Monday, April 13

Making Connections: James Hoke, What Goes Up


Three years ago, James Hoke, president of Las Vegas-based Destination Marketing Group, had a single conversation that became a defining moment in his life. While he didn't know it at the time, that single conversation set the stage for another conversation almost a year later.

“Do you want to start a production company and make a movie?”

Today, James Hoke is an executive producer behind the film What Goes Up (formerly Safety Glass), which is scheduled for release to select theaters in early May. It stars Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby, and Molly Shannon.

"You don't really appreciate how much communication is required as an executive producer until you have the job," says Hoke. "You work 12-hour days seven days a week on slow days, with a team that is literally brought together over night. It might sound like long hours, but my love for the job and a balanced life makes it feel a lot less like work. Of course, that's not to say I wouldn't have loved to know everything I know now back then."

Like all films, producing What Goes Up wasn't without challenges. The production took longer to complete than originally anticipated, there was some initial confusion in the United States over the title, and Hoke wishes they would have built in marketing, public relations, and social media efforts when the production began.

"The film took a little longer to complete, but for good reason. We really wanted to record and incorporate a new Hilary Duff single into the soundtrack," says Hoke. "We couldn't complete the original song until November last year. We think it was worth the wait, and we're hoping Hilary Duff fans agree."

The soundtrack for the movie, which Hoke will be sharing more information tomorrow on the What Goes Up Insider blog, was overseen by Anthony Miranda, one of three partners in Three Kings Productions, which was the driving force behind What Goes Up. Miranda has worked on several dozen movie soundtracks.

"Well, I'm obviously biased, but Miranda is such an amazing talent," Hoke said. "I think he is going to surprise a lot of people with the soundtrack he has put together."

As for the change in titles, Hoke says there wasn't much to it. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which is responsible for North American distribution, came up with the new name.

"There really isn't much of story there," says Hoke. "I actually love the name. I hope everyone does too. It lends a lot of meaning to the film given the message. We all need heroes, and we need them so bad that sometimes we forget our heroes are human."

Hoke is hoping the human connection plays out in other ways as well. Currently, he is the driving force behind marketing and public relations efforts, which includes employing social media to help make a connection with fans. According to Hoke, he wants to develop a model where fans can connect with cast and crew on a different level than traditional marketing efforts alone.

"After seeing thousands of fans visit the production blog despite being in development, I can only imagine what might have happened if we started a year ago while we were still in production," says Hoke. "I think back on this amazing journey and now realize that fans could have been part of it all in real time. My advice to any producer, especially independent film producers, is start your efforts early and RIGHT NOW. Movies are magical experiences. You don't have to share every detail, but it's important to recognize that people want to be involved, and it would be very beneficial to have a base well before distribution."

Hoke adds that he and his partners are fortunate and grateful that fans have taken an interest in the film. With five solid stars rounding out the cast, many have expressed that they feel as if they have as much of a stake in the movie as the producers. In some ways, they might be right.

What Goes Up is only a few weeks away from its first appearance in theaters. As a limited theatrical release, it will require a very different marketing approach than the proverbial blockbuster. Hoke says they will roll the film out in select major markets, connecting with fans internationally and focusing most marketing efforts in those select markets.

"We've paid close attention to what other films have done right and wrong, and we think that will give us a significant advantage," says Hoke. "If I have any concerns it will be that some fans won't see some of the efforts we are putting forth on the local level so they will assume we're not doing everything possible. We will be. And with their support, the early success will determine how far the movie will go."

Hoke says that might sound like a long shot, but many aspects of the film seemed like a long shot at different stages of development. Producing an exclusive single with Hilary Duff seemed like a long shot. Reaching an agreement with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which has helped develop several key aspects of the film, including a movie poster that resonates with fans, was a long shot. Teaming up with Kirk Shaw at Insight Film Studios, LTD., which Hoke defines as an amazing company, seemed like a long shot. Working the people at Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) Worldwide seemed like a long shot. And looking all the way back to the first conversation between Hoke and Joe Nahas seemed like a long shot too.

"Looking back at the first story written in 2007, I have to ask myself, what part of this production wasn't a long shot?" says Hoke. "What part of anything great in our lives isn't a long shot? In many ways, that is what this real film is about. It's about what makes a hero, and I think that's what people will be asking well after they leave the theaters. We're all human."

In an effort to keep it real, Hoke concludes that he will be undertaking what he calls another "long shot" tomorrow — writing his very first blog post. He says it will be the first of several to round out a mixed editorial concept, which includes alternating between weekly news announcements, guest posts, interviews, and review highlights.

Why is writing a post a long shot? He laughs, saying that when it comes to movies, writing is sometimes best left to people like Jonathan Glatzer and Robert Lawson, the two writers responsible for the script.

The weekly ROC post, which focuses on communication measurement and usually appears on Mondays, will be follow tomorrow. Additional disclosure: Copywrite, Ink. is involved with the release efforts; this story is independent of those efforts.

4 comments:

Jason on 4/13/09, 12:47 PM said...

Having the blog and social media stuff ready to go would have been great. If I'm interested in a film, band. etc. I want to know all I can about it. You definitely feel more connected to a project if you see it through the developing stages and I think you ultimately appreciate it more.

Rich on 4/13/09, 2:03 PM said...

Jason,

Very true. I think what James is talking about is right on ... that films, especially independent releases, would benefit from an early presence.

So much of the film industry today is built on "buzz," which is why we're seeing so many movies seem to go straight to DVD, despite top drawing names. It only makes sense to give fans something to talk about. All they have to do is balance the information so it doesn't become a leak, as I've talked about before.

I can say, this film, seems to be blessed in that the Hilary Duff and Josh Peck fans are especially excited to see it. They're good people.

All my best,
Rich

James Hoke on 4/14/09, 10:03 AM said...

Jason,

You are right. Social media is amazing! I knew it in 2007, but it was still pretty new for most people.

Three Kings will have more films in its future. We're going to think about this stuff much more differently.

Thanks for your comment. Rich ... appreciated.

James

Rich on 4/14/09, 3:23 PM said...

James,

Glad to see you had a moment to drop by. I'm sure we'll be talking soon.

All my best,
Rich

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