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Monday Mouse Watch: Meet Alan Bergman, Disney’s leader of the brand

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Monday Mouse Watch: Meet Alan Bergman, Disney’s leader of the brand

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All of you “Pirates of the Caribbean” fans who have been feeling seasick ever since Johnny Depp said that his interest in appearing in a fourth installment of this film series had waned can now breath a bit easier.

According to what Bob Iger said last Thursday during The Walt Disney Company’s fourth quarter earnings conference call, Depp “ … is very much on board” with “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” Iger then went on to say that

“… we are close to naming a director … (and) we expect to commence shooting with Pirates 4 sometime in the spring.”

Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides Logo
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“But who will that director be?,” you ask. That is the $2.6 billion (i.e. the worldwide gross of the “Pirates” film franchise to date) question that all of Hollywood has been buzzing about since back in April. Which is when Gore Verbinski (the director of the first three “Pirates” pictures) announced that he was bailing out of “On Stranger Tides” so that he could then make a movie version of “BioShock” for Universal (A project which almost immediately stalled out due to budgetary concerns).

So who did Disney get to replace Gore? For weeks now, rumors have been circulating that “Pirates” producer Jerry Bruckheimer has been meeting with Rob Marshall. With this movie mogul trying to persuade that Academy Award nominee (i.e. for his direction of “Chicago”) to come helm “On Stranger Tides.”

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Rob Marshall? He’s the guy who directed ‘Nine,’ right? That upcoming Weinstein Company movie that’s supposed to be a shoo-in for a statue or two once Oscar time rolls around next March. Why would someone like that agree to take on ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 4’ ? Wouldn’t be a step down, career-wise?”

Cast of "Nine"
Copyright 2009 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved

Maybe at some other studio. But what with last week’s announcement that Alan Bergman, president of Walt Disney Studios, has now been placed in charge of managing the studio’s film franchises … Well, the Mouse House is about to enter a whole new era when it comes to how these Disney-branded properties are leveraged across the Company.

Bergman has long been an evangelist when it comes to how Disney is different when it comes to film franchises. How the Company can do things with its branded content that other entertainment companies only dream of doing.

Speaking at Merrill Lynch’s Fall Preview conference back in September of 2008, Alan used Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” as an example of how successful film franchises can be leveraged, sending ripples of profits through every division of the Company:

Alan Bergman and John Lasseter at the Tinker Bell movie premiere at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood
Alan Bergman (L) and John Lasseter at the 2008 red carpet premiere for "Tinker Bell."
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“We released (those films) theatrically and then on home entertainment. We sold (Pirates-themed) toys, apparel, books and video games. Pirates also drove significant traffic to the Disney website and the updated Pirates ride increased attendance at our theme parks. As you can see, great Disney-branded properties lift the entire company.”

But until just recently, Bergman was preaching in the wilderness. No one in upper management really shared Alan’s enthusiasm for the idea that there were ever more opportunities out there for promoting the Studio's film franchises.

But then last month, Rich Ross was named Chairman of Walt Disney Studios. And given that Ross had built Disney Channel Worldwide into a powerhouse by skillfully turning sitcoms like “Hannah Montana” and TV movies like “High School Musical” into best-selling multi-media brands … There was now someone at the top who shared Bergman’s vision about how things could be done (more importantly, should be done) at the Mouse House.

Gary Marsh, Zac Efron and Rich Ross on the red carpet for High School Musical 2
(L to R) Gary Marsh, President of Disney Channel Worldwide, Zac Efron and Rich Ross
at the red carpet premiere for the "High School Musical 2" DVD.
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Which is why last week – when all sorts of folks were being handed their walking papers on the Burbank lot – Alan not only hung onto his old job, he got more power and responsibility. Now Bergman will be regularly conferring with Hollywood heavy hitters like Bruckheimer. As he makes sure that every possible platform is considered when it comes to how Disney's film franchises can be leveraged.

This is the tidbit that’s supposedly being dangled in front of Rob Marshall. That “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” would effectively be the guinea pig for the new way that movies are marketed at the Mouse House. That every single possibility for cross-promotion of this motion picture with other divisions of The Walt Disney Company would be explored and then exploited.

Mind you, the actual implementation of this plan will have to wait ‘til Ross officially names the new head of Marketing at the Mouse House. Whoever they are, this soon-to-be-named individual (who is rumored to be a Company outsider) is going to have an unprecedented level of power. Her or she will – in effect – be calling the shots, marketing-wise, for all of Disney’s live-action productions, any animated films that Pixar, ImageMovers Digital & WDAS produce, whatever motion pictures that DreamWorks Studios & Miramax Films release as well as the Home Entertainment versions of all of the above titles.

Disney's A Christmas carol train tour
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So what sort of marketing efforts should we expect from here on in? Well, it’s a pretty safe bet that the Christmas Carol Train Tour is the last old-school publicity stunt that we’ll see out of Disney for the foreseeable future. In the place of events like this … Look for the Mouse House to use social media platforms like Twitter & Facebook in order to give film fans the sort of access that they’ve previously just dreamed about.

And when it comes to “On Stranger Tides,” Disney & Bruckheimer are reportedly toying with the idea of taking “Pirates” fans from when the very first frame of film is shot right up until the red carpet premiere at Disneyland. In effect creating a real-time diary about the making of this movie, where you’re taken every step of the way through all phases of production.

Which – given what happened while “Dead Man's Chest” and “At World's End” were being shot in the Bahamas in October 2005 (Hurricane Wilma swept down on this shooting location, forcing the evacuation of the cast & crew. This Category 5 storm knocked over several trailers and destroyed some service roads that had been built to this remote location. Which is why shooting of these "Pirates" sequels had to be delayed for several weeks while repairs were made) – is a pretty bold idea to float. Let alone attempt.

You can get made up to be a pirate at the Pirate League
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But at least from the Parks and Resorts & Consumer Products side of the Mouse House, this proposed Company-wide promotional push for Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise can’t come soon enough. The Magic Kingdom’s latest POTC tie-in – the “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique” –inspired Pirates League is reportedly really struggling. Which is why -- in order to bring in more customers -- this new Adventureland experience just began offering significant discounts. Now through January 3rd, Cast Members, annual passholders & DVC members will get 50% off on any Pirate makeover packages that they purchase.

And as for the Consumer Products side of this equation … All you have to do is tour WDW’s Cast Connections shop (i.e. that backstage Cast-Members-Only shop where unsold Disney World merchandise is heavily discounted / priced to move) and see all of the old “DMC” & “AWE” –themed items that are now selling for 10 cents on the dollar … And you realize that this particular Disney franchise could really use a shot in the arm right about now. Something that will get people excited about “Pirates” once more.

Which could be “On Stranger Tides.” Or perhaps it will be that new Disney franchise which the Company is still a year or so out from officially announcing. Which will supposedly follow in “Disney Fairies” footsteps and become quality content that can quickly be leveraged across all of The Walt Disney Company’s delivery platforms.

Roy Disney at the Save Disney meeting
Photo by Jeff Lange

So what do you folks think? Do you share Alan Bergman & Rich Ross’ vision of the future when it comes to Disney's film franchises? Or are you more like Roy E. Disney? Who – when speaking at a Save Disney rally in Philadelphia back in March of 2004 – once famously remarked that “ … brands are for cattle.”

Your thoughts?

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  • well, all right, more mediocre, over-hyped films targeted for twelve-year-olds.  Fantastic.

    Brands are for cattle.  That they are.

  • The key is that there has to be steak with the sizzle.  All the marketing in the world can't save a movie people don't want to see.  And the Pirate's League needs a LOT more help then discounts.  They're selling an experience to boys but they don't understand that all boys need for that experience is a coat hanger to mock sword fight with.  They HAVE to add more to the experience to justify the price.

  • This is what Disney does best and what (it seems) ONLY Disney can do. It's what sets Disney apart from their competition.

    I've said it before and I will say it again, Disney is a FOR PROFIT company. They are not a non-profit setup to satisfy all the foamers fantasies.

    And for Disney to spend >$100 million on the next GREAT attraction or the next GREAT animated feature they have to have that kind of money in the bank.

  • This post was mentioned on Twitter by peter_pek: Monday Mouse Watch: Meet Alan Bergman, Disney's new leader of the brand - Jim Hill Media.com: Jim Hill Media.co.. http://bit.ly/3v8H3o

  • According to Ain't It Cool News, Rob Marshall is directing POTC4.

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