How to Market a Fanboy Film Franchise

Q&A: Director Bryan Singer Offers Insight as Paramount Preps New 'Star Trek'

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LOS ANGELES ( -- With just a single Earth month left before "Star Trek" is beamed into theaters around the world, Paramount Pictures allowed fanboys attending Ain't It Cool News' Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday night to boldly go where no geek had gone before: aboard director J.J. Abrams' reboot of the seven-years-dormant sci-fi franchise.

Bryan Singer
Bryan Singer Credit: Newscom
Fans who thought they would see 1982's "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" instead were treated to a surprise screening of Mr. Abrams' new film, which was delivered by none other than the original Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who also has a small role in the new movie. Exultant Trekkies rushed online afterward to offer largely positive notices.

Paramount is not the only movie studio seeking to relaunch a major fanboy franchise this summer. A week before "Star Trek" opens, 20th Century Fox will release "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," an effort to exploit one of its most popular mutant properties, the "X Men" series.

With so much being made of fanboys and their supposedly vast power over such films, M&V thought it wise to check in with a Hollywood director who has launched as well as rebooted nerd-reliant comic-book franchises, Bryan Singer. Mr. Singer directed "Superman Returns" for Warner Bros. in 2006, as well as "X Men" (2000) and "X2" (2003) for 20th Century Fox.

Madison & Vine: What lessons did you learn from "Superman" and "X Men" that apply to "Star Trek" and "Wolverine"?

Bryan Singer: For today's climate, it starts with this: If you're going to make a quality franchise movie, you have to spend the money. If you don't, it's nothing risked, nothing gained. And that was the problem with the [previous] "Star Trek" movies: Toward the end there, their budgets were constantly diminished.

M&V: But not this time. Most insiders say Paramount has spent triple what they spent on the last "Star Trek," and Fox --

Mr. Singer: And that's the right way to relaunch. In science-fiction fantasy, you just have to just go for it.

M&V: "Star Trek" and "Wolverine" are very similar, in that they're essentially an effort to reboot a franchise, and expensive blockbusters that --

Mr. Singer: I think they're different, actually.

M&V: How so?

Mr. Singer: With "Wolverine," even though it's a, uh, let's call it a "prequel-ization," you're carrying through -- you're relatively on the coattails of "X Men: The Last Stand" and incorporating Hugh Jackman as a character [again]. "Star Trek" is coming out seven years after the last film. That's a little harder.

M&V: It seems Paramount is actually returning to its base, the Trekkies, which seems counterintuitive for a franchise that's been mothballed for seven years, no? How important are they, really?

Mr. Singer: Look, I am a big Trekkie. Without wanting to alienate the core fan base myself, I'll say it's a group you want to have close and be open to at all times. But if you make a good movie that's entertaining, a lot of hard-core fans will see the movie anyway. That audience will still appreciate it.

M&V: But by his own admission, J.J. Abrams is not a Trekkie. Does that set him back with that crowd?

Mr. Singer: The thing with J.J., I'm a bigger fanboy than he is, and that's a benefit to the picture. Because he can say, "What's going to entertain me?" and not worry [about fan expectation].

M&V: What was the fanboys' reaction in the run-up to "X Men"?

Mr. Singer: That first one -- I can't tell you the difficulty and skepticism I experienced. It was brutal. All I had was fear and skepticism from the core fan base.

M&V: Gory details, please.

Mr. Singer: A photo of a stuntman wearing a "Wolverine" costume went online somehow. He had a rig around his waist for the shot, and it just looked terrible. It got out on the internet, and it created this terribly negative reaction to movie. I was like, "This is not very representative of my intentions."

M&V: How have those fanboys changed how you release information about a movie?

Mr. Singer: Well, back then, I didn't want to feed them anything; I wanted to surprise them. Because I am sorta that way myself: I like to go see a movie fresh.

M&V: But the fanboys obsess about every little detail and freak if there any changes. How much do you have to pay attention to that?

Mr. Singer: I don't want to take any importance away from the fanboys, but it's about making a good movie and then marketing the hell out of it. If you do that, the fans will come up to meet you.

M&V: How so?

Mr. Singer: There was this terrible apprehension about Hugh Jackman being 6'3" [when the comic-book character is much shorter] and about the "Wolverine" costume not being yellow like it was in the [Marvel] comic books. Now, if I'd put Hugh Jackman in yellow spandex, it would have looked -- I hesitate to use the word "ridiculous," but ...

What I mean is I did make a point of including a scene in the "X Men" movie that referenced that there'd be no yellow spandex. And by doing so, you're saying, "Hey, I paid attention to this. I, too, watched all 70 episodes of the animated series, but this is what I came up with." If you do, you may not please everyone, but you will please the moviegoing audiwebence.

M&V: And they came around?

Mr. Singer: More than that. What I noticed happen was that a lot of the Marvel comic books started to change and evolve. The moment we finished the movie, suddenly I started to see comic books where the costumes looked more like the one in the film. It happened organically after the movie came out.

M&V: So what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the marketing of "Star Trek," if it's not winning over the fanboys?

Mr. Singer: In selling it, that will be the international audience, because it hasn't done well overseas. Bringing it to an international audience and having them reach an understanding the characters.

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