Kevin is joined by the incredibly talented screenwriter, film producer, television producer, television director, film director, and former actor Dean Devlin to discuss filmmaking and his experiences with audience test screenings.
Dean Devlin has produced and co-written some of the most successful feature films of all time -- Independence Day, Stargate, and Godzilla -- which collectively grossed more than 1.4 billion dollars worldwide. In May of 2001, he founded Electric Entertainment, where he serves as chairman and CEO.
Changing the DNA of the film, Stargate (2:00)
Kevin and Dean jump right into the test screening for Stargate, and how they decided on a DNA change with that movie based on audience feedback that raised the testing numbers dramatically. They discuss the major changes to the film, which Kevin calls DNA changes, including film length, dialogue changes, pacing, and a pivotal change to the movie’s villain. They also discuss behind the scenes negotiations, and the push and pull with the studio to successfully make the changes they wanted.
Dean Devlin partners with Roland Emmerich (6:08)
Dean talks about his partnership with Roland Emmerich, and the way they started their working relationship, a relationship that would lead to some of the highest grossing movies of all time. Dean was acting in Roland’s first American film, when Dean asked to re-write some of his lines. Learn how this encounter led to their 12-year partnership.
On not testing Godzilla (16:26)
Dean was not able to test screen Godzilla, and he talks about what it was like watching that first screening at the back of the theater. Dean could see exactly what was wrong with the movie and talks about his frustration with knowing what was wrong, how to fix it, but not being able to do it. This was the last time Dean ever released something without testing it first.
Independence Day (21:32)
Dean and Kevin discuss how everything just fell into place with the movie Independence Day. From the audience cheers at the initial screen tests, to how the film changed Dean, to how a small change to a pivotal final scene brought the test score from a 92 to a 98.
Testing and directing Geostorm (30:32)
There are unique challenges that come from directing a film, and Dean goes into how the testing process differs from the perspective of a director versus that of a producer. Kevin and Dean discuss the heartache of knowing what needs to be changed in a movie based on the audience tests, but not being able to make those changes.
Join Kevin and his guest, producer and director Dean Devlin, and learn how they successfully used audience screen testing to craft some of the highest grossing movies of all time, and enjoy some insider stories on Kevin's podcast, Don't Kill the Messenger!
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Dean Devlin
Producer: Kari Campano
For more information about Kevin Goetz:
Audienceology Book: https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Audience-ology/Kevin-Goetz/9781982186678
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @KevinGoetz360
Linked In @Kevin Goetz
Screen Engine/ASI Website: www.ScreenEngineASI.com
Podcast: Don't Kill the Messenger with Movie Research Expert Kevin Goetz
Guest: Producer/Writer/Director Dean Devlin on Filmmaking & Audience Test Screenings
There's a little-known part of Hollywood that most people are not aware of known as the audience test preview. The recently released book, Audienceology, reveals this for the first time. Our podcast series, Don't Kill the Messenger, brings this book to life, taking a peek behind the curtain. And now, join author and entertainment research expert, Kevin Goetz.
Kevin Goetz (00:24):
So, the year was 1994ish. I am in Arizona I think it was, and we were testing this movie, which I have to say scored in the toilet. I thought it was really not good. I’m being kind. And we went our separate ways and gave the research to these two filmmakers, and they went away and came back a couple months later with a new cut. We retested the movie. I kind of dreaded having to sit through it again. And what I saw was transformative. I could not believe. It was a different movie. They literally changed the DNA. That movie was Stargate. That was Roland Emmerich and my guest today, Dean Devlin. These guys really appreciate research and used it the way it was intended to really listen to the audience and create real, positive change. So, I'm very excited to talk today to Dean who, I since have worked on I think all of his movies, those include Independence Day and The Patriot and Godzilla and TV shows like The Librarianand Leverage. Dean is a writer, director, and a simply great producer. Please welcome my guest, my friend Dean Devlin. Hey Dean.
Dean Devlin (01:43):
Thank you for having me on
Kevin Goetz (01:44):
How are you?
Dean Devlin (01:46):
I'm good. How are you doing?
Kevin Goetz (01:48):
Oh, I'm great. I have to say, did you know that we had that commonality of the acting roots?
Dean Devlin (01:54):
I did not know that.
Kevin Goetz (01:56):
Yeah. Well, you and I have certainly been through the ringer on the test screening front and I am immediately brought back to one of my favorite, favorite screening stories. And that has to do with Stargate. You want to tell us about it because it was such a learning experience? And for people listening that don't necessarily know about the depth of change that can be made through the testing process, we really made a DNA change with that movie based on audience feedback. Did we not?
Dean Devlin (02:30):
We did, but it was, it was also an enormous lesson in interpretation. It was the first film that I had ever produced, but there were other people involved who were very, very experienced. And the first test screening went poorly. I believe we had something like a 55 or something like that in the top two boxes of excellent and very good. And we had a very high number in people saying the movie was slow and the executives involved at the time said, yes, there's too much of this talky talk stuff and not enough action. We need more action. We need more excitement. And I was a first time producer, but my instinct was, it was slow because we weren't involved with the characters. We didn't care about them. There was no reason to root for them, but I was overruled and told, you know, shut up kid, let the people who know what they're doing, do what they do. And Roland and I went out, we shot an entire new action sequence and we cut out a ton of dialogue sequences and backstory stuff. And we tested again, and the test went down from the 55 to a 50 and our slow rating doubled. It was twice as slow, even with much more action and a shorter movie.
Kevin Goetz (03:48):
Because it's not necessarily about the length of the movie, is it?
Dean Devlin (03:51):
That's right. It's the engagement. And since nobody else thought the movie was ever going to get released at that point, Roland and I did a massive recut of the film and we took out the new action sequence. We put back, not only the talky stuff we'd cut out, but we added a bunch of talky stuff that we had cut out before we'd even screened it, because we had been worried that it was too talky. And then the other thing that had come out in, in the test screening, was that our villain seemed too easy to defeat.
Kevin Goetz (04:22):
Too easily defeatable. Yeah, absolutely.
Dean Devlin (04:24):
And felt like a weak villain. And that's when we came up with this idea that instead of the character being someone who worked for aliens from outer space, we decided that he was an alien from outer space. So we did a complete redo of his character. We made his eyes glow; we had things glowing in his teeth. We basically turned him into an alien. So those were the two big, giant changes.
Kevin Goetz (04:46):
And I call those DNA changes, by the way.
Dean Devlin (04:48):
A hundred percent. But then we had to finish the film because we were out of time. So, we went to England, and we put the score on and then we went to Canada, and we mixed the film, and the film was finished, and the studio said, “well, we want to test the film again.” And I said, “well, what's the point?” We can't, it's done. The film is finished. I said, “well we want to test it for marketing reasons.” So, I said, “fine.” So, they go to do this test and obviously Roland and I were really nervous. In fact, we were both throwing up in the bathroom before the test <laugh> and one of the executives came and said, “you guys really blew it, the film was better before you cut all that stuff out. And it's ridiculous how you change this guy into an alien. It's stupid. You've ruined the movie.” And we went “great, thank you very much.” And then we tested a 92 and the slow rating was completely gone.
Kevin Goetz (05:33):
Wasn't there something you also did with the portal? If I remember, you made it a really cool portal?
Dean Devlin (05:38):
The adventure of going through the Stargate was this kind of thrilling rollercoaster and it was at the end of the first act, and it was you who said, “is there anything you could do to give them one last kick at the very end of the movie? Just so they walk out with one last kick?” And I said, “well, why don't we just go back in the Stargate one last time?” And so, then we basically reused the exact same effect again at the end and that gave it that big kick.
Kevin Goetz (06:01):
Yeah. Sometimes movies need that punctuation mark, don't they?
Dean Devlin (06:04):
Yeah, that last thing you remember was you walk out of the theater.
Kevin Goetz (06:08):
Exactly. And now you re of course mentioned Roland and by Roland, we mean Roland Emmerich, and you clearly were partnered and had a very successful partnership for many years. Stargate being your first together. But also of course, Godzilla, The Patriot, and a little movie, I think, called Independence Day. Was that the name of it? Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That little one. How did you meet Roland? And how did you guys decide to partner? I mean, partnerships are like marriages. So, what was it that the two of you said, you know, we complement each other, whatever it may be that got you together?
Dean Devlin (06:38):
As you pointed out, you and I shared this DNA of having been actors. Well, I was a young actor in Hollywood and Roland had decided he was going to do his first English speaking movie. And he came to Los Angeles to cast for it. And he cast me in one of the three leads. And it was a pretty terrible script, to be honest.
Kevin Goetz (06:58):
Who wrote it? All right, you don't have to say it.
Dean Devlin (07:00):
Well, the problem is Roland wrote the film, but I hadn't realized that. And when we were on set, I was very critical of the script and I said, “my God, you know, you're so good with the camera, you're so good with the actors, you're such a good director. You know, why are you directing this weak script?” And that's when I realized he wrote the script.
Kevin Goetz (07:16):
Open mouth insert foot.
Dean Devlin (07:18):
<laugh> Exactly. But his English was not what it is today, and so the dialogue was very stilted for an American actor. And so I asked Roland, would it be okay if I improvised some of my dialogue? And he was like, sure, sure, absolutely. And I did. And then about three days later, he pulled me aside and he said, “we have a big problem.” I said, “what's that?” And he goes, “all the other actors are very upset.” I said, “why?” And he says, “you have all the best lines in the movie now.” <laugh> He said, “would you mind rewriting their dialogue?” I said, “no, I would love that.” And so suddenly I was rewriting the dialogue. Well, when the film was finished, it really didn't work very well. And Roland asked me what I thought we could do to improve the film. And I had some ideas and he said, “great, write those scenes up. I'll come to Los Angeles, we'll shoot those scenes and that'll be the movie.” And so we did, and it was a really fun experience writing for him and working with him. And off that film, he got hired to do a movie called Universal Soldier. And he asked me if I would write the film, or rewrite the film, because it was an existing script. And I did, and that started a partnership that lasted 12 years.
Kevin Goetz (08:32):
Wow. One of my dearest friends in the world named Leilani Jones played a reporter in that movie. <laugh> She had just won a Tony award on Broadway. And I don't know if you remember her, but she was in your movie.
Dean Devlin (08:44):
Kevin Goetz (08:44):
So, you know, you have this infectious insanely positive, proactive vibe to you Dean, and I've always loved you for that because you always bring a positivity to everything you do. And you're also a great man of conviction. You know, you stand in your truth. You know what you want, and you ask for it. And I know that there are several situations where you've had to go up against people, and one in particular, you share with us in the book. It was a movie you produced called Cellular. And it's a really great story. I mean, you have to imagine that I've heard this story, versions of this story, many times in my career, but I chose to put this one in the book because it really illustrated how sometimes you just have to trust your initial instincts. Can you talk about that a little bit? About how that went down, and for those who aren't familiar, because it was not a terribly successful movie. Tell us a little recap of what the movie is so that we can get into it contextually.
Dean Devlin (09:48):
Well, the short of it is it's a young man, somewhat self-obsessed, who gets a call on his cell phone from a woman who's been kidnapped. You know, she rigged up the phone that's falling apart in her hands and she was able to get one call out and he answered the phone. And the idea is he has to find her before he loses that connection. And the whole movie is these two people who've never met where one is trying to save the other.
Kevin Goetz (10:13):
Whose idea was it, by the way?
Dean Devlin (10:14):
Gosh, I'm forgetting the writer's names, a wonderful…
Kevin Goetz (10:17):
But I thought it may be generated from you.
Dean Devlin (10:18):
No, no. It was a spec script. I got it, and I fell madly in love with it and being almost 60 now, my brain doesn't remember things that it should. So, the story on that went that we had shot the entire part of the movie from the boy’s point of view, but we had not yet shot the point of view from the woman who's being held hostage. In this case, it was Kim Bassinger. And just before we went to shoot it, the director decided he wanted to do a massive rewrite on her side of the phone call.
Kevin Goetz (10:49):
We're talking like the day before, right? Or something?
Dean Devlin (10:52):
Yeah. Literally the day before. And he felt that in the version of the script that I had developed that the character had been way too proactive and that someone in that situation would just be crying and upset. And I suggested that seeing our lead actor just crying and being upset for two hours would not make her a compelling character. And I was overruled by the studio. The studio felt that they believed in the director and wanted to do his vision and thought I was wrong. And I went to the head of the studio at the time, and I complained, and I said, “look, I think this is going to be a big mistake. I think you're going to end up with a movie that tests, you know, like a 55, 56, and you're going to have to do massive reshoots. And I don't know if you're going to be willing to spend the money to do those reshoots at that point.”
Kevin Goetz (11:39):
Dean Devlin (11:40):
And they said, “well, we think you're wrong. We think the director's right, et cetera, et cetera.” So, time cut, four months later, we're doing our first test screening of the movie and there's a big kind of meeting at the studio because I was wrong. It was not a 56 or a 55. It was a 54. It was a disaster, and they hated her character. They absolutely hated her character. So, the whole premise of the movie, a boy trying to rescue someone, well, it was the boy trying to rescue someone that the audience didn't like. <laugh> So, that didn't work very well. So, we went to have this meeting to discuss the test screening and the executive who was very close to the director said in the meeting, “well, we can throw this test out. This test is flawed. We can throw this one away and start over again.” And, and everyone said, “well, what do you mean? What do you mean?” And they said, “well, Dean clearly rigged the test.”
Kevin Goetz (12:38):
<laugh> He was a soothsayer.
Dean Devlin (12:41):
<laugh>. And I said, “I rigged the test?” And they said, “yeah.” And then they pulled out the cards and they said, “listen to what these cards say.” And they started reading the cards and it was word for word what I had said four months earlier to everyone who would listen to me. So, they said, “clearly Dean rigged this test, because how would they know to say the exact same words that Dean had said four months ago?” And so, the head of the studio turned to me and said, “well, Dean, you know, what do you have to say for yourself?” And I said, “well, there are two possibilities in this situation. One is that I hired 250 people and I brought them into a room, and I trained them on what to say when the movie was over, then I snuck into the theaters and I switched the numbers on the theaters, because you're not suggesting that Kevin Goetz and his team are in cahoots with me, are you? You’re not besmirching the testing? So clearly, I not only pulled this off on you guys, I pulled it off on the testing company. So they brought a recruited audience into a different screening room and I brought all of you into my screening room. And then they watched the movie and then at the end they got the cards and they remembered what I said. And I wrote it down.” I said, “so that's one theory. Here's the other theory. I know what the fuck I'm doing.”
Kevin Goetz (13:58):
Dean Devlin (14:00):
So, which one seems more likely? <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (14:02):
Yeah, I know. Sounds like when Shelly Winters was asked to read for a part by a young casting director and she pulls out two of her Oscars and puts them on the desk and says, “here's my audition, do your homework.”
Dean Devlin (14:15):
Here's my callback. <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (14:16):
Yeah, exactly. It’s just so great. You know, it's like, come on. So, the bottom line is that they listened to you. You did make changes. And the frustrating part, of course, at least how you expressed it in the book, is that they tested it, you said the scores are going to go up X amount. They went up that amount and then they ended up going with not your cut.
Dean Devlin (14:37):
Yeah. They decided that they should split the baby and do some of my cut and some of the other cut. And they never tested that version. And I'm not surprised they didn't because it would've been a disaster and that's the version they released. And it was sad because I think that there’s a lot of good things about testing. I really believe in testing, but I do think it's about how you interpret the test, but the best thing about it is it takes away the ego. It's not about my opinion or your opinion or…
Kevin Goetz (15:06):
Dean Devlin (15:07):
It's what the audience says. And when you ignore what the audience says, because you like the other version, it's a shame because the audience told us exactly what they want and we could have given it to them, and it would've been a better picture.
Kevin Goetz (15:20):
You know, it's so funny. My book is called Audienceology, but originally the title was called Don't Kill the Messenger. And <laugh>, it was, I think I might have told you that, but Simon and Schuster suggested this other title for a variety of reasons, we went with it. And so it is speaks to that. So, well, I really appreciate the fact that I've seen you in action. And really, as I said, you have a strong conviction, you stand by it, and you know, you can't control what other people are going to do with the final result. I often say to people, whether or not you make these changes that the audience has said to you, and I am literally sharing what they said, whether you do them or not will make no material difference on my life at all. You have to understand that. I'm just trying to make you as successful as you possibly can be using this feedback. And it's just feedback, you know? So, I completely agree with you. Now, I imagine you wish you had that feedback on Godzilla, because I know you also talk about that in the book. What happened there?
Dean Devlin (16:26):
Godzilla really has to do with a script I wrote where I made major mistakes in the script that were not recoverable without reshoots and without massive editing. But, in regard to what we're talking about today, though, the problem was we had a day the movie had to come out, and we had made a decision not to test the film. We just said, look, we don't have time. We have to just bet on the movie we've made and hope that it all works out, so that we could make this date. Now, obviously we should have pushed the date because the very first time that I ever saw the movie playing in front of an audience, it was the exhibitor screening, which is when you fly in the theater owners to Los Angeles to see the movie. So, I was standing in the back of the theater with 200 theater owners and the movie was playing and it was absolutely clear what was wrong with the movie. And it was absolutely clear how to fix it. And we had no time, and we couldn't do it. And then I had to go on a two week press tour promoting a movie that I knew wasn't going to work and I knew how to fix, but we couldn't do it.
Kevin Goetz (17:28):
But you wanted to test it. I think you were talked out of it if, I'm not mistaken.
Dean Devlin (17:32):
Yeah, but I mean, I absolutely agree. It was a total mistake, but at the time, you know, we have to make the date and I allowed myself to go with the idea of not testing it.
Kevin Goetz (17:43):
You did tell me, though, that one of your lessons was that you would never not test a movie again.
Dean Devlin (17:48):
And I never have. Every film, the smallest film, I always test it.
Kevin Goetz (17:53):
And why is that?
Dean Devlin (17:54):
Because it's very easy to convince yourself of things in the editing room. And when you show it to your family and friends, those comments really aren't objective. And they're not really that helpful. You need people who've never read the script, who don't know the project, who don't know you. And, by the way, very often, it's not even what they say in the focus group, or the cards. Sometimes you could just stand in the room, and you see the movie completely differently because there are other people in the room, there are other humans there and suddenly you're having this experience. So many times, long before the cards came in, long before the focus group, I'd be absolutely sure what was wrong just by being in the room, by feeling when we had them, when we lost them, when we got them back. And I think the only thing that's negative with testing is when the wrong people are analyzing it or the analytics of it are misguided.
Kevin Goetz (18:49):
Have you had an experience like that that you can share?
Dean Devlin (18:51):
Well, I think the Stargate one was one, you know, where they said it was slow, but that wasn't because it needed to be cut faster.
Kevin Goetz (18:56):
Well, audiences didn't know how to articulate it, other than that, correct?
Dean Devlin (19:00):
That's right. So, I think that it's important to test it, but I also think it's very important to look at, and they may say that they don't like it because of X, Y, and Z, but we lost them long, long before that. But, if we fix that, we'll be fine at the end, but you don't know this until you get in front of an audience. You know, long before I was an actor, I was a standup comic. And you know, when you would take new material on the road, you would always play it many different times and refine it and refine it and refine it. And in fact, in the old days, that's what they used to do with Broadway. Broadway would tour first, before it went to Broadway and they'd fix it and they'd get it better and better. And the only opportunity you have in features is the testing process. But I think the mistake is when the filmmakers look at it as the studio wants to test it and, that they don't want to participate in that the procedure, and then they're resentful for whatever the studio says. I think the testing is part of the filmmaker's journey and the filmmaker should be interpreting
Kevin Goetz (19:55):
My best experiences in testing have been with filmmakers and mainly directors who are very open to the process because at the end of the day, what are you doing except getting information? You know, whether you choose to, we talked about this before, whether you choose to act on the information is another story. Just switching gears a bit, I know you as a very well rounded, politically active guy who has always been insatiably curious, you have a post-production facility that's extraordinary. You have done that on your pictures and others for so long. How did you get the brand? Did Independence Day sort of define who you were, who you ended up becoming as the Devlin Dean Devlin brand?
Dean Devlin (20:41):
I would say that there are two halves to this. The first is I always wanted to make things I genuinely liked, and I didn't want to be pretentious. You know, some people say they love the films of Truffaut, but they don't really. You know, on a Friday night, they're still going to see a Marvel movie, but now they're trying to make Truffaut films, but because they don't really like them, they don't do them very well. <laugh>. So I always wanted to be honest with myself about the movies that I loved and try to pursue that. And you know, when I met Roland, he had that same exact taste. So, I was fortunate enough, you know, usually directors and producers are, you know, they're at odds with each other, but I think we had a successful partnership for as long as we did, because we saw the same movies we wanted to make the same movies.
Kevin Goetz (21:23):
Was there a particular movie that influenced you that you can share?
Dean Devlin (21:26):
Well, without doubt, E.T, Star Wars, you know, Raiders of the Lost Ark, these were my movies growing up.
Kevin Goetz (21:32):
Well, that makes all the sense in the world then, honestly, because all of them have the same kind of ingredients that went into Independence Day. I can only imagine the ride that you took from a relatively unknown producer to a superstar producer. What was that time like for you? That must have been a head trip and a half.
Dean Devlin (21:55):
The entire experience of making Independence Day… Occasionally I'll teach at film school, like I'll teach at Chapman University and I'm always reluctant to talk about Independence Day, because it was such an anomaly. I never had an experience like this before. I've never had one. Since, you know, we wrote the script essentially in two weeks, we gave it to the studios on a Wednesday. It was sold by Friday and Monday morning, we were in pre-production,
Kevin Goetz (22:23):
Oh, my Lord.
Dean Devlin (22:24):
And nothing ever went wrong. I mean, that just doesn't happen. Nothing went wrong. The entire experience, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, the thing that was going to go wrong. And talking about test screenings, we had this test screening in Las Vegas, and at this point, the commercial had already played on the super bowl.
Kevin Goetz (22:47):
And that was one of the most iconic, in fact, when you think of movie and Super Bowl advertising, just in that same breath, the only thing that comes to mind in my opinion is the blowing up of the White House in the Independence Daycommercial.
Dean Devlin (23:02):
It caused a giant ripple in the culture at that moment. So, we go to Vegas to do this test, but part of the test is they did not tell the audience what movie they were going to get to see.
Kevin Goetz (23:13):
They didn't tell us where we were going either. If I recall, we got on a plane.
Dean Devlin (23:18):
I think they said three different cities.
Kevin Goetz (23:19):
Dean Devlin (23:20):
But they tell us which one it was going to be.
Kevin Goetz (23:21):
And we all got on the plane. Tom Sherick orchestrated it, right?
Dean Devlin (23:25):
That’s right. So we get to Vegas. And now, remember, this is the day when they still made movies on film.
Kevin Goetz (23:31):
Just to say, I'm sorry, for the listener, unmarried prints. They had a separate picture track and a separate soundtrack, and they worked on two different platters, right? And so there would be a lot of mishaps in those days.
Dean Devlin (23:44):
That's right. So, we went to do the test screening and we're very nervous. We're standing in the back of the theater and the credits come up. And as soon as it said Independence Day, the audience went insane. I mean, insane screaming and cheering. And we're like, oh my God. And just in that moment, the film broke <laugh> and the lights went up and now people are racing into the projection booth to try and fix the film. It took about 10 minutes before the film could play, and the cheering lasted the entire 10 minutes.
Kevin Goetz (24:20):
And if you remember, I had to go down there and make announcements. So, folks, they're telling me it's only going to be five minutes. Just stay with me. Everyone was with us. Everyone was with the movie.
Dean Devlin (24:35):
I'd never experienced anything like that.
Kevin Goetz (24:37):
So, the movie comes out. It's a monster hit worldwide. How does your life change?
Dean Devlin (24:44):
We were suddenly in demand. We were suddenly in demand and our ability to get stuff done had improved dramatically. But the flip side of it was, we were suddenly within the studio system. When up to that moment, we'd always been outside of the studio system, and we spent several more years in that studio system. And then at some point, my relationship with Roland ended, and we stopped making films together. But I think both his films and my films got better once we left the studio system again and got back to our roots of doing things independently. For me personally, I don't want to speak for Roland because I don't know what his feelings are, but for me personally, it was a real interesting lesson to understand that, you know, some people are really wonderful at working within the studio system and some people aren't, and I'm clearly one of them that is not <laugh> good at it.
Kevin Goetz (25:32):
I'm going to speak a little more praise here on you, which is the fact that you're a serial entrepreneur. So that's one reason. You're a man who likes to work for yourself, and I've always respected it and admired that. We're going to take just a little break and we’ll be back with Dean Devlin right after this.
Get a glimpse into a secret part of Hollywood that few are aware of, and that filmmakers rarely talk about in the new book, Audienceology, by Kevin Goetz. Each chapter is filled with never before revealed inside stories and interviews from famous studio chiefs, directors, producers, and movie stars, bringing the art and science of Audienceology into focus. Audienceology: How Moviegoers Shape the Films We Love from Tiller Press at Simon and Schuster available. Now
Kevin Goetz (26:25):
We're here with my good buddy Dean Devlin, and Dean, we were talking about Independence Day before. Was there anything from the test screening that was changed as a result of that preview? Or was it like lock it and load it? You know, we got it all.
Dean Devlin (26:42):
So, the screening went phenomenally well. I think we had a 92 or a 93, something very strong, but there was a moment at the end of the picture where we had Randy Quaid flying in on his bi-wing airplane and he had taped a missile to the wing of the plane, and he flies his plane into the alien spaceship and there's an explosion. And when he shows up in that bi-wing with the missile taped to his wing, there was a huge laugh from the audience. But Roland and I looked at each other and went, that's a bad laugh. That's not what we want in that moment. So, we said to the studio we want to do a little reshoot. And they were like, you got a 92, why the hell would you want to touch this movie? And we said, trust us on this. So, we reshot that and instead of Randy Quaid getting in his bi-wing, he actually gets recruited and he gets into the F-18. And that moment then became a very emotional scene instead of a comic scene. And we ended up with a 98.
Kevin Goetz (27:39):
My Lord, that's almost unheard of. And when you speak about the Cellular’s 54 versus a 98, you get a relative sense of how that translates. And there is a correlation and, you know this, between your definite recommend score, what your definitely recommend score is how many people and ask the question would definitely recommend a movie to their friends, probably recommend it, probably not, or definitely not would choose the definite recommend box. You know, now we have even greater measurements that delve into sort of passion and advocacy within definite, how definite are they? You know, how intensely interested are they? Because so many people are definitely interested in a lot of things, but we're trying to make that distinction. You know, the testing process also on another movie that you did, which is one of my, maybe my favorite movie you've done, which is The Patriot. Mainly because I am a major revolutionary war geek, nerd, I love that time period. And I thought the movie was so well done, so authentic. And I remember those test screenings. What do you remember from them?
Dean Devlin (28:50):
I don't remember giant issues on that movie.
Kevin Goetz (28:53):
I don't think there were.
Dean Devlin (28:55):
I think there were little tweaks throughout. I think we only tested it twice because the first one was very strong, and then we did a series of tweaks. I don't think we did any reshooting.
Kevin Goetz (29:05):
I think you toned down some of the violence, if I recall, because I think there were particular segments that were really against the gore.
Dean Devlin (29:16):
That's right. Although there was one thing we did. Yeah, I remember this. We were asked by the ratings board to cut short a shot where the cannonball took a guy's leg off. So, we cut it just on that frame, and the reaction got much worse because what people imagined was, was worse than seeing the leg go. <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (29:43):
Oh gosh. You know, I've heard that story a number of times where someone would say, either the MPAA would say tone down this nudity scene and it would be more suggestive, but less grinding, let's say, but more under the covers or something and they'd say we did exactly what you said, but why is it more gratuitous now than it was before? Yeah, so fascinating to me. I want to segue for a second into your directing career and to move into Geostorm, which I know you learned a ton on, and I know we tested a lot and I'd love to know if the testing process differed for you from the point of view of a director versus that of a producer. And if so, how did it differ?
Dean Devlin (30:32):
Well, I can't say it's really from the directing chair that made it different. What made it different was that I wasn't in charge of the movie. And it was a very interesting thing, because I had a very strong producer who was co-financing the film. I had a studio that was very interested in developing that relationship with that producer. And I found, even though I had written it and I was the director, I had very little power on my own film. And I don't believe that there was ever a single cut that we tested that was the way I wanted the film to be. So, it was a very frustrating thing where half of the changes were changes I wanted, or a third were changes I wanted, a third were changes that Warner Brothers wanted, and a third were changes that my producer wanted. So it was very much a thing where I would feel like we took two steps forward and three steps backwards. And it was very hard to move the needle with three very different opinions on what the film should be.
Kevin Goetz (31:30):
Oh, almost untenable. I've been in that situation more times than I care to recall. And it almost always leads to, certainly frustration, but failure because even though the movie made a bunch of dough internationally, it could have been to your point, a different kind of movie if there was a singular vision. I see this happening, a lot, people sort of need to pee on it from each entity and one can understand why someone's putting money up, they deserve to get their opinion heard. If someone is distributing it worldwide, they get to bring their opinion, et cetera, et cetera. But as the director, my guess is, is that you didn't have that with Roland. You kind of empowered him. Is that fair?
Dean Devlin (32:17):
Yeah, I'm I felt that my job when I worked with Roland was to be a buffer between him and the studio and any other outside influences that I'd rather them be mad at me than mad at Roland. So, I would always put myself in that battle and any disagreements that Roland and I would have on a movie was always kept between us. That anytime we spoke to anyone else, I represented whatever Roland wanted at the end of the day. If I wanted to talk him into something else that was a private conversation we'd have and I'd either win that argument or I would lose that argument. But I looked at the partnership as a partnership, but here I was in a situation where if I felt like I had a lot of masters to serve and on one hand, I felt like I wanted to serve those masters in that they were trusting me to direct a very expensive movie and a large movie, and I wanted them to be happy with the film and I wanted to be a good partner. But I think that, you know, when you're dealing with those kind of movies at that kind of budget in those situations, if you don't have a producer, who's fighting for you, you really have to be a bully. And there are certain directors who are able to do that, and they just get what they want. And I kind of understand why they behave that way, but I'm not that kind of person. I don't function like that. So, I found myself in a very difficult situation. I think we tested three times while I was still on the picture and each time it would only go up about three points each time, so I think I ended up improving it by nine points by the time I was asked to leave the picture.
Kevin Goetz (33:44):
I was going to say, at least that.
Dean Devlin (33:46):
I think my final test score was a 73. I think that was the last test score I got. And there was still a ton of stuff I wanted to do the picture that I had not been allowed to, but they decided to move on for me and they brought Jerry Bruckheimer in. Jerry Bruckheimer brought in Danny Cannon to direct and they reshot 60% of the film. And not only did they reshoot 60% of it, then the 40% that I had shot, they completely recut and changed the tone and the feeling and made it a very, very different movie. And it took another year and a half. They spent a lot of money. And at the end of the day when they tested it, I think it tested a 74. I think they improved it by one point.
Kevin Goetz (34:26):
Dean Devlin (34:27):
And it was very…
Kevin Goetz (34:28):
A heartache, it's a heartache.
Dean Devlin (34:29):
It was a heartache for me because I really felt I knew what was wrong with the picture. I felt like I knew how to fix it, and you've had this experience with me before where…
Kevin Goetz (34:37):
I was just going to say, I don't even question it. I don't even question it. And the proof is in the numbers. The proof is in the pudding, the proof is in the numbers. You've done it successfully so many times before. It's so funny. It's just like you said before because I know what the fuck I'm doing. You know, it's like, you went with me, go with me, believe in me, stay with me. And that I find just a funny kind of part of our business.
Dean Devlin (35:02):
But let me be really honest. I believe I could have improved it. I believe that I could have made a success out of it, but I could be wrong. I mean, I might have gotten my way. I might have had my cut and it might have performed even worse than this one did, but I don't know for sure if my version would've been the right way. Maybe they're right. Maybe what they did is a better movie, but it's frustrating from my chair because I've been in the situation before where I've had a movie that didn't test well, I've gone through the process of getting it to a point where an audience really likes it, and I felt like I could do it on this one. And I wasn't given the opportunity.
Kevin Goetz (35:35):
Yeah, I understand that. By the way, what a life lesson, what a career lesson. You said you teach at Chapman. We share that. I tend to do the different film schools around the country. I've taught at UCLA and USC and NYU and on and on. And my question is, if you're speaking to a young filmmaker now and they're going out into the world and you want to prepare them for getting their children in front of the audience for the very first time, what advice would you give them?
Dean Devlin (36:08):
The advice I'd give always is that you have to make three different movies on every single movie. There's the movie that you write or prep, if you're not the writer, there's the movie you shoot, and there's the movie you edit.
Kevin Goetz (36:23):
Dean Devlin (36:24):
And each one has to be divorced from the previous experience.
Kevin Goetz (36:27):
Because it may not be what you thought it was.
Dean Devlin (36:30):
And it shouldn't be either because actors have now come in and they're interpreting and they're bringing something interesting. And you know, I mean, if you want everything to be exactly the way you imagine from day one, then you should do animation. But if you're actually in filmmaking, there's a lot of artists involved. There are designers and costume designers and cinematographers. And if you're smart enough to surround yourself with really talented people, you want them to contribute and that's going to change things. And now you have to deal with this new thing you have. And then after you've shot it, no matter how hard you worked on that shot of the moon coming up over the trees. If it doesn't work in a movie, you got to be willing to kill it. <laugh> No one cares how hard you worked to get those shots. What people care about is the movie. I'll tell you this one little thing. The very first time I went to direct, I called Roland Emmerich and I said, “can you give me any advice?” And he said, “Dean, you start off with a perfect movie in your head and day by day you compromise until you finally get to something you don't recognize anymore.” <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (37:30):
Dean Devlin (37:31):
He said, “directing is an endless series of disappointments.” <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (37:35):
But ultimately, I guess it comes back around if you're lucky enough.
Dean Devlin (37:40):
I think it can. I mean, I think that it's about who you work with and how much you can control, you know, what you're doing.
Kevin Goetz (37:47):
But the medium is, as you said, it's a group effort. Yes, you are led by a fearless leader called a director. Yes, you have a producer that is sort of behind the director in doing what she or he does best in pushing things forward. But at the end of the day, you've got financiers, you've got people, et cetera, et cetera. It's not an artist who can take a painting and put it in the back of their closet, for example, if they don't like the work.
Dean Devlin (38:15):
That's right. I mean, I think you want to try and put yourself in a position to succeed. If you can work with people who share your vision, you'll have a better chance of success than working with people where you're constantly fighting about what that vision is, but not everybody has that opportunity. You know, some people have to take the job that they're given, but it's tricky. So, my advice is, is to be careful who you work with, be careful who you surround yourself with and try to work with people who are smarter than you, who can teach you things. You know, there's an interesting thing with filmmakers where they try to surround themselves with people not as talented as them or people who won't challenge, so that they can be the smartest person on set. And that's always a mistake.
Kevin Goetz (38:56):
Dean, I cannot agree with you more. At Screen Engine ASI, I have made it a point to hire people that were more talented than I and who could solve issues better than myself, et cetera. You have to. That's part of great management, I think. And part of being a great producer, right?
Dean Devlin (39:13):
Because at the end of the day you get all the credit anyway. <laugh>
Kevin Goetz (39:15):
Oh, wow. Well, you know, what are the three most important positions? If you could only pick three keys and they could be the accountant, they could be the editor, they could be the DP. What three areas would you say are the most crucial to make you do your job most effectively? I'm going to ask it as a producer and then I'm going to ask it as a director. As a producer first.
Dean Devlin (39:43):
Uh, there's no question as a producer, it's the first AD, it's the line producer, and the UPM. That's what's going to keep that train running.
Kevin Goetz (39:52):
Well, let's assume the line producer is the UPM, which often is the case. What would be a third then?
Dean Devlin (39:58):
To me it would be the DP.
Kevin Goetz (40:00):
Aha. And as the director, does that change?
Dean Devlin (40:02):
It actually does for me as a director.
Kevin Goetz (40:04):
What is it? What are the three
Dean Devlin (40:06):
For me? The DP is still, you know, obviously, your big partner, but for me, the production designer is a gigantic contributor. To not have my production designer would be a nightmare. But also, a line producer who fights for what I need because I've been in a situation where I had a line producer who had no interest in what I wanted to do.
Kevin Goetz (40:28):
You mean like put in by the financier?
Dean Devlin (40:31):
Kevin Goetz (40:32):
Which is like a babysitter. As a CEO of a company, my parallel to that would be someone putting in the chief, either the CFO, the chief financial officer, or the chief operating officer, and act as sort of a babysitter. Fortunately, in my company that hasn't happened. I have all my keys, if you will.
Dean Devlin (40:51):
But here's the thing with you at the top of that company. There was a very interesting Ted Talk I saw, and I'm forgetting who did the talk, forgive me, but what they said was powerful. They said that if you are a creative person in any field, chances are above you is a bean counter. And they said that's actually the way it's supposed to be, because you should be free to dream, and someone else has to make sure that you're not being insane, and that it's doable. He goes, but the mistake that companies make is that above the bean counter, you need one more creative who knows when they're being overly tight on the money and they're screwing up the vision. And I think in a case of your company, you are both a businessman and you're a creative. So, you have the ability to know if anyone above you is being overly bean counting, or overly analytical in a way where they're missing the creativity. And when I saw that speech, I really thought that was right. I thought, you know, a good director needs a strong line producer to keep them in budget. But above that line producer, you need a really good creative producer to know when they're going too far.
Kevin Goetz (41:58):
Wow. I stand with you on that. I think that's absolutely the case. Before we break, and I could talk to you for hours upon hours, but you are really concentrating and have been concentrating for the last several years on sort of television and streaming, as opposed to features. Any particular reason for that? Have features changed for you in your mindset, or is it just following the business and where it's going?
Dean Devlin (42:24):
Well, I hate to say this because I love movies. I think movies are important. I think movie theaters are important to our culture, but I think movies are dying and it makes me sad. It breaks my heart, but it's true. I see it even in my own house when our family goes onto Netflix, very rarely will we choose a movie. We're going to choose a TV show, and if we like it, we're going to watch all 20 episodes or however many they've got. I mean, there's a whole lot of reasons why we can talk about why movies are dying. I really blame the studios and the theater owners, but where I knew it was really dead was when I was teaching at Chapman University a couple years ago, I had 150 film students mostly from America, but about 30% from around the world. And I asked these film students, how many times a year do you go to the movie theater? And the answer was three times, three times a year. And I said, “what movies do you see those three times a year?” And they said, “Marvel movies.” I said, “okay, do you want to make Marvel movies?” “Oh no, I want to do movies like Coppola, I want to do movies like Scorsese, I want to do...” I said, “okay, well, if you want to make movies like those guys, where do you want people to see your movies?” And they all said “Netflix.” And I thought, okay, if the next generation of filmmakers don't want to make films for theaters, it's over.
Kevin Goetz (43:41):
Then why are you blaming it on the studio? What does the studio have to do with that?
Dean Devlin (43:46):
I think that this goes back about 20 years ago.
Kevin Goetz (43:49):
Dean Devlin (43:49):
The studios changed the way they made decisions. It used to be there was one guy at the top who rolled the dice, and if they bet on the wrong movies they got fired. And then this new kind of green light committee thing started happening, where everybody had to vote on which movies they made and you had to get a consensus. And this was all so that people wouldn't get fired. And what ended up happening was the studios felt like, well, if we're going to make a movie, we need to know that there's a preexisting audience who will see it. So, that started these endless sequels, remakes, based on a video game, based on a giant children's novel, which is fine to be part of the business, but it became the entirety of the business. And what ended up happening for the audience is everything they saw was something they'd seen already. And so, we had this huge migration, especially of younger males, to do other things that were more interesting to play video games, to do things that were not as expected. Peter Jackson is one of the greatest filmmakers alive and even he couldn't make King Kong fresh after 30 versions of it. There was this moment where I remember having an argument with the heads of the studios and I said, “you know, with this new philosophy, you never would've made Independence Day.” And the studio exec said to me, “you're right, I wouldn't make Independence Day today, unless you called it War of the Worlds.” And I said, “well, that's a problem because now it's kissing your sister. Now, everything is something we've done before. Instead of making this an event of brand-new things that we've never seen that's exciting and new…”
Kevin Goetz (45:16):
Well, you just, you just hit the operative -- it's brand-new things, and the bigger one, event. I think people go to see three movies a year to be transported to another time and place, and that's why dramas don't play broadly in theaters. They could be seen so easily at home. Same with romantic comedies, faith-based movies, things like this that don't have the scale and scope to be one of your three choices. And you're absolutely right, the biggest contributor to the lack of movie going right now is the Gen Zs. And the fact and half of the Gen Ys or millennials because what's happened is, as digital natives, as you've pointed out and cord-nevers, not even cord-cutters, but cord-nevers, they have a whole different approach to going to a theater. You and I have a nostalgic approach. When I was 13, we went to see Escape from the Planet of the Apes for my 13th birthday, and that was like, cool. And we had pizza afterwards. That's what you did, but the world has changed so drastically now. That's why I don't quite agree that it's the studio's fault. I think they had a part in it, but I really think it's the entire digital revolution. It's a digital disruption that is unrecoverable now. It's not precipitous, but it's a slow decline, and I think most people realize it. Is that your main impetus though, Dean, for moving into television or is it just more interesting stories?
Dean Devlin (46:44):
Well, I love working in television in that the process from idea to on the screen is much shorter. The ability to have creative freedom is much greater. And, in the same way, when you test a movie, you can change it and make it better. In a television series, if the first couple episodes aren't so good, you can get it better by the third episode. You can make the second season better than the first season.
Kevin Goetz (47:08):
We know from a lot of research that it takes four episodes, usually the pilot and three others to get hooked.
Dean Devlin (47:14):
And very often the pilot is the worst episode because they have to lay so much pipe.
Kevin Goetz (47:17):
Not only that, but they are finding their tone, their rhythm, their voice. Listen, Dean, again, we could talk forever. I want you to tell anyone who will listen to please, if they want to learn more about what you're saying and what we're talking about, buy the book Audienceology. It's on Amazon, or wherever books are sold, or they can go on my website, which is KevinGoetz360.com.
Dean Devlin (47:43):
Wait, do, do we have an audio version of the book?
Kevin Goetz (47:45):
Yeah, there's an audio version also. And I did it and there is a beautiful forward written by another dear friend, Chris Meledandri, and when I said, “Chris, who would you like to voice it?” He goes, “I'm going to voice it.” So he came in and voiced it. I had to fight for that one for myself too, because I said, “I'm the one doing my book.” But thank you so very much, Dean, you mean so much to me and our careers have sort of intersected through, I guess, the last 25, 30 years, and I love you, man, really.
Dean Devlin (48:17):
Well, I love you too. And I'm so proud of everything you've accomplished and I'm so excited about the book and I can't wait to read it myself.
Kevin Goetz (48:23):
Listen, Dean, we could talk forever. Thank you so much for being here with me today. To learn more about the film and TV projects of Dean Devlin, go to ElectricEntertainment.com, and also follow him on Twitter and Instagram. Next time on our podcast, Don't Kill the Messenger, we'll welcome Andy Marx, an award-winning photographer, creative director, musician, and writer. And he's also the grandson of both comedian and famed television and film star Groucho Marx and famed songwriter, Gus Khan. So, it's going to be a really fun discussion. Until then, I'm Kevin Goetz, and to you, our listeners, I appreciate you being part of the moviemaking process. Your opinions matter. See you soon.
Host: Kevin Goetz
Guest: Dean Devlin
Producer: Kari Campano