How did I ever get so lucky as to work with a Hollywood legend?
The backstory… of Market Research for Grizzly Adams
March of 2004, my 12-year old daughter asked for the DVD set, Band of Brothers. It really made no sense at the time. Why would a 12-year old girl be asking for a series about WWII? Only later would I connect the dots.
Later that summer I was on a political campaign in California and I strolled into a Barnes and Noble and picked up a copy of The Fourth Turning, by William Strauss and Neil Howe. It was interesting, because a few years prior in Baker, Oregon I had met the creator, of Grizzly Adams, Charles “Chuck” Sellier, Jr.. He had given me a book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, it was by the same authors. He told me that if I read Generations, I would never lose another election. I didn’t read it. After working with over 150 candidates, I had heard many people say “if you do this, you won’t lose.”
As I sat reading The Fourth Turning, the authors described how the generational archetypes repeat; how the Millennial generation was the same Hero/Civic oriented archetype as the outgoing G.I. Generation. The Millennials would be learning the life lessons needed from the G.I. Generation. This is how these cycles work and are predictable.
The light bulb went on. My daughter, a born in the middle of the Millennial generation, was watching and learning from a DVD set about character traits of her hero/civic oriented archetype. Team oriented, honest, special, confident, achieving – was I describing G.I.s or Millennials. They were the same in many ways.
It was 7:30 in the morning. I immediately picked up the phone and called Chuck and said I get it – it all clicked.
After the campaign was over, I began to work with Chuck in what would turn out to be a boss, friend and mentor relationship that would last until the day he died in January of 2011.
It is rare opportunity that you get to learn and collaborate on market research by someone who blazed the trail and was hugely successful.
When Chuck and 6 others made “The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams” they produced it with little money (about $124,000). Of the six who made Grizzly Adams, three went on to be heads of studios and two went on to be the heads of networks.
Over the years, Chuck developed proprietary market research methods that would produce hit after hit. By pre-testing his concepts, he could find what the audience would go out of their way to see. He used it successfully before anybody was using it. In a Wall Street Journal article titled “Studio Cleans Up By Marketing Films Like Selling Soap” (6-6-1978) a Disney executive was quoted saying “I don’t agree with pre-testing,’ says Bob King, director of marketing services for motion pictures and television at Walt Disney Productions.” But the numbers told the story for Sunn Classic Pictures of which Chuck was President. The article continues, “In fact, in the three years that 34-year-old Charles Sellier has been president and in charge of production at Sunn, all nine of its feature films have made money. Revenues last year went up fivefold from the 1976 figures, to $42 million.”
When Variety listed its “Champs Among Bantamweights” in July of 1981, Sellier’s name appeared on the list more than that of any producer. Included in its top 50 films were nine Sellier productions. In 1980, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on the television film “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Sellier created and produced two specials for CBS – Ancient Secrets of the Bible and the pilot Miracles and Other Wonders. Both performed so well in the ratings that the network responded with a multimillion-dollar contract for an additional 10 hours of primetime shows.
With the use of his market research mastery, Sellier told CBS what the results would be before the start of production. The ability to predict the public’s appetite is a skill Sellier perfected constantly over career spanning over three decades. Using sophisticated polling and focus group studies Sellier’s knowledge and talent was crucial to the major networks during sweeps periods.
Over his career he made over 30 feature films as well as over 230 television shows and pilots that he wrote and/or produced and won over two hundred national and international independent film awards. He authored many books, including several on the New York Times best selling list.
Of course now everybody uses market research. Chuck taught me that every problem is multi-dimensional. As Chuck said “A single dimension of that problem would be, you have a good movie that grosses money. But there are a whole bunch of other problems that are involved. A simple one would be, what if we had broken the movie during the big blizzard? No one would have seen it. So there’s another problem in this three dimensional cube.”
By December of 2005 we were using several types of research. The first was how generations behave. The second was a little understood part of that generational equation – how those generations behave in cycles, specifically in socio-economic crisis periods.
We had research that showed repeating crisis periods over the last 500 years. We had done extensive research to figure out where we were in the repeating cycle, what would happen next, and most importantly, what would be the emotions of the public. Nobody had ever used this extensive type of research to this extent in the movie business.
Because we had stuck upon a winning formula, several companies and organizations requested to see a full-blown presentation of our research. Many used it with astounding results.
From 2005 to 2011 I learned a huge amount from Chuck. Along the way we came across many new horizons in research. Among those was applied neuromarketing and using attractor patterns in production at many levels.
Chuck was never complacent about market research. He was always pushing me to explore the “next” area of market research. It was in that manner he kept Grizzly Adams Productions on the cutting edge.
When we bought all the tools to the table we had some amazing results. One example is the movie Friends for Life. In all, Friends for Life won over 30 national and international independent film awards.
During the six years working with Chuck Sellier I learned a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. We explored new areas of market research, fine tuned existing ones, and in the process touched many lives with the movies of which I was privileged to be a part.
There are many stories and moments I could share. But this one is one I like the best. So I will leave this section with it.
In May of 2010, we were scheduled to give a major presentation to a TV network. Eventually, the 6,000 mile trip by car would take us through many areas that had special meaning to him. We stopped in Savannah Georgia to see his old friend, the driving the back roads, drove by his old home in Valdosta Georgia where his boyhood friend “Turtle” lived. We headed to his birthplace of Pascagoula Mississippi. Driving in front of where the old theaters were, Chuck again told me of how he used to go both of them on Saturday morning for a quarter, seeing the main feature in one and a double feature in the other. That shaped him in many ways. Later, at age nineteen, he was already making movies when his peers were starting college.
As I have looked back on the trip, in many ways it was a trip down memory lane. Within a year, my friend would be gone and in the hands of God.
Most of what we needed to get done on the trip was finished and we headed North for home.
We were driving along on I-70 from Columbia to Kansas City where we would spend the night when Chuck began to look around as if the scenery had some familiarity. “Take the next exit,” he said. But we had missed it. I was driving and we pulled out the Atlas and looked at the map. Perhaps we could take the next one. Chuck would not tell me what we were looking for. We figured out that by getting on Hwy 41, it would take us to Arrow Rock. It was about 13 miles off the Freeway. Now, if you had ever travelled with Chuck, you would know that for him to travel 13 miles out of his way, this had to be some kind of special place, very important. He still would not tell me what we were going to see or what all the mystery was all about. In true Chuck Sellier fashion, the secret would be revealed when we got there.
Driving down the roads and through the farmland we arrived in Arrow Rock. To Chuck, this was like old home. I could see the good memories came flooding back in Chuck’s mind as he looked around to the old and familiar town.
I asked “What is this place?” Chuck simply said “I filmed Last of the Mohicans and Huck Finn here.” I was speechless. The impact of the situation began to sink in.
To me he had always been Chuck. My friend and best buddy. Yes, he had also been my mentor and boss, but first and above all, my friend. For many in the world he was the renowned Writer, Producer and Director, he was the “Kid,” as some in Hollywood referred to him, the one the great Director, Orson Welles, said was “light years ahead of the rest of the industry.”
“They used to fly us in by jet to Columbia, and bring us out here to the set,” Chuck recalled. Chuck pointed to the river, and told me short stories of trying to film the river scenes in the films. We drove around Arrow Rock, Chuck telling me about specific scenes and buildings he remembered.
Then as simply as we had gotten off the Freeway, Chuck said we better head for the hotel in Kansas City as we were running late.