even remember The Informant anymore. I saw it opening weekend, I remember that, but I don’t remember the movie, so how good was it?

    • http://atticofthefilmaddict.blogspot.com/ Matty

      I too will take a small indie film over a big budget action film any day (though there are certainly times where I love to space out and watch a film like Fast 6…).

      Promised Land was a bore to me, though. It was simply too cookie cutter, not dramatic enough, with flat characters. And I think you hinted at something true (for me at least) with these types of movies: I am much more inclined to watch them if it’s based on a true story. There’s an inherent value for me in watching a true story (or something based on a true story) unfold as opposed to total fiction when it comes to films like this. That’s one reason Erin B. was a much better film for me. Another was that the script was much better. It had much more dramatic heft. There were extremely compelling scenes, with great characters. Matt Damon’s character is flat and boring in this.

      And I loved The Informant, remember seeing it in the theatre. A lot of people didn’t like that, but I found it to be hilarious and incredibly entertaining. So it had a lot going for it compared to Promised Land – an original, ironic, hilarious protagonist, the fact that it’s based on a true story, the comedy… when you take away those elements, like in Promised Land, you’re swimming against an already very powerful current.

      No idea what the trailer for Erin B was like, but I can think of quite a few great trailer moments from that film. I can’t remember any from Promised Land (in fact I can barely remember the film at all, and it’s probably only been six months since I saw it).

      • Midnight Luck

        Honestly I think The Informant was a much better film than I am giving it here.I loved that the main character was a real guy and this bizarre stuff happened to him. His way of being was so out there and kind of insane. I wanted to watch it and just be taken away by his outlandishness. Sadly, I was in a really rough place, a lot going on, and I just don’t think I could focus on it during that time when I saw it. I remember watching the preview before it came out and knew it was something I had to see. It looked awesome from the preview. So my not remembering anything about it probably has a lot more to do with me than the movie. I need to rewatch it. I also love a lot of Soderbergh’s stuff like Erin B (not all though, some can be quite bad, though he still gets points for many of those, since I know he is experimenting and trying new things).

        It was frustrating to me that Promised Land had potential, and so did At Any Price, yet they went with as boring and mundane of scripts and characters as possible. I believe that you can make a Political statement in a movie, without beating people over the head with it, and still make it extremely entertaining. The best way is to hide your point or at least mask it so people take it away with them, without it being called “The Fraking Movie” or the “Monsanto Movie”. I think the “Fraking Movie” title hurt The Promised land, though having a more engaging script would’ve definitely helped it either way.

  • drifting in space

    This times a million.

    How many ads did you see for Iron Man 3? Answer: PLASTERED EVERYWHERE.

    How many ads did you see for Prisoners? Answer: A few here and there, especially right before the release. Not a ton.

    How many ads did you see for Promised Land? Answer: When the fuck did this come out?

    What were their grosses? How much was spent on marketing?

    I wanted to see this because I LOVE John Krasinski (Leatherheads is amazing) but I just never made time for it. I wasn’t huge into the movie scene, it wasn’t advertised and at the time I was NOT the anomaly, I was the majority… So, I never saw it.

    Now that my eyes have been opened, these are the kind of movies I like and I will probably check this out now that it’s been placed back on my radar.

    But, like this movie, it comes down to money. Plus, this very much seemed like a pet project for these two since they wrote and starred in it.

    • Jonathan Soens

      I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard rumblings on the internet about some interesting little movie, but then I never noticed it in the theater and I saw no ads and I never heard another word about it. Then, one day, I’m looking at the “Coming Soon” section on Redbox’s website, and I see that little movie is already making its way to my Redbox machine in a couple of weeks. Before they ever even took a real shot at trying to get me to pay more to see it in either of the theaters in my town.

      So instead of me quite happily spending 10-25 dollars (depending on whether I go alone, whether my fiancee goes with me, whether I get concessions, and whether I go in the afternoon or evening) to see it, I spend only a buck.

      Now, it’s a silly thing to complain about, I guess, paying less money than I would have otherwise. I mean I’m happy to save so much money, but I also know there’s some stupid business being done when I’m being forced to spend only one dollar when I would have been happy to spend 20. I hope the money that was saved by never advertising the thing or giving it a decent release was worth a lot of their audience, like me, spending a buck rather than the 20 bucks we’d have easily paid.

      Other movies like this are “The To-Do List” and “In a World,” both of which I heard some good things about, but neither of which ever came to my town. So now I’m just waiting for them to appear in a Redbox machine so I can spend 2 dollars on products I’d have willingly spent 40 dollars on if somebody in the movie industry got their act together and put either of this movies in a movie theater near me. It’s kind of silly.

      • MaliboJackk

        Theater owners decide what plays in their theaters.
        What fra*king town was it?
        (Maybe we should send Matt out to have a little talk.)

  • Hadley’s Hope

    While I haven’t actually seen Promised Land, I wonder if the film would have had a better chance at the box office if it were sort of a modern day action/western type of flick. Think about it. You’ve got the heartland of America style small town in the middle of the open plains. Big business (the gas company) coming in and shaking things up, which could lead to some old fashioned vigilantism or other form of old west style justice.

    Say for instance, some locals are hired to help work on one of the gas mains and it blows up. The gas company is seen as the bad guys due to negligence. Or maybe the gas company low balls the offers on some poor farmer’s land. The farmer is desperate so he sells just to feed his family and keep a roof over their heads. This info leaks and pisses off the locals. Some of the town’s or county’s most riled up residents decide to take the law into their own hands.

    Then maybe the character that Damon plays (the gas company guy), is sort of trying to facilitate things between the town and the company. Maybe he has to decide which side to take. Does he tow the company line or side with the local residents who are getting shafted? Or perhaps he tries to make everyone happy and it all goes badly?

    Either way, the film could still deal with the environmental and social issues of fracking, but with a little of the classic western vibe and some rousing action thrown in to amp it up and make it something more interesting to the average moviegoer.

    Please note, I say all this since I’ve recently been getting hooked on the show Longmire on Netflix, which has the sort of vibe I’m thinking of here. Which means it is likely that I’m just in a contemporary western mood at the moment.

  • Writer451

    What is this “Golden Age of TV” you mention? Vince Gilligan used that same phrase the other night? I’m curious about how this could be the golden age of TV when ratings are at their lowest ever. Just four million viewers during prime time is considered a hit these days. Twenty years ago, the 20th ranked show had twice as many viewers. Of course, the networks say it’s b/c more people are watching over the Internet, but the trend of viewership drop off began way back in the late 90’s before streaming, so that explanation doesn’t quite pan out.

    • drifting in space

      You know… I thought this the other night.

      Agents of LAME started with 12 million viewers. Breaking Bad, considered one of the best of ALL TIME, peaks with almost 7 million (usually around 5mil).

      Now I understand the SHIELD show will taper (and fail, hopefully) and it’s on a different network with a different advertising budget BUT those don’t seem like impressive numbers.

      Viewership is spread all over the place. How many shows can we absorb? The list of shows I watched is rapidly outpaced by ones I want/should watch and it feels like an uphill battle.

      A shit ton of new shows are shoved down our throat and being cancelled. I’d rather jump off a cliff than watch “The Mindy Project,” “New Girl,” or “Dads.” Have you seen those? Gag me. And don’t get me started on “Big Bang Theory” or “How I Met Your Mother.” Is anyone laughing at those (besides the laugh track)?

      I think Golden Age of TV = there are more jobs there than in movies right now. Between network TV, HBO, Netflix, this, that, and the other, there are a million shows on TV while everyone complains movies are losing ground.

      Now, don’t get me wrong. My dream is to write for TV but that’s only because I want to craft a character longer than 90 minutes. I just think the “Golden Age” is just a shift like anything else. It’ll shift back eventually and we’ll be in the “Golden Age” of movies soon enough.

      • Writer451

        I have not seen “New Girl,” but I have seen those other shows and I strongly agree with your assessment of them.

      • jaehkim

        I completely agree about the tv= more jobs than movies. tv is definitely where the money is and it’s attracting all the talent. when I see shows like house of cards and breaking bad, then see network shows like SHIELD, I wonder how networks are even surviving.

      • Alex Palmer

        There’s also the factor of an evolution in distribution.

        Netflix is taking on the accepted model. And love it or hate it, it’s certainly preventing TV from getting complacent. I love movies. But when only HBO is willing to make something like Beyond the Candelabra (too “gay” for most studios) you know there’s a little bit of stagnation going on.

  • NajlaAnn

    “Promised Land” was a pretty good movie.

  • Montana Gillis

    CALL WESTERN UNION!!!!!

    • MWire

      Subtle but good.

  • Howie428

    The success or failure of this movie is one of those difficult to assess things. An internet search throws up a production budget of $15m. But it was filmed in Pennsylvania and received a tax credit for that. So it’s possible that the cost was lower than this.

    It took $8m at the US box office, and I’ve heard it said that the filmmakers get half of that. I’ve also heard it said that a combination of DVD and TV payments will often make up the same difference, so let’s say they got $8m from the US market.

    There don’t appear to be numbers available for the rest of the world, but you’d think that they would have been able to sell this at some kind of price to distributers across the globe, just on the back of Matt Damon being in it. Odds are then that they got their money back on this, and I wouldn’t rule out a possible profit being made.

    So, yeah the movie didn’t make the publicity splash that they hoped for, but as far as I can see the people behind it probably haven’t done that badly with it. Indeed you could probably hold it up as a good example of how to get a solid movie made at a reasonable price.

    Of course, they’ll never admit having made money on this, since it’s a well known industry rule that no films ever make money!

  • Spitgag

    PL was a pretty solid, well-written movie cept for arguably the love story plot. I thought it was wonderfully shot by Gus Van Sant. They really nailed the production design. Fall, small town, soybelt America with almost a super 16 look. Good twist. Kransinksi did a fantastic job. Unfortunately, all the trailers…

    SUCKED.

    They made no sense at all. Not one of them -and they ran a lot of em here in cali – gave you any clue about what the movie was actually about. Instead, they showed a couple fun exchanges between Damon and j Kranzinski and that’s it. Nothing about fracking at all. No plot of movie.

    Maybe they second guessed and backed away bc of politics. Myabe they were hoping to fill seats on Damon and GVS’ collective star power. I dunno.

    This has to be a large part of why nobody saw this.

  • klmn

    Does anyone have the script for Flower? (Reviewed in Carson’s latest newsletter).

    If so, please send to kenklmn AT yahoo dot com

    Thank ye kindly.

  • Paul Clarke

    The biggest problem is at the premise stage. What logline/poster/trailer could you possibly use to make people want to see this? I for one, have zero interest in the subject matter or the character.

    The movie for comparison isn’t Good Will Hunting, it’s Erin Brokovich. And that’s about an everyday joe who’s fighting against the big companies. She’s an tenacious underdog. Always a good formula for a main character.

  • Warren Hately

    I enjoyed this film a lot and have an action thriller about the coal industry, another reason for me to watch this one closely (though I am reassured to see how different Promised Land was from my idea, which is good given how poorly it did). I wondered if the gloomy vaguely political environmental subject matter was a bit of a killjoy for this script. Also, the “twist” with the villain/greenie character was somewhat hard to swallow IMO.

  • MaliboJackk

    Not sure why we’re talking about Promise Land.
    The movie was made because Damon and Krasinski wrote it.
    If the studios didn’t want to make Drive or Michael Clayton, why else would they want to make Promise Land?

  • Daniel Plainfield

    It wasn’t a “character drama” — it was a propaganda film funded by the Sultan of Oman. American audiences stayed away in droves because they have finely-tuned bullshit detectors.

  • Cfrancis1

    I read the script for this and really enjoyed it. But I knew the movie wouldn’t make a dime because it’s way too left for middle America.

  • TruckDweller

    I’m interested in fracking as a phenomenon. I like a good character drama. I’m less interested in what Matt Damon and John Krazinski have to say on the subject. It’s great when you have to research a script and really come out an expert. But sometimes you feel like the writers are researching what it is to be a regular person and that phoniness bleeds through. I didn’t see this and I didn’t read past the first fifteen pages, but I got that whiff of “Hollywood tries to understand normal” from this.

  • kenglo

    Character Driven Drama is not dead. The Descendants, Silver Linings Playbook, Million Dollar Baby, to name a few that I happen to love. What Promised Land suffered from was ED – http://johnaugust.com/2009/what-does-execution-dependent-mean

    It just, for whatever reason, did not ‘click’, as mentioned in the article, like Slumdog Millionaire. It struck a nerve in the audience. (Personally, I had just seen City of God before hand and was not impressed with Slumdog). But Promised Land sounds too close to an Erin Brokavich film (I have not seen Promised Land). But I think the fact like Carson stated, that fracking (is that something like friggin’?, I dunno) just isn’t in the consciousness of regular folks. I saw the Redford film, the Company You Keep, and although it was ‘good’, it was not GREAT. Then I saw A Place Beyond the Pines and was like WOW….Just my opinion!

  • Mike.H

    Movie tickets are now north of $10-12. Matineee $7 or more… ppl are shying away from straight dramas that offer no to low payoff at the 2 hr mark.

    Sidenote: I have no idea why PRISONERS was 2.5 hr long. It could easily be trimmed off 35 minutes with no negative effects.

    • drifting in space

      This is typically why I save my movie going experience for movies that NEED to be seen on the big screen.

      I’d rather sit on my couch, in the comfort of my own home, sipping on some coffee, and fire up the DVD of (insert emotionally gripping drama).

      I’ll see Prisoners but it isn’t essential for it to be at the theater. Plus, 2.5 hours in a theater seat is not exactly the most comfortable experience in the world.

  • tom8883

    The big “oomph” factor is absolutely necessary for the international market. The growing big markets (e.g. Asia) don’t play anything but Pacific Rims.

  • Spitgag

    Someone should make After Hailey.

  • ff

    Promised Land is a great movie that brings up the subject rather than hit you on the head, which is exactly what I think is important. Get people to think, not tell them HOW to think. And it did it very well.

  • ff

    Promised Land is a million times better than Elysium that’s for sure.

  • ff

    I hear ya but I guess that would be the marketing right?

    The movie actually barely discusses fracking. Personally I wish they would have dealt with it more as you really don’t learn anything. Check it out.