In the world of entertainment, the journey from concept to blockbuster success can be a winding and unpredictable road. Sometimes, a property that seems like an unlikely candidate for the big screen can become a groundbreaking hit that captivates audiences worldwide. This fascinating transformation is precisely what we’ll explore today as we delve into the making of the Barbie movie, a remarkable success story that reshaped the DNA of a beloved childhood toy and turned it into a cinematic triumph.
Our CEO and founder of Screen Engine/ASI and Don’t Kill the Messenger podcast host, Kevin Goetz, sat down with Robbie Brenner, one of the producers of the summer movie-hit Barbie. With over two decades of experience in the film industry and a recent promotion to the role of President of Mattel Films, Robbie Brenner brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the conversation. She is no stranger to producing critically acclaimed films, including the Oscar-winning “Dallas Buyers Club.” Today, she shares her insights into the making of Barbie and the role that audience research played in its development and final editing.
Lesson 1: Challenging Assumptions
The journey of Barbie began with a surprising revelation. Five years ago, when Mattel Properties was considering its foray into the world of cinema, Capability testing – pre-green light concept testing – conducted by Screen Engine placed Barbie near the bottom of the list of movie potentials amongst all of its key IP. The initial perception was that Barbie was primarily associated with young girls, creating a very limited audience appeal. However, as Kevin Goetz recalls, Robbie Brenner’s response to the study results was nothing short of bold determination. She understood the significance of Barbie as one of Mattel’s most important properties and was determined not to run from the challenge.
Lesson 2: The Power of Transformation
The Barbie movie’s success story teaches us that you can change a property’s DNA, but you must do it boldly and with unwavering commitment. The creative team, including Greta Gerwig, Noah Baumbach, Margot Robbie, Tom Ackerly, David Heyman, and Robbie Brenner herself, embarked on a transformative journey. They reimagined Barbie not as a character confined to a narrow demographic but as a symbol of empowerment, diversity, and inclusivity. This bold redefinition resonated with audiences of all ages, leading to a groundbreaking hit.
Lesson 3: Elevated Theatrical Experience
The Barbie movie was not just a film; it was an elevated theatrical experience that left a lasting impact. It shattered box office records, earning its place as the highest-grossing global release in Warner Bros. Studio’s century-long history. This success reaffirms the lesson that a well-executed transformation can result in a captivating cinematic experience that transcends initial expectations.
Lesson 4: Lesson 4: Story Essence Matters
Robbie Brenner’s focus on a movie’s purpose holds profound value in both marketing research and filmmaking. The concept of a film being “sticky” is pivotal, as seen in the successes of “Barbie,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and “Into the Spider-Verse.” These films share a common trait – they possess a distinctive, authentic narrative that dares to be bold. In the crowded entertainment landscape of 2023, movies with a clear, unique perspective stand out and attract audiences. These films, like “Barbie,” provide an unforgettable and compelling experience that resonates. This lesson is a reminder to marketers and filmmakers alike of the importance of crafting content that not only entertains but also leaves a lasting impact.
Lesson 5: Balancing Creativity and Feedback
Insights emerged from audience feedback during the testing of the Barbie movie. An Arizona screening provided a unique test, with initial responses falling short of extraordinary. What shines through is the commitment to preserving the film’s core essence, despite budget constraints and narrative tweaks. This illustrates the delicate equilibrium between storytelling and audience reception. Greta Gerwig’s ability to honor her creative vision while heeding audience feedback showcases her prowess as a filmmaker. It’s a vital lesson for both marketing research executives and filmmakers – the art of listening to the audience while safeguarding the story’s heart is paramount to cinematic success.
Lesson 6: Endings
In this podcast segment, a crucial lesson emerges for marketing research executives and filmmakers alike. While it’s commonly believed that the first 15 minutes of a movie are pivotal, what truly resonates with audiences is the ending. The last 10 minutes must leave a lasting, amazing impression. However, Kevin Goetz and Robbie Brenner also stress the importance of laying the groundwork in the early stages of the film, as often “act three” problems have their roots in “act one.” With the rise of streaming services and audience attention spans dwindling within the first few minutes, it’s essential to also grab viewers’ attention from the very start. This lesson underscores the significance of both intellectual and emotional satisfaction in a film’s conclusion, as exemplified by successful movies like “Barbie” and “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” Ultimately, it reminds us that a strong beginning and an unforgettable ending are key elements in crafting a cinematic experience that leaves a lasting impact.
Lesson 7: The Vital Role of Capability Testing
In this segment of the podcast interview, an essential aspect of marketing research for filmmaking is highlighted – Capability testing. Robbie Brenner shares the value of testing concepts, beyond mere log lines, to distill the core elements and gauge audience responses. The anonymity of testing with individuals of various ages and demographics provides valuable insights into how a movie may be received. It serves as a roadmap for decision-making, helping determine whether to lean into a particular star, story, marketing position, title, genre or rating. The advice given, to avoid making “feathered fish” movies that cater to only one or two quadrants, underscores the importance of casting a wide net to engage a broader audience. It’s a reminder that marketing research, particularly Capability testing, plays a vital role in shaping a film’s direction and appeal to a diverse viewership.
The making of the Barbie movie is a testament to the power of research, creativity, and unwavering commitment at play in the entertainment industry. It shows us that even properties with seemingly limited appeal can be transformed into cinematic gems that capture the hearts of diverse audiences. Robbie Brenner’s process from her belief in early concept testing all the way through to the release of a film, shines light on how she rose to the pinnacle of success as President of Mattel Films. She serves as an inspiring example of how bold vision and perseverance can reshape the landscape of a motion picture.
As marketing research executives, we can draw valuable lessons from this remarkable story. It reminds us to challenge assumptions, embrace transformation, and create experiences that elevate the audience’s expectations. In the ever-evolving world of entertainment, the Barbie movie stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when we work collaboratively embracing the potential for change and growth.