Have you ever wanted to tell Hollywood that their ideas stink? Or maybe you even have a better idea for a movie than the trash that gets greenlit? What if there was a website that could let you express all of that? Louis Plamondon and programmer Tim Ginn created just that with The Sleepy Skunk, a new innovative website in beta testing that lets you vote on and suggest movies that Hollywood should be making. Read my in-depth interview with Louis after the break.
MovieViral: So, Louis. Tell us how you came up with the idea for The Sleepy Skunk.
Louis Plamondon: I was having a conversation with my wife about why some movies get made and some don’t get made. What is the criteria that allows studios to go ahead and decide what ideas they should invest millions of dollars into. The conclusion of that talk was that everything that is made by major studios was ultimately put into production because another movie that came out proved its popularity. If you take this Summer’s raunchy comedies for example, they were all greenlit by various studios because The Hangover was a hit last Summer. The problem with that system is that by trying to reproduce what has already been made, the movie industry starts feeding us the same concepts and stories over and over again and a fresh new concept gets left aside. So I tried to figure out why as recently as the 80’s, the movie industry did not work like that and original ideas used to be the norm. Filmmakers could take risks back then, not just the director of the highest grossing Film of all time (Titanic) and the 2nd highest grossing film of all time (Dark Knight) had the lobbying power to bring their personal ideas to screen. You take a movie like Beetlejuice for example… Tim Burton had a paper thin resume when he made that movie and it was such a personal project when you look back on it. Our conclusion is that back then, movies were much cheaper to make so studios could take a flop and move on.
MV: How did you get from that revelation to the idea of making a website where anyone could pitch their ideas and vote for others’ ideas?
LP: I thought that ultimately, studios don’t want to take a risk because rejection is too costly even if the movie is great. So what can we do to help them reduce that risk? In October 2009, Paramount decides to release Paranormal Activity, a movie with no stars, no budget, just a good idea and a camcorder. Their challenge is to sell that idea to the audience without having it dismissed as a low-budget haunted house movie. So they started this campaign called “DEMAND IT” on their website. The benefit of having fans DEMANDING the movie was to, economically speaking, build a demand and quantify it before the movie gets released. The movie was a great success at the box-office, once again negating that you need big special effects and big names to pass 100M. What amazed me though… is how many people took the time to vote.
I started looking at the internet, and social media, as a way to communicate with studios before they release their movies. Instead of ignoring their movies by not buying tickets, I started thinking it could be possible to tell them “Hey, don’t make a movie out of a board game… it’s not credible enough for us to buy tickets for it”. So I teamed up with a very talented programmer (Tim Ginn), who did is Masters of Computer Science on online interaction platforms, and we started coding until it was done…
MV: What is the ultimate goal of the website?
LP: There are two goals –
1. Provide quantitative evidence that an original idea for a movie would be successful at the box-office.
2. Provide quantitative evidence that some of the movies that are actually coming out should have never been made in the first place.
MV: I found the second idea to be very interesting. Instead of just focusing on new ideas, you are trying to make your point even stronger by allowing in projects that are already being considered.
LP: Yup, we need real upcoming movies in there to act as a benchmark – The Dark Knight Rises is the currency of the website right now. Everyone knows what a Dark Knight is worth, so it gives them an idea on how much interest all the other movies are receiving by comparing that score.
Goal number one is banking on trying to resolve why there is so few original ideas being made. What I believe is that it’s because all other types of movies can bring numbers that prove audience interest, an original idea cannot. The Hunger Games has sold 3 million copies without a movie. It’s a sure thing. But a movie like Super 8 or Inception? Well, there is no way to show a built-in audience because they’re telling a story we’ve never heard of with characters we have yet to know. The goal of the site is to be that support to these ideas… that equivalent of the 3 million books or the two previous movies that were huge. If a very large amount of moviegoers rally behind what could be even just one original idea on the site, it would be a whole less risky for a studio to go ahead and give it a try. That’s by far the number one goal of The Sleepy Skunk… be the built in audience for original concepts so that they stop being tossed aside. If people want more originality in Hollywood, all we have to do is prove that originality can make as much money as the rest.
I was worried when we started testing… worried that original ideas would sit at the bottom of the site, but so far I’ve been really impressed with how much support some of them are getting! One of the ideas is called “The Antiheroes” and it’s like The Expendables but with all the actors who are always cast as villains in action movies. No built-in audience, but the testers are really supporting it – they feel that it would make a movie that most of them would pay to see. Which is all a movie really needs in the end… if you look at the most acclaimed and successful mainstream movies ever made: Jaws, The Exorcist, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, The Wizard of Oz. One thing that all these movies have in common is a really good idea that makes people say “oh that’s a good concept/idea for a movie!”
MV: With a site that demands audience participation to work, were you worried about its early success?
LP: I am still worried about it since we haven’t launched yet, just in testing phase. I went into it with the belief that moviegoers want their say in which movies should be made. And used Paramount’s Paranormal Activity viral experiment as proof that they will take the time to vote on it.
MV: How has the response been so far in the testing phase? You already have over 4,000 Facebook Fans.
LP: The response has been fantastic! Not because of the positive comments which we received a whole lot of, but because all the more negative feedback was constructive. People who did not like the site still believed in its cause and purpose, but had suggestions (technical mainly) on how to make it more on target and more easy to use. The plan is to get to 10,000 users without the use of marketing or promotion – just by referrals and private invites. If we can make that group happy and coming back to the site regularly to suggest ideas and vote on them, I won’t be worried anymore.
MV: Speaking of promotions, I noticed you don’t have any advertising. Are you planning to make this into a career, or is this more of a side hobby for you?
LP: It’s a pet project (literally – wow… bad pun). The worse case scenario has always been that it’s fun to debate with other moviegoers on who should be the next Batman, which classic should never be remade, and all… so at it’s least successful outcome, the site will remain online just for fun. Best case scenario is to gather such an intimidating crowd on the site that Hollywood becomes the new victim of Facebook as a tool of allowing we, the people, to gather and take control (after Egypt and Syria). Fundamentally, I think that a person behaves differently once they have proof that hundreds of thousands of other people agree with them. That’s what makes social media such a dangerous weapon. If I think a movie looks terrible, and you think so too, who are we anyway? Our opinion is worth about 25 dollars at the box-office when it comes to that movie’s potential success. We’ll think… who knows, people might go see that. Just not my cup of tea… looks terrible but maybe it’s just me. The Sleepy Skunk wants to be able to say: No, it’s not just you, in fact the vast majority of the moviegoing population thinks it looks atrocious.
MV: Speaking of “pet project”, how did you come up with the name “Sleepy Skunk” and the style of the website?
LP: Tim and I were both hesitant to attempt a project like this as ourselves so we thought it would be fun to go “Daft Punk” with it. A Skunk is a funny animal because it commands respect but looks completely inoffensive at the same time. Nobody wants to get sprayed. We felt that sleep would be an entertaining way to evaluate the interest of moviegoing audiences. Everyone can remember one movie they went to see at some point that had them take a nap in a theater. So the more interest a movie idea receives, the more awake the character becomes. It’s like a Pop-corn meter, but fueled by indifference.
MV: Can you tell us how the rankings work?
LP: Sure. We take the number of people who vote yes on a given movie idea, divide it by the total number of users and multiply it by a hundred. It’s a bit more intricate, we have an algorithm to exclude the users who clearly aren’t voting at all after a given time period, but the basic idea is just that. Out of everyone, that’s the percentage of people who would pay money to see this movie if it got made. I wonder how high some scores will go as the site grows in popularity in the upcoming months. Something could really catch fire if it’s good and worth making into a movie!
MV: So what happens to a movie on your site once it comes out in theaters?
LP: It disappears into oblivion, but you can still find it by using the search bar. We don’t want to remove content, but really are focusing on telling studios which movies audiences want to see. Therefore a recent release if off the table in a discussion like that.
MV: Our last question. When does the site officially launce to the public?
LP: The goal is to get to 10,000 users by the end of October and it’s achievable based on the flow of registration so far. More important is the improvements we want to bring to the site before launching it. So many excellent suggestions have been offered by testers to make smaller ideas more accessible to discover, and improve overall usability. We want to make them happy and have a site that works perfectly before releasing it into the wilderness. The next goal after that will be iPhone and Android apps for the Holidays.
MV: Awesome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I look forward to seeing the progression of the website and how my Power Rangers idea gets received 🙂
LP: I expect no less than a July 3rd week-end release for the Power Rangers. Most testers who are coming back to the site are doing so because they’re interested in where it’s going to go more than the value the site brings. Will it bring the change we hope it can? That’s really up to moviegoers to ultimately decide in the end. I really think everyone wins if that happens. Let’s see if it does!