Entertainment executive, film producer and marketing innovator Joseph “Joe” Farrell died Wednesday, Dec. 7, in Los Angeles of natural causes. He was 76.
Farrell was the former chairman-CEO of the National Research Group, the film industry’s leading market research firm, serving all studios and most major filmmakers and distributors worldwide on a sole-source basis. Over the years articles in major newspapers and trade magazines referred to Farrell as a “guru,” “power broker” or “godfather” in the film business. Among the services he introduced, now taken for granted by the film industry, are trackings, test screenings, trailer and TV spot testing and norms by quadrants and other socio-demographics analyses, as well as “early warning” forecasting of movies’ box office potential.
A 2006 Variety article on Farrell underscored his influence: “Today, researchers are as indispensable to studio chiefs as pollsters are to politicians running for office. It’s no coincidence that (Dick) Cook, Marc Shmuger and Jim Gianopulos are former marketing and distribution execs who were well steeped in NRG’s research culture before becoming studio chairmen.”
Farrell founded NRG in 1978 with partner Catherine Paura; in 2003 the pair sold the firm and created FP Prods., which had a first-look deal at Disney; Farrell was also a special adviser to the chairman of the studio. FP Prods. went independent in 2009, and the company has just completed the feature film “Joyful Noise,” set for release in January by Warner Bros. It has “The Leonardo Job” currently in development with Alcon Entertainment, while negotiations over several other projects are under way with several studios.
“I’m obviously devastated by the news of Joe’s passing,” said Kevin Goetz, who worked with Farrell at NRG before founding and becoming CEO of fellow research firm Screen Engine. “I owe so much to him. He gave me my first opportunity in the research business and for that I’ll be forever grateful. During our 16 years working together, I got to learn from the master. My heart goes out to his family and to his lifelong business partner Catherine Paura.”
Earlier, Farrell was an exec producer of the fantasy comedy feature “Mannequin” in 1987.
Farrell was a marketing consultant to top executives at several major studios and investment banking groups.
He served as an executive and consultant to the Carnegie Corp. of New York, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. He developed the U.S. Arts and Cultural Trend Data System for Congress and authored “Americans and the Arts,” “Museums: USA” and “The Cultural Consumer.” In addition, Farrell served on the New York State Governor’s Task Force on the Arts, founded the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, was a director of the New York State Arts and Business Council and was a member of the board of advisers of the Actors Studio.
Born in New York, Farrell was a graduate of St. John’s College, the U. of Notre Dame and Harvard Law School.
Farrell appeared in the 2009 documentary “Coming Attractions: The History of the Movie Trailer.”
He is survived by his wife, Italian actress Jo Champa, and his 7-year-old son.
Donations may be made to Oceana (Na.oceana.org) or Sailors for the Sea (Sailorsforthesea.org).