05 June 2010

Subtitles and Film Marketing for US Audiences

In 1985, the folks at Orion (today Sony Picture Classics) were trying to figure out how to market Akira Kurosawa's 'Ran' to US audiences. Co-founder and co-president Michael Barker remembers clearly how he and co-founder / president Tom Bernard saw the dilemma: they thought this was a film that could really appeal to young audiences yet, Barker recalls, 'at the time, young audiences wouldn't go to subtitled films.' So they did something that was so brilliantly obvious that it's hard to believe it wasn't already commonplace, something that instantly became the norm: they had a trailer made for 'Ran' that omitted the Japanese and thus rendered subtitles unnecessary. They marketed the film, in other words, with the hope that it might be mistaken for an English language picture. 'We knew that if we could just get them into the theater, then they'd love the film,' says Barker. Art house distributors had adopted the retailers' bait-and-switch tactics, and they were working.