If the new independent film studio Future Films had made a romantic comedy in 1989, it would have been about two single but dissimilar individuals between the ages of 20 and 30 who met under ”unusual” circumstances and fell in love. The story would likely have taken place in the spring, in a big city. The film’s running time: 1 hour 52 minutes.
How can the company be so precise? Since 1985, Future Films has been compiling computerized research on the evolving tastes of the American moviegoing public. (The above scenario is from research conducted in the late ’80s; the group is loath to part with its current data.) Future Films claims to know exactly what audiences want to see — from actors’ hair and eye color and height to the running time. That’s right — this is prefab filmmaking, and proudly so. The group even refers to its upcoming product as ”McMovies.”
Sound a little like Big Brother’s Movie Company? That might not be so coincidental. Future Films says it gets its funding from its founder and CEO, Church of Scientology member Robert Cefail, 33, a former telemarketer, and from ”overseas sources” it declines to name. ”You can say it’s 1984 if you want, but it’s not,” says Future Films vice president, Ken Lee, 43, a former actor and furniture salesman. ”The company will revolutionize the movie industry.” Asked if Cefail’s Scientology background will dictate the content of Future films, Lee wouldn’t respond. The company also declined to say whether other officers or board members are Scientologists.
Operating out of Garland, Tex., a Dallas suburb, Future Films will make movies broadly predicated on research gathered from theater exit polls and phone surveys. Among its findings: 91 percent of moviegoers prefer films with happy endings, while large majorities dislike seeing violence and casual sex. Hence, Future films will be wholesome, upbeat productions, made in a Garland warehouse with relatively low budgets ($6 million to $12 million) and tight shooting schedules (three to four weeks).
While inexpensive movies with generic plot lines hardly sound revolutionary, the company’s polling technique shows real entrepreneurial flair. By dialing a series of 900 numbers advertised locally, callers can answer questions about sundry cinematic likes and dislikes. It’ll cost up to $12 to put your two cents in, but Lee thinks people will make the calls anyway, saying that ”an overwhelming number of Americans are willing to pay between $25 and $100 to have a hand in the moviemaking process.” Whether people will believe that racking up huge phone bills to bankroll Future Films actually contributes to making movies is uncertain. The company has begun a ”Movie Maker Club”: For a $50 ”yearly” fee, members will be eligible to win prizes, including a chance to be an extra in a Future film, and will receive discount coupons for tickets to upcoming Future movies (they’ll have to be patient though; the first Future effort isn’t due until July 1992).
Not surprisingly, Future Films has aroused skepticism. ”It’s just crazy,” says a Texas film-industry observer who asked not to be identified. ”To say, ‘We’re gonna revolutionize the industry with 20,000 square feet of space in Garland’ — it’s nuts.”