J.D. Salinger, famously the author of Catcher In The Rye, died more famously as a recluse. He gave no interviews, wrote no memoirs, and avoided all biographers. His son noted,
“There were barely enough people to form a circle in the last 30 or 40 years,” he said.
Matthew Salinger estimates that his father had only 7 or 8 people whom he spoke with on anything remotely approaching a regular basis. Barely a circle, indeed.
So. How can you make and sell a movie about a guy who’s famous for his writing and more famous for his privacy?
Scarcity, baby. Scarcity.
The Scarcity Cue enhances something by making it rare, remote, inaccessible, limited . . . in other words, scarce. Because you cannot have it all, now, you want it even more. Salinger’s life is a living example of the Scarcity Cue. His inaccessibility made him even more attractive, compelling, and interesting. Now that he’s gone and cannot sue, you make the movie and sell it with Scarcity.
Selling the film may test even Mr. Weinstein’s Barnum-like skills. Moviegoers will be kept intentionally in the dark about what new information Mr. Salerno might have about the reclusive writer’s life — Mr. Salinger’s son, Matthew, challenges the notion that anyone close to his father in recent decades cooperated — and the Weinstein Company will have to strike a delicate balance in its marketing. It will have to raise the curtains a little, but not too much, as it seeks to build anticipation for the release.
That would be Harvey Weinstein, one of the more successful movie producers of the past 30 years. And that delicate balance measures Scarcity and how to present it. Like this.
Associates . . . hint at never-before-seen photographs and interviews with aging intimates of Salinger, as well as secrets that they decline to describe.
Secrets about the movie about a secretive man! Double Scarcity!
And, now, make this Scarcity seem practical rather than manipulative.
It’s a difficult task in an era when fluttering fingers on smartphones can give away all the surprises. “I don’t know how we do this and not rob the audience,” Mr. Weinstein said in a telephone interview.
Weinstein wants to show previews of the movie to drum up support, but he doesn’t want to give away the secrets of the movie by showing the whole movie in preview because everyone has a smartphone with Twitter. Previewers will give away the secrets! So?
For now the plan is to hit the festival circuit, but with only part of the film, holding back the end until it opens in theaters, Mr. Weinstein said.
Run a dull preview that only hints at secrets. That will build buzz. Then release the movie. One suspects that Weinstein will release the movie on as many screens as humanly possible just to protect those profits . . . oops, secrets.
But, does he have secrets about Salinger? Ask those who are making and releasing the movie. How about the director?
For the moment Mr. Salerno, who is finishing a final version, declines to be interviewed.
How about partners at PBS with American Masters?
Susan Lacy, executive producer of the “American Masters” series, was just as circumspect. She said she was legally barred from discussing details of the film.
When It Is Rare, It Is Good!