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Blowing Its Own Horn

Mar 8, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Looking to ring up a high score for its new video game documentary on GSN this month, Beantown Productions is putting together the promotional campaign for the program.

Beantown, started by Boston University grads David Carr and David Comtois, has been in the production business for 12 years, creating campaigns for syndicated hits, including “Seinfeld,” “The Simpsons” and “Cops.” Beantown also has recently produced several documentaries for cable networks, including a biography of Hugh Hefner for A&E and “20th Century Fox: The First 50 Years” for AMC.

Until “Video Game Invasion: The History of a Global Obsession,” the company had never done the promotional campaign for one of its productions.

When “Video Game Invasion” debuts March 21 on GSN, Beantown will have twice as much on the line.

“You want the promos to get people in the door, and when people are in the door, you want the show to deliver. We think we’ve got a really good, solid, entertaining show,” Mr. Comtois said.

There have been occasions when Beantown has had to promote a show that was less than terrific. “We’ve done many promos where we’ve tried to hide the weenie, as they say in the promo business. We are not hiding any weenies here. Our weenies are out there for everyone to see. In this case we feel like we have something that backs up what the marketing effort is trying to do.”

Beantown got the promo assignment after winning the documentary job. Neither Mr. Comtois nor Mr. Carr came up with the idea for the program’s promotional idea. The promotion was developed by Ken Warun, head of L.A.-based Beantown’s new office in New York. As a former head of on-air promotion at Game Show Network, Mr. Warun was a logical choice to head the promotional effort, especially with the network in the middle of rebranding itself as GSN.

Mr. Carr and Mr. Comtois acknowledged that producers and promo guys frequently have different ideas about how shows should be promoted.

“A lot of times the reason why people are going to watch the show is an element of the show,” Mr. Carr said. “As promo people we sell elements a little more than the overall packages.”

And in this case, Mr. Warun’s idea came as quite a shock. Mr. Carr said the documentary is fast-paced and graphics-intensive to appeal to a young crowd. It’s also got a hip host: skateboard legend Tony Hawk. But the promo idea was to put Mr. Hawk in a professorial corduroy jacket with elbow patches and have him draw a picture of Pac-Man on a blackboard. The tagline: “Who says history has to suck?”

“When I first saw the script, I thought, this seems sort of silly,” Mr. Carr said. But he added that he trusted Mr. Warun, and “damned if it didn’t turn out great.” Mr. Warun also put together teaser spots that looked like an episode of “Match Game.” But after a few seconds Pac-Man takes over the screen. Other spots show clips from the documentary.

There were advantages to having the same company producing the show and the promos, the Beantown duo said.

For one thing, Mr. Comtois was able to talk Mr. Hawk into putting the square corduroy jacket over his Quiksilver T-shirt because he’d already been directing the skateboarder while making the documentary.

The Beantown guys also said their experience in promotions helped them land the documentary assignment in the first place.

GSN, while it was still called Game Show Network, had success last year with its first documentary, “Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal.” GSN asked two or three companies to produce a program on the history of video games.

“Coming from the promo world, we’re used to very tight deadlines, very tight windows and we’re used to pitching a lot,” Mr. Carr said. “We have to fight for our jobs in the promo world, especially those that involve shooting and high-end work. “

Beantown had a leg up because it had thought about doing a video game show a few years back. At that time, Mr. Comtois, 43, and Mr. Carr, 39, could recall the Pong and Pac-Mac crazes from their junior high school days, but they found they weren’t up to speed on the newer games. The research they’ve done since then paid off.

“Their take on it was a really unique one,” said Kevin Belinkoff, VP of programming at GSN, with a focus on the people who made game history, as opposed to simply looking at the games.

“It’s an epic, multigenerational saga, filled with betrayals and feuds,” Mr. Carr said.

Their promo background gives the documentary a different style. “We’re used to telling things quickly,” Mr. Carr said. With thousands of edits in the 90-minute program, “It’s a very fast-paced journey through everything. The attitude is very tongue-in-cheek and post-modern.”

Mr. Carr said Mr. Hawk was the only choice to be host. “He’s an important participant in the history of video games, and he’s got a great appeal and energy.”

Having the promo company’s production facility also helped in making the documentary. Beantown owns digital video cameras used to shoot the picture and has edit bays, mixing bays and graphics bays, plus a staff of writers, editors, graphic artists and sound designers.

“We have this great base of operation to work from, and that’s allowed us to pour a lot of extra production value into our shows,” Mr. Carr said.

Change of Pace

Mr. Comtois said that working on both short promos and long-form documentaries is good for the company.

“It brings a lot of diversity to the company and makes it more interesting for the people in the company,” he said. “It’s kind of a break. It’s nice to be able to vary that pace in your work schedule so that you’re not constantly ensconced in some gargantuan project.”

Mr. Carr said the budget for the documentary was about 25 times the budget for the promo campaign, but the profit margin for the promos was undoubtedly higher.

While Mr. Carr and Mr. Comtois made money personally from their fees as executive producers, “In terms of the production, we spent the money. We put all the money on the screen. A lot of the money we spent, we spent on our people. We spent it in-house, but we spent it, “ Mr. Carr said.

Beantown sent the finished mixed master of the documentary to GSN last week. It’s now working on a promotion product for “Seinfeld” and doing a new main title package for “Judge Joe Brown.”

But Mr. Carr said the company would like to do more programs on the world of video games, hopefully for GSN. “It’s a vastly underexplored and underpublicized genre,” he said.

Mr. Belinkoff of GSN said the network is hoping for big things from “Video Game Invasion” and plans to make more documentaries. While the subject of the next documentary hasn’t been selected, video games is an area the network will continue to cover, he said.