retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Content Guy’s Note: Below is a commentary on the same subject as the video piece, but it isn’t word-for-word the same. You can look at both, or is up to you. I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, at the very least you have to be aware that last Friday, the eighth and final Harry Potter movie - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two - opened to great reviews and record-breaking business. As you might expect from someone who co-authored a book entitled “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies,” I have some thoughts about six business lessons that I think can be gleaned from the film series.

The importance of good casting. In the Harry Potter movies, they were extraordinarily lucky to have cast actors for the three central roles who not only managed to mature nicely over the past decade, but also did so without any public meltdowns, misfortunes or misbehavior. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint started off green, but grew into pretty good actors who audiences cared about and enjoyed watching grow up. That’s true in any business - you are only as good as the people on the front lines, and it is critical to “cast” those roles well ... especially because those front lines people will be dealing with your customers a lot more directly than you will.

It isn’t just the big roles. Over the past 10 years, the Harry Potter movies have provided steady employment for as virtual Who’s Who of British acting talent. They weren’t usually big parts, and sometimes amounted to just a few minutes of screen time in each movie - but they served to support, both through talent and experience, the leads. Back when I was in acting school, the teachers used to say that “there are no small parts, only small actors.” That works in business, too - even the person in the smallest role needs to understand that he or she is critical to success, and encouraged to take ownership in a way that goes beyond their screen time. (By the way, the producers got very lucky here, too. Despite the fact that many of the actors hired were older, over the last decade only one died - Richard Harris, who played Dumbledore in the first two movies. And as it happened, he was replaced by the slightly younger and more energetic Michael Gambon, who brought a needed physicality that the role needed in the later films.)

Consistency is critical. I can vouch for the fact that the world of witches and wizards created onscreen, based on the detailed descriptions in the books by J.K. Rowling, was very consistent from film to film. I know this because two weeks before the last movie opened, Mrs. Content Guy said that before she went to see it, she needed to watch all of the earlier films because she’d only seen the first one. This meant that we had to watch all seven earlier Harry Potter films in an eight-day period ... which wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. From film to film, the sense of place was very important ... you knew where you were at any given moment. I always ask retailers if their stores have that same sense of place, of specificity ... or, for example, could their store pass for any of a dozen other stores if someone suddenly found themselves plopped down in the middle of it?

New perspectives can give an enterprise new life. Chris Columbus directed the first two movies, and he did exactly what you’d expect from the director of Mrs. Doubtfire - he did a good, workmanlike job, established the pace and tone of the films, did the casting, but didn’t offer any visual surprises. It was the director of the third film, Alfonso Cuaron, who brought a whole new sense of visual style to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, giving the series a creative jolt that served it well as the kids got older, evil got scarier, and the stories got darker.

Success isn’t always related to money. The thing is, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was the least financially successful film of the eight, making only about $800 million worldwide. (Only????) But it was an enormous critical success and is generally considered to be one of the best films in the series. And like I said before, without it, the succeeding films might never have been as good as they are.

Don’t underestimate the importance of a little magic. The Harry Potter series had a lot of things going for it. Great kids in the leads. Fabulous acting talent in supporting roles. Terrific screenplays, based on strong source material. At the end of the day, though, it also had a creative alchemy going for it - as great as the pieces were, the whole ended up being greater than the parts. That’s magic.

I’ll be back tomorrow in “OffBeat” with my review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two. You won’t be surprised to hear that it’s a good one.

That’s what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I’d like to hear what is on your mind.
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