King Kong as Software: Beta Early, Beta Often

The current Wired magazine cover piece on the making of Peter Jackson’s new King Kong movie can be read as a tribute to the merits of iterative product development — shipping early and shipping often — whether that product is software or a (possible) blockbuster movie:

… the approach defies conventional Hollywood wisdom. Which explains why, in the early entries, everyone looks like they’ve been caught passing notes in class. On day four, Naomi Watts and Jack Black are in costume shooting a pivotal scene. While technicians light the set, Jackson takes his actors aside to conduct an interview for Kongisking. “I can’t believe they get to see me in costume and makeup,” Black says. “Isn’t that, like, verboten?”

I ask Jackson about the incident several months later. He flashes a mischievous smile. “Normally within the first few weeks of filming, studios release photos of the actors in costume. They try to give an exclusive to a magazine or a newspaper. And we just sort of blew it entirely for them by showing it on the video diary. It wasn’t an event at all; it was just, like, here they are.”

… If there’s one studio executive who grasps the marketing potential of the production diaries, it’s Marc Shmuger, Universal’s bearish vice chair. Shmuger just happened to be the executive VP of worldwide marketing at Columbia TriStar when that studio released the last iconic-monster-movie remake, Godzilla, in 1998. The Godzilla campaign epitomized the old marketing paradigm in which secrecy, not transparency, was the operating principle. In the prerelease campaign, moviegoers were meant to be seduced by mere glimpses of the monster. But when the film opened, the giant lizard proved a letdown, and the movie bombed.


  1. whether that product is software or a (possible) blockbuster movie:
    Or a bit of hardware. We’ve taken the ‘show early and often’ approach at Liftport.
    Neither are we making a huge production out of our various tests and milestones. We simply decided over two years ago to push staff members to post their progress-to-date on the company blog, and to be as open as possible about what we’re up to.