Terry Press, President, Strategy & Communication Amblin Partners-Episode #288

Mar 26, 2024 | 0 comments

Terry Press recently joined Amblin Partners in the newly created role of President of Strategy and Communications. Terry oversees the execution of all elements of marketing, publicity, consumer products, and communication for the film and television divisions of Amblin Partners and Steven Spielberg, who said of Terry, “Since the earliest days of DreamWorks, Terry has been a vital part of our DNA, championing our films with her marketing expertise and passion for film. Her reputation in the industry for excellence is well known and we have a long-shared history of great experiences together.”

Terry also continues in her role as a consultant at Turner Classic Movies, where Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson advise the channel.

Recent movies that Terry has worked on with Mr. Spielberg include: The Fabelmans, West Side Story, Lincoln, The Post, and Amblin/Universal’s award-winning 1917.

Previously, Terry was President of CBS Films, where she oversaw the production, marketing, and distribution of such titles as: The Woman in Black, The Duff, Last Vegas, Hell or High Water, At Eternity’s Gate, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, and Ron Howard’s documentary, Pavarotti.

Prior to forming the branding, publicity, strategy, and media and digital positioning company, 7570, Inc., Terry served for ten years as the Head of Marketing for DreamWorks SKG where she oversaw the campaigns for all live-action and animated features, including Saving Private Ryan, American Beauty, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, and Shrek, which won the first Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Terry began her career with a nine-year stint at the Walt Disney Company and Walt Disney Studios.

For several years, she taught marketing at UCLA (which is her alma mater, and for the record, mine, too). Recently, alongside Scott Feinberg, Terry was a guest instructor at Chapman University, Dodge College.

Terry also happens to be married to a favorite StoryBeat guest, the brilliant writer and photographer, Andy Marx.



Headshot photo credit: Andy Marx

Read the Podcast Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat: 

Terry Press: What remains purest has not changed, and that is genuine, non manipulated word of mouth. Word of mouth is a currency. You can try to corrupt it, you can buy Facebook, you can make pretend bots. But in the end, the one thing that is not corruptible is a human being telling another human being. You will love this. That has remained true and is still true. 

Announcer: This is storybeat with Steve Cuden. A podcast for the creative mind. StoryBeat explores how masters of creativity develop and produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden. 

Steve Cuden: Thanks for joining us on StoryBeat. We’re coming to you from the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today, Terry Press, recently joined Amblin Partners in the newly created role of president of strategy and communications. Terry oversees the execution of all elements of marketing, publicity, consumer products and communication for the film and television divisions of Amblin Partners and Steven Spielberg, who said of Terry, quote since the earliest days of DreamWorks, Terry has been a vital part of our DNA championing our films with her marketing expertise and passion for film. Her reputation in the industry for excellence is well known and we have a long shared history of great experiences together. Close quote Terry also continues in her role as a consultant at Turner Classic Movies, where Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson advise the channel. Recent movies that Terry has worked on with Mr. Spielberg include The Fablemans, West Side Story, Lincoln, The Post, and Amblin, Universal’s award winning 1917. Previously, Terry was president of CBS Films where she oversaw the production, marketing and distribution of such titles as The Woman in Black, the Duff, Last Vegas, Hell or High Water, At Eternity’s Gate, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, the Coen brothers, Inside Lewin Davis, and Ron Howard’s documentary Pavarotti. Prior to forming the branding, publicity strategy and media and digital positioning company 75 70 Inc. Terry served for ten years as the head of marketing for DreamWorks SKG, where she oversaw the campaigns for all live action and animated features including Saving Private Ryan, American Beauty, Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, and Shrek, which won the first Oscar for best animated feature. Terry began her career with a nine year stint at the Walt Disney Company and Walt Disney Studios. For several years she taught marketing at UCLA, which is her alma mater, and for the record, mine too. Recently, alongside Scott Feinberg, Terry was a guest instructor at Chapman University Dodge College. I hope she won’t mind my saying that she also happens to be married to one of my favorite storybeat guests, the brilliant writer and photographer Andy Marks. So for all those reasons and many more, it’s my great honor and true privilege to welcome to StoryBeat today the extraordinarily innovative and influential marketing and publicity specialist, Terry Press. Terry, welcome to the show. 

Terry Press: My God, I feel like we should stop now. 

Steve Cuden: It’s all done. I’ve said everything I need to say. 

Terry Press: I know, it’s like, okay, Thanks. It’s all downhill from here. 

Steve Cuden: Hopefully it is downhill from here. 

Terry Press: No, I know, but I’m like, oh my. Okay! 

Steve Cuden: So let’s go back in time a little bit. And your history, where did your interest in movies begin? How old were you? 

Terry Press: I was eleven and I was a movie obsessed teenager. Now a parent myself, I sort of think if my eleven year old had acted like I did, I would be concerned. I spent just hours and hours and hours and hours and hours going to revival houses and going to theaters. And originally I went with my parents who would take me and then, my parents would have to come down and, you know, watching some UHF channel at 03:00 in the morning to see as Aaron Rogers movies. It really was a singular passion and obsession that never really went away. You know, I had a horse period, but I got over that. But this was the one that I never got over. 

Steve Cuden: What was the movie that really got you first? 

Terry Press: There’s a lot of them that I have very specific memories of being taken to, including ones that made me, in retrospect think, who takes a twelve year old to Cabaret? Like, my parents were very sort of. They were movie focused. They had grown up in the depression and in World War II where movie going was their single biggest activity that they did both alone and with their parents because it was affordable, you could go and spend all day, which everybody knows. And they passed on that to me. And then, people say, oh, what is the movie that changed you? Believe it or not, the movie that I remember feeling going into and then coming out and thinking to myself, I am not the same person as I was when I went in was, That’s Entertainment! I found it just like being transported into another world. And it came out in 1974, it’s 50 years old this year. And I was obsessed with the ad line, which the ad line spoke directly to the consumer. And the ad line for the movie was, boy, do we need it now. And if you remember, in the mid 70s we were doing gas rationing and there was inflation and it was just the mid 70s were kind of a mess, right? And like a hangover from the weird way. And I was so taken with this copy that directly spoke to the consumer, like, hey, you need this movie now. And then I remember going to see it. I saw it at the north point in San Francisco with my parents, I think, and people were so happy. Like, I looked around the theater, just the sheer joy of watching people watching these clips of musicals. My parents were happy. It just was such an experience for me that I never have forgotten it, and I have never forgotten the copy. That is a copy line that I would say made me understand the power of, at least movie advertising. 

Steve Cuden: Well, that’s very interesting, because I think there are many, many people that grow up thinking to themselves, I’d like to make movies. I want to write them, I want to direct them, produce them, act in them, and so on. You wound up in marketing. Was that the beginning of your desire to be in marketing? 

Terry Press: No, I wanted to be a film critic. I went to UCLA. I have my degree in film history. And the truth is that there are very few film critics. And it wasn’t like Pauline Kale was standing there at the end of the receiving line at graduation saying, oh, please take my job. And then the truth is that it’s just a different kind of writing. But I started out as a staff writer, and writing is the first piece in positioning things at the time. And the idea of figuring out what makes something consumable, like what makes somebody want to go see something. What are the elements? What do you build? It’s almost like cooking. It’s like, okay, I’m going to put these 83 ingredients together and hope that it comes out as a cake. And, there’s something procedural, but writing, I could write. And so, being a staff writer, you learn to write press kits, and you learn that the first paragraph, it doesn’t have to tell them what it is. It has to tell them what you want them to think it is. 

Steve Cuden: So I’m fascinated that you use the word consumable, not sellable. I think of marketing as something that you’re selling, but you’re thinking of it as something that people are consuming. 

Terry Press: I think about it from that side. It’s not like selling tide, but it is still something that you want somebody to buy or to buy into. And how you approach that and what the elements are that make someone want to either stream it or plunk down $20, that was interesting to me. 

Steve Cuden: One of the things that they hammered home to me when I was a student at UCLA is that we are in the passion business, not in the education business. We don’t teach people in the movies and tv? Well, sometimes we do, but most of the time, especially in fiction storytelling, we’re in the passion business. We sell gut punches. We don’t sell thinking or academia. Huh. And that’s what you’re talking about, isn’t it? 

Terry Press: I think that it is a consumer product where you are appealing on an emotional and sensory level first. But you know what’s interesting is all those years that I would teach marketing at UCLA, I had to make a movie to graduate as an undergrad. And I always thought it was irresponsible that marketing was not made a required class. 

Steve Cuden: Agreed. 

Terry Press: It’s nice to think that art is art and that people who do marketing on some level are dream killers because they are approaching it from, how am I going to present this to the world? But the truth is to not have to process the idea that you are making something that you want people to see. Okay, if you don’t want people to see it, but then why are you making it? It’s been an interesting, but marketing got more and more prevalent in the, when I was starting my career, and marketing went from just being press books that people made to literally being in green light rooms and the question of who’s it for? And I don’t care, by the way, and I say this to everybody, if you want to make a movie that’s basically about dancing poodles, okay, that’s fine. But somebody’s got to have to come and show me that there are dancing poodle lovers who will want to see this. 

Steve Cuden: So you think about it from the consumer perspective first. 

Terry Press: I do. It was funny. I’ll tell you a story that’s actually along these lines. So I don’t like to go to dailies. I don’t like to watch dailies. I’ll read a script, but I don’t like to see the movie. The first time I go in to see a movie, I want to sit there as if I was sitting in a theater and I’m watching it as an audience person, because dailies and little snippets are not of the whole. And how the whole feels can be very different than little pieces of it shown every day. And sometimes you read things, and then it’s like the movie was different. And I’ll give you a perfect example. I remember working on dead poet society. It’s a great movie and everything, but I believe in a draft of the script, he died. The Robin Williams character died. Okay. So I read that draft, and so I went to the preview waiting for him to, in movie language, go cough. So we think, okay, he’s sick, right. Or say, I have a headache, which means a brain tumor. I kept waiting for some clue. They changed it. Right. And so I like to come to things pretty much with as much information as I have about who’s making it and what went into it. But the actual experience of it coming off a screen at me, I prefer to have it pretty much close to how a regular consumer would have it. 

Steve Cuden: Well, the old adage is you really only get the first time you see it is really the only time you’re ever truly exposed to it fresh. Every subsequent time. It’s like being a repeat. And you’re seeing things differently. 

Terry Press: Correct. 

Steve Cuden: And you prefer to see that fresh thing because that then gives you inspiration and ideas. 

Terry Press: I assume it gives me a chance to say, this is amazing, or by putting this together. There’s story holes here that you don’t see in pieces or watching it in the way that I am watching it in terms of what are the emotional beats in this, what are the things that blow up? Like, what is it? What are the elements of this that are going to put somebody in a seat? 

Steve Cuden: So you’re concentrating on the true emotional beats within the storytelling. 

Terry Press: Correct. 

Steve Cuden: And that is something that you learned in school, I assume? Or did you know that before you ever got to school? 

Terry Press: You know what? Here’s the thing. I’m one of the few people who’ve had jobs, the jobs that I’ve had, and I have no business background. I’m not an MBA. I didn’t come from business. At one point, everybody else in the jobs that I had was like, an MBA or had, an impressive background. And I don’t have that. Like, I don’t have business. So I really do come at it from a non business point of view. 

Steve Cuden: You’re a movie buff? 

Terry Press: I am. It’s so funny. I say to Andy all the know, as you get older, you kind of, like, go back to who you were. And I was a film geek, and I am a film geek, and I’m a film geek. I mean, I’m not complaining, but who literally went off into the business. But, ah, at my core, I remain a film geek. 

Steve Cuden: I’m guessing that that’s why folks like Steven Spielberg like to work with you, because you relate so well to what they do. 

Terry Press: We do speak a language of film geekdom. that is, comforting. But it’s also rewarding to know that something that intrinsically means so much to me and is, it sounds really corny. Cornball. The movies made me. They did my images of America and my images of love. Most of my images are formed from movies. Sure. They are from the movies that I saw. the movies imprinted on me in a way that is lasting and powerful and very much a part of my dna. 

Steve Cuden: How long do you think you worked as a marketer in the early days before you thought you were actually really good at it? How long did it take? 

Terry Press: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s a good question. I would say five years. I had very good mentors, who taught me how to think. One was named Ed Pine and the other was named Gary Calkin. And they were both with me at Disney, and they taught me how to think and how to really look at something from 30,000ft in the air, but also close up. And that’s what marketing is to me. 

Steve Cuden: So for the listeners that don’t know, explain exactly. You just alluded to a part of it. What is marketing? What do you do? What is the purpose of it? 

Terry Press: Marketing is the process by which you package something up for consumption. So it can be. The difference with movies these days is if you’re doing something theatrically, it’s different for streaming, but if you’re doing something theatrically, it’s like a political campaign of how you are rolling out the messaging around this product. Like, what do I want the world to think that this is? So what imagery am I going to show? What single image that you see in a theater is going to make somebody understand what the movie is? What am I going to choose from the movie that will make the movie looked either the most of what it is, the most romantic, the most exciting, the most whatever. Marketing is the sorting of elements that will appeal to a consumer and taking that. And sometimes on a movie, you can work on it for a year. And just like a political campaign, it’s going to come down to Friday, and within 3 hours, I’m going to know sure whether or not it’s a success or not. 

Steve Cuden: The old adage that it’s that first weekend is what you need, right? 

Terry Press: Correct. Like a movie that I did in 2017 called American Assassin, which is a fine movie. It’s not great. It’s the number one movie on Netflix right now. The whole streaming thing, like things that did okay have a whole other life now, and they just pop up out of nowhere. It’s like somehow you have a world where somebody’s trending, and then all of a sudden, the movie that you made with them ten years ago is the number one movie on Netflix, and that’s. 

Steve Cuden: Happening all over streaming. I mean, it’s happened with the tv series suits recently that came back out of nowhere and suddenly became the number one hit. 

Terry Press: Right. That’s a perfect example. So I said to Andy, why do you think suits is working? And he’s like, well, it’s kind of mindless. And I’m like, no, it’s working for young people because Covid made offices obsolete. 

Steve Cuden: Isn’t that interesting? 

Terry Press: So the idea of all this drama going on in an office is now romantic to a certain extent, because people’s whole idea of offices and the idea of a whole world inside an office changed. 

Steve Cuden: With COVID it almost feels like history. 

Terry Press: It does. But there’s a romanticism for, like, oh, look at all this drama and lust and everything that’s going on in an office, because it’s not like that anymore. 

Steve Cuden: So more than 15 years ago, I took a class at UCLA that Peter Goober taught. And all these years ago, he was saying, newspapers are becoming obsolete in motion picture marketing. And I thought, that’s crazy. That can’t be so. And he was absolutely right. 

Terry Press: He was. 

Steve Cuden: How much has marketing changed since you first got into it? 

Terry Press: What remains purest has not changed, and that is genuine, non manipulated word of mouth. Word of mouth is a currency. You can try to corrupt it. You can buy Facebook, you can make pretend bots. But in the end, the one thing that is not corruptible is a human being telling another human being, you will love this. That has remained true and is still true. And as much as we have tried to corrupt it, it is pure and it is real. And that is the one thing that peer group recommendations within your world are the strongest form of marketing. 

Steve Cuden: And can you, as a marketer, influence that in any way, or does it just happen generically? 

Terry Press: Naturally, you can point out what they will like about it. You can get them to see it. But with the advent of social media, the ability to get yourself through a weekend in theaters or whatever died, you’re over. Once the bad word of mouth starts flooding in, you’re just done. That’s it. 

Steve Cuden: That’s social media taking over and spreading the word much more quickly than you would have in the old days with a telephone. 

Terry Press: Absolutely. So, like, social media, for better or worse, has jet rocket fueled word of mouth. It’s bad. It’s bad. 

Steve Cuden: That’s the big change that’s happened in the last 20 years, isn’t it, social media? 

Terry Press: Absolutely. 

Steve Cuden: So it’s interesting to me, audiences now more than ever before, have access to all kinds of movies at all times of the day and night, on all different kinds of screens, and yet people seem to know less and less about the history of movies. Why do you think that is? 

Terry Press: Because the zone is completely flooded and there’s a democratic version of what’s gone on, which is there is a lack of an overall belief in institutionalized editorial, meaning ten best lists. Rolling Stone would say, these are the best albums of the year. And you’d be like, okay, I’m going to listen to these, or here so and so’s ten best list. Okay? Even to a certain extent, the academy puts out a list of ten things, but I don’t think anybody thinks anymore. Like, these are my ten best movies of the year. 

Steve Cuden: It’s because there are too many of them, isn’t it? 

Terry Press: You are flooding the zone, and when you flood the zone again, just like politics, when there is a fire hose of, stuff, okay? And I want to differentiate because I find the term content to be demeaning. No filmmaker, no artist gets up and says, today I want to make some content. They want to make a film, a television show. When you put it all under the heading of content, to me, that just sounds like stuff. 

Steve Cuden: Right? 

Terry Press: Stuff is exhausting, because then it’s up to me, to wade through stuff to try to find the great stuff. And so more and more people’s friend groups or whatever, they lean on them to sort of help figure out what is great or what’s going to be great to me, because there’s just too much stuff. 

Steve Cuden: I had a, similar reaction years ago to the word talent. When they say bring the talent in. Well, you mean the actors, don’t you? And so that, to me, was demeaning as well. So sometimes these words, they have a way of making things seem less important than they are. 

Terry Press: Yes. And making them generic. 

Steve Cuden: Generic is a really good way to say it, instead of having some real artistic difference. 

Terry Press: Right. Which I think is borderline disrespectful. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, it’s very disrespectful. I think we’re going to talk about your process here. That’s what I really want to dig into. You’ve already told us a certain amount of what you do when you first see a movie. You have a reaction to it. You have a visceral reaction to a movie. You’re looking for emotional beats and so on. But let’s talk about the actual technical process, because you have to go through some of that in order to create a campaign. I assume. And so when you are given a film, do you have some sort of a routine that you go through to say, this is how we’re going to get the movie out into the world? 

Terry Press: Yeah. First thing you do is you do basically positioning. 

Steve Cuden: Well, what is it genre wise? 

Terry Press: Yes. people like boxes. They may say they don’t, but what they like is a box that they don’t like being told as a box or that they don’t recognize as a box. But I can give you a box and I can decorate it in such a way that you won’t feel like you’ve seen it before. But there is something comforting about being able to identify what something is. It’s less work. 

Steve Cuden: Well, there was the day and age of blockbuster, and you’d go in and you knew which section you wanted to go to. It was either action or comedy or, romance. There were different sections. This is actually more delineated than that, is it not? 

Terry Press: It is, because I’ll take a recent film where it was described as a thriller, like a romance caper. Okay. So the thing you have to be more than careful of is what we call a feathered fish, which is something that tries to be two things and is recognizable as neither. Instead of just saying, okay, I’m going to sell this as a fish, or, I’m going to sell this as a bird. You try telling the audience, oh, try this, it’s fish with feathers. Okay. And the reaction is, I can’t put my head around that because fish don’t have feathers. So, like, I reject this. So one of the things that I do always tell people who think that they’ve made some kind of genius hybrid thing is pick a lane. 

Steve Cuden: And do they listen to you when you say that? 

Terry Press: Yeah. Well, they will listen. And then if they don’t listen when they see the first trailer, I give everybody an opportunity to do it. And then if they don’t do it, I’m doing it for you. I mean, for years and years and years when you’re in marketing, you’ll have filmmakers say, well, okay, I don’t like this trailer because this isn’t the movie I made. And my response was always, maybe, but this is the movie that people want to see. 

Steve Cuden: That’s great. So now you’ve seen the movie, you’ve got the movie. You know what it’s about. You’re no longer looking at a script or talking about anything like that. You’re looking at the finished film. And how do you then decide in this feathered fish which part of it you’re going to emphasize. And how do you then decide which shots to suggest that the trailer company puts out? 

Terry Press: The trailer company gets the movie first. Very frequently a trailer company gets a movie before I see a movie. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, really? 

Terry Press: Yeah. That’s kind of an agreement that we always have with directors, is his cut, especially if they’re cutting as they go along, will get delivered to the trailer people in advance of people seeing the movie. So the trailer people see a, rough cut. Sometimes if we’re really on a really tight schedule, they’ll get an assembly. They won’t even get a cut. I can have a conversation with a trailer company that’s like a shorthand. Give me this. Let’s try this. Blah blah blah blah. blah. Their job is to either give me the essence of what they think it is or a version of what I’ve told them it has to be. So you work pretty carefully with them. There is a trust level that goes on between a filmmaker and the trailer has that. The trailer. They never talk to you about the movie. They never call up and say, oh my God, I just saw blah blah, blah. Wait to you they don’t. It’s not breachable. Like it’s an understanding that they are doing their job and they have to have access to the movie early on. 

Steve Cuden: And you don’t get involved in the movie pre production, do you? You wait until it’s all the way done. 

Terry Press: I will only get involved by reading a script. And if I say there’s not enough. 

Steve Cuden: Trailer moments here, you say there’s not enough trailer moments. Does that cause the filmmakers to go back and consider that and try to put trailer moments in? 

Terry Press: That’s what they do. 

Steve Cuden: Interesting. 

Terry Press: Sometimes they’ll say, I’ll do it. I don’t think it may not make it to the movie. And I’m like, I don’t care. Although there was a lot of shrine and pearl clutching when people would be like, oh my God, this isn’t in the movie and it’s in the trailer. And I’d be like, I’ve got their money by that point. And if people liked it so much, there was sometimes where I would test a movie and people would say, well, where’s the blah blah blah? Which was something in the trailer that was not in the movie. And then they go and put it in the movie because people specifically remembered it. 

Steve Cuden: So you just said something that I think is really key. We didn’t talk about. The really biggest aspect of the job that you do is to get eyeballs to watch the movies so that the movie makes money. 

Terry Press: That’s it. 

Steve Cuden: It’s all about making money. I mean, that’s what Hollywood’s about. 

Terry Press: It depends on the kind of movie. Like, I’ve worked on many Academy Award winners, which is a different set of. 

Steve Cuden: Criteria, because the money may not be as important. Right. 

Terry Press: Money is not the reason it got made. 

Steve Cuden: Because it’s considered to be a piece of art of some kind. 

Terry Press: Yes. Although something like 1917, Sam and I were very clear that we were out to make money. 

Steve Cuden: So the audience knows. You’re talking about Sam Mendez? 

Terry Press: Yeah. Yes. We wanted to succeed. We wanted it to be a hit. And if the Oscar stuff came, great, but we did not want it branded as that. That was the reason for the movie to exist. 

Steve Cuden: Do you have a thought on the recent controversy in which musicals are being marketed without people being told they’re musicals? 

Terry Press: Yeah. Because I marketed dream girls. I understand. And I did a lot of animated musicals. I’ve done a lot of musicals. Here’s the thing. It is the single most self selecting genre. 

Steve Cuden: What does that mean? 

Terry Press: Meaning if you already have it in your head that you don’t like musicals, I’m telling you, there is almost nothing I can do that will convince you otherwise. It is. People either love them or hate them, and there’s very little space in between. 

Steve Cuden: So we had Barbie, which is a musical, but now we’re also going to see wicked later this year. And that’s clearly a musical, and they’re marketing it as a musical. 

Terry Press: But if you look at the Super bowl spot, there’s no music. 

Steve Cuden: Well, they got her singing at the end of it. 

Terry Press: Yeah, but look, I worked on Sweeney Tod. That was a musical from beginning to end. The whole thing was sung. right. If you go back and look, you would not really know that. I mean, it works for an animated movie because little boys can be brought in with comedy in the end. It is hard to convince somebody who does not like musicals to go. 

Steve Cuden: Do you think of yourself as a storyteller when you’re selling or making it consumable? 

Terry Press: Yeah, I think of myself as telling you, the water is warm. You should come in, but you have. 

Steve Cuden: To tell that in a way that’s palatable. 

Terry Press: I have to make them believe that the water is warm. 

Steve Cuden: I see. 

Terry Press: Okay. And the truth is, a lot of times the water is cold. In the old days, in, like, the could get people in trailers and tv and be like, well, the trailer was great. This isn’t what I thought it was going to be. And that caused, in a weird way, a hangover that has gone on for a long time. Like the trailer is still the most important thing that people see. But people became wary of believing just trailers. 

Steve Cuden: How important are stars to a movie? 

Terry Press: They are additive. The movie business has failed in the last 20 years to make movie stars. There’s very few of them. The idea of somebody who people will come to the movie just because they’re in the movie, those people are far. 

Steve Cuden: Few and far between and fewer and further between. You work for maybe one of the tiny handful of director producers who actually sell movies on their name. 

Terry Press: Yeah, I mean, those are like, my son is a huge Chris Nolan fan. He will go see whatever. Chris Nolan. 

Steve Cuden: Sure. 

Terry Press: And in a weird way, I would say that one of the biggest shifts in the last ten years is a shift toward loyalty to brand. Like a 24 people will go to see an a 24 movie, no matter my young people, because they think it’s going to be good because it’s a 24. There’s more audience building these days between filmmakers or brand than there is between stars. 

Steve Cuden: Isn’t that interesting? Because there was a day and age when it was all about the stars. 

Terry Press: It was all about the stars. But the sort of devaluing and the sort of information highway of knowing too much about these people and the need to fill the entertainment pr machine seven days a week. 20 has taken a great deal of the sort of like the idea of stars being different from us. Now the whole machine is about how they’re just like us. but I don’t really want to go and spend 2 hours with people who are like me. That isn’t the point of what movies do. If I want to hang out with people like me, I can come to work. That’s not the experience of being taken away into Someplace when the stars are just like me. 

Steve Cuden: What is your feeling about how many movies there are feature films that are comic book movies? 

Terry Press: I think that just like everything, if you flood the market, the talent pool is not endless. Okay. You are going to suffer a quality problem. And, the generations now turn over basically every five years. Meaning if you saw something when you were 18 and you’re now 25, you’re in a different age group. It doesn’t mean that it carries over like now. Animation ages out at, about eight to ten. 

Steve Cuden: Interesting. 

Terry Press: Marvel is now a family movie. Animation used to have a marketplace where you would get kids in there who range from four to 15. Right at one point. No more. 

Steve Cuden: Are there genres that you are not comfortable marketing or do you just market everything? 

Terry Press: Here’s the thing. It’s not for me to say what I would be comfortable. The question is whether or, not they’re comfortable making it in the first place. 

Steve Cuden: So I guess a better way for me to ask the question then is, are there types of movies that you find more challenging to market because they’re maybe not your favorite thing in the world? And I’m not asking you to comment on which kind. I’m just curious about the overall idea. 

Terry Press: No. Because will I watch them over and over again? No. But again, when your job is to sell something, whether or not it’s a great movie, where you have just a plethora of choices and you can’t choose, there’s so many great moments, and you really just want to show everybody this movie. The process is the same of, what you’re not showing in a terrible movie or something that you’re not showing and that you are just figuring out how to put out in the world with the least amount of fanfare. 

Steve Cuden: And when you say fanfare, you’re talking about spending money, I assume. 

Terry Press: Yeah, exactly. All movies are not created equal. All movies do not get the same amount of money put toward their marketing budgets. That’s just the way of the world. 

Steve Cuden: And does some of that shift once you’ve seen the finished product? Do studios decide, hey, we’ve seen the finished product, we’re going to spend less money in marketing it? 

Terry Press: Yes. But they also can decide to spend. 

Steve Cuden: More because they want to try and make their money back or. 

Terry Press: No, because they know it’s going to be a hit. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, I see. 

Terry Press: Like, I remember sitting in Texas at, the junket for hell or high water, and I remember turning to Andy and saying, I’m going to get this nominated for. I can tell right now I’m going to get this nominated for best picture. 

Steve Cuden: It’s a brilliant movie. 

Terry Press: Correct. But that costs money. So then I have to go back and say, okay, I’m spending more money because I can get this nominated for best picture, and then ultimately the library value of the title goes up. So you are getting your money back in some way, but you have to make the decision, we’re going to spend money on this. 

Steve Cuden: So has the market really shifted in the sense that now that they’ve putting movies out into streaming first before it ever gets into a theater, has that shifted the way that movies recoup? 

Terry Press: Yes, but most things that are done for streaming get very little theatrical exposure. 

Steve Cuden: Well, that’s what I mean. what I’ve read over time and heard from people talking about it over time, is that now the studios have cannibalized themselves a little bit because you used to put a movie into the theater, and then it would get released on cable or on network tv, then it would go out and become a dvd. And so you kept recouping more and more and more. Now, when it’s on streaming, it’s sort of almost at the end of the line. Is that right? 

Terry Press: Yeah. And I want to give credit to Warner Brothers, particularly to David Zaslav, who gets a lot of heat. But the truth is that was the model going to be the model at Warner Brothers is that everything was going to go direct to streaming. And the truth is that even if it’s fewer movies, being in a theater eventizes something and it enters people’s consciousness at a level that makes the streaming more successful. Okay, you could say, oh, could have made more money in theatrical, but I look at theatrical now sometimes for streaming titles as, like, one big giant sneak preview, like, here it is, and we’re going to get the money we can get from theatrical, and it’ll be great. Blah, blah, blah. There are cases where things have been in theaters and on a streamer at the same time, and people still go to the theater to see it. But I do think that there is still a noise factor around marketing, where you are creating noise around a title and building awareness that can only be helpful for streaming. 

Steve Cuden: Well, and then you have folks like Chris Nolan who insist on it, or Tom Cruise who insists on it. 

Terry Press: Correct. Because Christopher Nolan is a name that can bring people into a theater. They have the right. Same as Tom Cruise. They know what their value. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, no doubt. And I would say Tom Cruise is maybe one of the only real legitimate stars today. 

Terry Press: Tom Cruise has been a movie star for, a very long time. I worked on cocktails. Oh, my goodness. That’s how long I’ve been around Tom Cruise. Right. But look at what Tom Cruise is doing. He knows exactly what people want to see him in, and he delivers exactly what people want to see. Tom Cruise is a movie star. There’s a difference between being. Sometimes they’re the same, but there’s oftentimes where you’ve got an actor, and that is one whole world, and then a movie star. And Tom Cruise loves being a movie star. 

Steve Cuden: And he’s very good at it. 

Terry Press: He’s very good at it. And that is because he has a pact with his audience, and they deliver for him, and he delivers for them. 

Steve Cuden: He used to do sort of smaller movies, but he doesn’t do them anymore. 

Terry Press: No. You’ll never see Tom Cruise in Magnolia again. He won’t. Because that would break. That’s not the path. And it’s fine. You know what? Guy’s 60, whatever years old and willing to jump out of airplanes. Go with God. 

Steve Cuden: Exactly. I’m curious to hear you give me an answer to this question, which I ask many guests, and that is what makes a good story good, that it. 

Terry Press: Speaks to someone on some level. M. Okay, I’ll give you an example. Okay. Off the top of my head, like the scene in Casablanca where the people in the restaurant get up and sing La Marseille. 

Steve Cuden: Yes. 

Terry Press: Okay, I probably have seen this, no exaggeration, 200 times. It barely starts and I start to weep. It makes me cry every time that for me, that sort of like the power of that where no amount of seeing it that many times dissipates what it is. Okay. And how it affects me. Now, I could be sitting next to somebody who’s like, what is that? They don’t even know what the Marseille is. It doesn’t matter. But I’m saying it touches me and makes me react on such a visceral level that for me that is successful storytelling. And I often say in marketing classes, you need to tell me why the movie exists. Okay? What is the reason for this to exist? Now, sometimes it can be, well, this was so and so’s passion project. Okay? It’s not a great reason to exist, but it is the reason that it exists because somebody made it after however many years. What is the reason that this story needs or should be told? 

Steve Cuden: What is its point and who is. 

Terry Press: It for and what is its reason to exist? For example, I think a lot about the early moguls made a lot of amazing movies. Ah. That existed because they were immigrants who came to America and were so grateful to be here that they wanted to make movies that were meaningful about, let’s take gentlemen’s agreement about anti semitic, like just things that were about the good and the bad of America. Okay, well, those were the reasons for those. Or they were based on bestsellers. There was a reason for it to exist. If somebody cannot answer the question, what’s the reason to tell this story? I get really nervous when they can’t tell you. 

Steve Cuden: Because they haven’t figured it out. 

Terry Press: And if they haven’t figured it out, it’s not going to be on the screen. 

Steve Cuden: That’s a for sure. And it starts with the writers and somebody has greenlit a movie all the way up through producers and directors, and no one’s figured it out. 

Terry Press: And so it is unfortunately left to me if they don’t do it. If they don’t do that, it is unfortunately left to the marketing people to try and come up with something that will give that to an audience. Like, here’s the reason for it to exist, or here’s the reason that you should see it. 

Steve Cuden: Now, you alluded earlier to the fact that sometimes you’ve asked them or pushed them into adding things. If they haven’t added them, what do you do? 

Terry Press: You cheat it. I mean, you can cheat it to a certain extent. You can add voiceover, you can add elements that cheat a little bit. You can get away with it less and less these days, but you can focus on something that is not right on it, but just adjacent, and not have to really deal with what it is. 

Steve Cuden: You’re kind of faking your way around things in order to emphasize something that may not be totally emphasizable in the. 

Terry Press: Movie or something that’s emphasized that I can make seem m is in the movie more than it is. 

Steve Cuden: All right, so I will ask you, is that in fact, deceiving the audience, or do you not see it that way? 

Terry Press: It is manipulation. 

Steve Cuden: It is manipulation. That’s a great word. 

Terry Press: It is. But I, will say this. It is people who go in, and if the movie delivers or they have a comparable experience, they like what they’ve experienced or felt or what they saw, they don’t care that you manipulated them to get in there. When the experience is not as good as the marketing, that they become upset that people like it was all in the trailer. 

Steve Cuden: They’ll say, so you’ve had clearly more than your fair share of dealings with other studio executives, with, people in the creative end of the world and so on. And you probably have received your fair share of notes, and you’ve given your fair share of notes. What would you say to those that are coming up in the business? That how do you handle notes? What’s the best way to take a note or to give a note? 

Terry Press: Notes are like, information we get at research screenings. This is by nature a collaborative form. Takes a lot of people to make movies, television, whatever. It takes a lot of people. And if you surround yourself with smart people and they give you notes, I would listen to the notes. It’s like, consider the source of where the notes are coming from, or you can be defensive and not listen to the notes and choose to not take in anybody else’s suggestions or whatever. And then you have to have the skill to weed through the notes that are meaningful m and significant and actually going to lead to either solve a problem or lead to improvement. And are not notes that are being given just for the sake of touching something. Which is one of the most annoying parts of coming up in this industry is there is always people who justify their jobs by feeling they have to touch it in some way. 

Steve Cuden: For sure. Well, I’m so glad to hear you say that because I have taught students for years that the best way to take a note is just to take the note. And you can think about it, you can use it or not later, but to take the note, don’t argue, don’t get defensive. 

Terry Press: Well, and when we research, like, I have to go to a preview tonight, for example, directors freak out and it’s like, okay. But for me it’s like, wouldn’t you rather know, wouldn’t you rather know that this is the reaction to the thing you’ve made? And it is, again, you box yourself in or you shut out outside voices or the consumer at your own peril because you don’t have to, like, we’re going to know this preview. There’s going to be people who say, I don’t like this, and I don’t like that. Okay. And then you have to sit there and say, okay, well, that doesn’t really mean anything to the overall experience. What’s so scary about just having the information? 

Steve Cuden: Agreed. It’s better to have the information than to be uncertain, right. 

Terry Press: For me, it’s like people who are too afraid to even listen to the information aren’t really making something. They’re making it for themselves and that’s okay. But again, what if somebody actually said something that was like, oh, my God, I never thought that that plot point or this whatever would be perceived that way. And you have the ability to go in there and fix it and you’d just rather be like, here. No, evil that I have never understood. 

Steve Cuden: Me either, because that is the opportunity to fix it and make it better. 

Terry Press: Correct. It’s interesting because they sit alone with it for so many years, like, let’s say it takes three years to develop it. And then they blah, blah, blah and they make it blah, blah. And then this is the moment when you finally put it in front of the people who you want to see it and you’ve got to show your wares, okay. And they find it absolutely terrifying. And I’m all jazzed. It’s like, okay, let’s hear what people have to say about this, but they’re scared. This is where it passes from purely them and their bubble into the next stage. 

Steve Cuden: Well, at the end of the day, am I correct by saying that once you finish the movie and it’s out in the world, you no longer really actually own the sense of the movie, the audience owns it? 

Terry Press: Correct. 

Steve Cuden: And that’s what you’re trying to get to. That’s what you want in those marketing, sessions. 

Terry Press: Totally. 

Steve Cuden: I have been having the most marvelous, fascinating, terrific conversation for almost an hour now with Terry press. And, we’re going to wind the show down a little bit. And I’m just wondering, in all of your experiences, and you have many, can you share with us a story that’s either weird, quirky, offbeat, strange, or just plain know? 

Terry Press: I always say, people always say to me, oh, you should write a book. You should write a book. And all I ever say to Andy is, yeah, I’m going to get paid not to write the. Like I can collect from people if I promise. Never. 

Steve Cuden: Well, tell us a story that you don’t use any names. 

Terry Press: I’ll tell you a story that is both a marketing story and it involves american beauty. 

Steve Cuden: Okay. 

Terry Press: american beauty was Sam Mendes’first movie. They shot it from the first draft of the script. 

Steve Cuden: Alan Ball. 

Terry Press: Yeah. No development. They shot the first. 

Steve Cuden: Amazing. 

Terry Press: Right? So, you know, none of them had ever been through a preview process and Sam particularly. So it’s like, okay. So I said, okay, we’re going to preview this. And I picked a location where I thought, okay, this is about suburbia and about isolationism and what goes on really in suburbia. So we went to a theater outside by Palo Alto. We went up north. Okay. And I thought, you know, it’s got no stars. It’s Kevin Spacey, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s really hard to characterize. And we screened the movie, and numbers wise, it was okay, because it’s a very, it was a complicated tone. It was really funny. But there’s death. There’s a lot happening in it. And so Sam asked that he go down in front and ask some questions. I’m like, fine. So I’m looking at the scores, and the scores are like, I would describe them as they’re not. They were not through the roof. They weren’t. So the audience stayed. And we were doing like this interview with the audience. Sam asked a question. There was a man in the audience who said, well, I totally get what Kevin Spacey was going through. And I understood his thing for whatever the Mina Savari character was, and the woman next to him, who was his wife, said, are you kidding me? Like that? What are you talking about? Okay. And they proceeded to get in this fight about in front of 200 people. And she was like, he was a pervert. She went off and he was like, but blah, blah, blah, blah. And I turned to Sam and said, this is going to work, okay? Oh, wow, this is going to work. Because that thing that you can’t create, that you can’t manifest of a couple having an argument that they were completely having in front of 200 people. I said to Sam, when people step out of theater, this is going to happen in the lobby. People are going to stand around in the lobby and have arguments about who’s a hero, who’s not. I said, and that’s why the movie will work. 

Steve Cuden: I’m curious where you learned that. 

Terry Press: Where I learned what? 

Steve Cuden: That was your instinct, instant instinct, to look at the situation and know that it’s going to work. Where did that come from? 

Terry Press: it’s honestly like a second nature. Truthfully, I knew just like all art, it had produced a very strong reaction in these two people who lived in the same house, had watched the same movie, and had, completely different takes on what was going. And when you have a movie with no stars, the fact of the matter was that this movie, in both of these people touched some kind of chord. And that is for marketers, that’s like the heroine. It’s like, look at this. People are going to talk about this. And so what? You knowing that, then you go about and you present as many opportunities for people to talk about the movie. And that’s what happened. I like the story because the numbers were not like, oh, my God, this is going to be a home run. But the people and the reaction, I was like, this is the fuel that’s going to run this movie. 

Steve Cuden: It’s the essence of art. It’s that passion. So, last question for you today. Terry, you’ve already given us just an enormous amount of advice as we’ve gone along on the show, but I’m wondering if you have a single solid piece of advice that you like to give to people on their way up in the business. They’re just getting in, or maybe they’re in a little bit and looking to get to that next level. 

Terry Press: I had the luck and the sort of grace. I had parents who never said to me, be a dentist, okay? My parents said, we can’t afford to send you to film school. If you get in, great, apply to UCLA. So I had parents who foundationally fed my obsession, which now I sort of look back and think, oh, my God, I hope I did that with my own kids. But who fed my obsession. And my obsession became the foundation of my career, and that has never left me. And that I love movies. And so being able to work in something that foundationally you are passionate about is gift. But I do believe in doing whatever I sound like I’m 100. But I do find that generationally, today, young people are incredibly impatient and think that the world operates at a social media speed, and that is not what happens. But, the people who’ve worked for me have, worked for me for 25 years. And a lot of them, they wanted to be other things. So a lot of people who are in marketing, they didn’t start out to be in marketing, but they had a skill set that fit it. They just didn’t see it. And so I would encourage people to think about not being parochial. Like, this is what I want to do, and this is the only thing I want to do. Because sometimes it turns out that the people who are best at something never saw themselves in that job. 

Steve Cuden: That is just fantastic advice, because that really is what it is. You have to find your way in and you have to have that passion for it, just like you had since, being a little person. That’s just terrific advice. Terry Press. This has been an absolutely spectacular hour on StoryBeat, and I cannot thank you enough for your time and your wisdom and your energy, and just thank you for putting out all these great movies. 

Terry Press: Congratulations on the show, and thank you for having me. 

Steve Cuden: And so we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you like this episode, won’t you please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to? Your support helps us bring more great storybeat episodes to you. StoryBeat is available on all major podcast apps and platforms, including Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Tunein, and many others. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden, and may all your stories be unforgettable. 


Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group


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