Archive for April, 2009

These are the voyages…

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Being a fan is more than just liking something.  Or loving something.  It’s about loving-to-love something.

In the case of movies, fandom invests them with a whole new narrative, specific to each of us, of which we are an intrinsic part. It begins long before the curtain rises, and comes to an end only if our enthusiasm ever begins to wane.

This is a story social media can tell. And it’s a story that movie marketers and film publicists can no longer afford to ignore. Because, more than ever before, this is the story we ought to be selling.

_ _ _

What happened in Sydney

I received final confirmation that I was heading out to Sydney for STAR TREK’s global premiere about twenty-four hours before I boarded the plane.

We’d been talking to Paramount for a while about how we could put something of the occasion online for the franchise’s worldwide following , but some of the details didn’t get locked down until the last minute. Turned out I was one of those details.

The view from floor 31 of the Intercontinental (by day)

PPC’s remit was a now familiar one – use the premiere and the press junket as a platform on which to bring fans and film-makers closer together, harnessing the social web as a medium through which to drive anticipation of the film’s release.

In order to make this happen we would be given short slots at the junket with director J.J. Abrams and cast members Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (McCoy), John Cho (Sulu) and Eric Bana (Nero), and a slot in the online pen for the red carpet.

The plan was to crowd-source a selection of questions via Twitter, feeding back the answers as video clips via a dedicated channel on Phreadz, with live footage streamed from the red carpet using Ustream and a jail-broken iPhone.

It felt like a healthy little mash-up, and a good way to create some fan-centric content differentiated from the usual syndicated sound-bites by a greater measure of immediacy, and raw authenticity.

A happy detail was that Phreadz founder Kosso was in Melbourne, and agreed to head over with fellow ‘phreadhead’ Fiz to help keep put it together.

The other key player in the process was Marc Berry, back at PPC Interactive HQ, busy driving awareness of what we were up to.

Working with fan site TrekMovie.com Marc generated a pool of over two hundred fan-submitted questions, and secured a large captive audience for our output, which included some of the following clips:

If we succeeded in engaging a significant number of fans, putting their questions to film-makers, and reaching a sizeable audience with the responses, it feels as though that’s as much as we did.

For one thing, the days of “gosh they used social media” are well and truly over. A year ago we could attract interest by the simple fact of bringing Harrison Ford to Seesmic, or Bruce Willis to Second Life. Nowadays celeb 2.0 is the status quo, with half of Hollywood tweeting details of their perilously demystified day-to-day lives.

This celebrity invasion is intrinsically linked to the fact that Twitter is becoming ubiquitous, and has comfortably peaked in terms of the mainstream media hype it has the potential to generate. Right now, if you want to make news using Twitter, you need to start a revolution.

Meanwhile, the social web already has no shortage of more substantive representation at your average movie premiere. Guys like Nate “Blunty” Burr (below, left) and Bruce “CoolShite” Moyle (right) are becoming a regular fixture on the red carpet.  Nate’s Youtube channel has over 57,958 subscribers, and almost 2.5m views under its belt, while CoolShite is one of Australia’s hardest working sites dedicated to films, TV, comics, games and anything genre and pop culture.

Nate (Blunty3000) & Bruce (Coolshite)

The fast-growing audience they represent are just some of the movie fans who have eschewed established sources of news and views in favour of this less formal approach lacking none of the expertise or critical insight offered by the traditional outlets. On the contrary, these guys travel light and cover an awful lot of ground, meaning they really know their stuff, and don’t bring any of the usual baggage.

They use whatever they find in the online toolshed to get the message out to every one of their readers, viewers, listeners, followers and subscribers, meeting each of us on our own terms.  And they know that as long as that audience keeps on growing, they’ll go on getting closer to the action.

It’s because of guys like them that, even as I was taking this photo at the fringes of the red carpet outside Sydney Opera House, a whole room full of their American cousins were settling down to watch STAR TREK at its real world premiere, at the Alamo Drafthouse, in Austin, Texas.

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What happened in Austin

For some reason Austin is fast establishing itself as the geek capital of the world. It’s called home by leading bloggers across a broad spectrum of subject matter, and plays host to the annual South by Southwest interactive festival – a mecca for social media mavens from all over the world.

Fitting then that Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse saw a few hundred geeks assemble for a special Fanfest screening of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, only to watch as the print dissolved after the first few minutes had played out.

Even as Drafthouse owner Tim League appeared to be dealing with the mess in the projection booth, Leonard Nimoy appeared onstage, and asked the enraptured crowd if they wouldn’t rather watch the new STAR TREK movie instead.

With the benefit of hindsight, maybe we should have expected something like this from J.J. Abrams. With his challenging, often bewildering but always inventive marketing campaigns for LOST and CLOVERFIELD, he is a director who evidently also relishes any opportunity to manipulate, mislead and, well, misdirect.

If Sydney was about the eye candy, here was the brain food. Nimoy was accompanied by producer Damon Lindelof and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman; pretty much the perfect film-maker delegation for an audience of diehard bloggers and serial movie fans, including writers from leading film sites Ain’t It Cool News (AICN) and Film School Rejects (FSR), to name but two.

Because, of course, this wasn’t just about treating a room full of fanboys to a surprise sneak preview. What happened in Austin was a carefully considered move by the studio, and one that could prove every bit as important to the commercial fortunes of this film as any official premiere.

Online news outlets like AICN and FSR matter more than ever to the studios. With the US being by far the biggest market for the STAR TREK franchise, it was vital that Paramount kept these guys ahead of the curve. The way they see it, if somebody’s going to be breaking the embargo, it damn well better be them.

And break the embargo they did, posting with the explicit blessing of Damon Lindelof, who actively encouraged the audience to go forth and start spreading the word.

These days major movie campaigns need their defining moment, and, when it comes, they need it to go their way.  What happened in Austin ticked both boxes, taking on a life of its own as it reverberated around the web.

The amplification came in a flurry of reaction, first on Twitter, then with a volley of largely favourable reviews appearing on outlets including AICN, FSR, Twitch, CHUD and Cinema Blend.

Within hours Paramount formally announced that the embargo, previously set at April 20th, was no longer in place.

And in the days that followed news continued to spread, eventually infiltrating the mainstream with this feel-good story of how the studio behind a franchise so synonymous with its fanatical following had orchestrated an opportunity to put the fans first.

_ _ _

You’re either on it or you aren’t

Now that I’ve stopped to think about what had happened in Austin, I’ve started seeing traditional film premieres in a new light.

Chris Pine

Red carpet premieres have been a staple of film publicity for as long as films have been publicised.  They’re are the ultimate photo-call, and the perfect opportunity for the studio to put the talent in the shop window, letting them sprinkle a little good old-fashioned stardust on the assembled press, dignitaries and fans.

Old media – print, TV, radio – thrive on the spectacle. The bright lights and big ideas are perfect feature-fodder, there to remind us that somewhere over the rainbow is a life less ordinary, pitched forever slightly beyond our reach.

They are ‘magical’ occasions.  And, if magic is about misdirection, premieres can be feats of bravura prestidigitation, conjuring the illusion of so much more than what is essentially a glorified product launch.

There, at the centre of the action, is that most analogue of inventions – the red carpet. Let’s face it, when push comes to shove, you’re either on it or you aren’t.

It’s one of the last great bastions of Them™-and-us, spelling out in the most binary of terms that they are the players, that we are the crowd, and that never the twain shall meet.

So that once the doors are closed, the bulbs stop flashing, and the stars in our eyes begin to fade, many of the people who care most about the movie are still standing there, clutching signed posters and autograph books, on the other side of the barrier.

_ _ _

You’ll hear it there first

If premieres really are about Them™-and-us, and the exclusion at the heart of exclusivity, maybe we were missing the point trying to bring a little you-and-me to proceedings.

Eric Bana, JJ Abrams, John Cho, (and a whole shitload of other less famous people)

Sure, there will always be Them-and-us™.  There will always be eye candy, and people happy to be held at arm’s length.

But you-and-me, we’re different.  We’re the real fans.  Our stories are told through the prism of love, shared purpose and common interest.

As micro-blogging shifts gears and its popularity snowballs, we can become part of a global focus group, organically redrawing its agenda in real time, constantly re-envisaging itself based on its own conclusions.

This has the potential to move us past the binary aristocracy of old media, into a new age in which knowledge and perspicacity are our currency, the more current the better.  The last of the latency is taken out of circulation, the last of the delay out of distribution.

And, as we invent new ways to share our thoughts, our ideas, and the things that spontaneously happen around us, we’ll discover a new kind of proximity to the things we love-to-love, the things we hate, and everything in between.

I build crowds. Guaranteed.

Monday, April 13th, 2009

It’s just criminal

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

It’s called a trailer. It’s the bits of a film a distributor shows you ahead of the theatrical release of the film, in order to try and convince you to pay for a cinema ticket and watch it it on the big screen.

The big screen. That’s where a movie like this – an effects-laden summer ‘tentpole’ – belongs. I’ll be honest with you, it’s not really my cup of tea. I’ve never loved the X-Men, I’m more of a Batman kind of guy.

But I do appreciate that it’s films like this that enable a studio like Fox to give such broad distribution to smaller titles, often under their Searchlight label. Films like The Darjeeling Limited, which was one of my favourite films in 2008.

I’m not saying that those smaller movies can’t stand on their own two feet.  Just that Fox wouldn’t take a chance if they weren’t confident of being able to do good money on more mainstream movies.  Movies like Wolverine.

That’s why, when a work print for the movie appears online a full month ahead of release, it’s bad for all of us, whatever kind of movies we like.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happened, consituting one of the most high profile movie leaks of all time.

Anyone conversant in the language of BitTorrent and peer-to-peer file sharing – of whom I am not one – can now quite easily download and watch a full two hour version of Wolverine.

This already happens with a huge number of films already released, doing an estimated $18bn of damage to the global home entertainment industry annually.

However, with a film like this leaked so far ahead of its theatrical release, we could be looking at tens of millions of dollars being taken of the Wolverine’s potential worldwide box office gross.

In this case, the overlap between the core target audience for this movie and the kind of people who know how to download pirate movies must be particularly worrying – we’re talking about internet fanboys all the way, many of whom will surely be highly tempted to save themselves the price of a cinema ticket.

More worrying still – they are likely to be highly vocal about the film, through the many blogs, forums and chat rooms they call home.

Few films benefit from being raked over the coals in this manner, especially when they are work prints missing twenty minutes of re-shot material and the bulk of the CGI.  Because, well, take the CGI out of Wolverine and what you’ve got is Hugh Jackman, in a muscle vest, armed with nothing more dangerous than a pair of big old mutton chops.

It’s hard to imagine how disappointing this must be for the team of film-makers who shepherded this project this far.  It’s easy for ‘serious’ film fans to sneer at this kind of popcorn movie, but you only have to speak to the guys working at the graphics labs and post-production houses to realise that there is always a huge amount of pride and passion invested to deliver a movie with these kind of production values.

In that respect, piracy isn’t just theft from the studio, cheating them of potential box office dollars.

You’re stealing from people who put something more than time or money into a project, robbing them of the opportunity to find the broadest possible audience for their creation. It’s a bit like telling someone how The Usual Suspects ends.  You’re taking something you can’t give back.

From my point of view, this is always going to be a particularly thorny issue.  I love the industry I work in, and the work I do, so it worries me to think that the conditions of film production could be jeopardised as a result of this kind if thing.

In this instance, I have an even greater incentive to make my feelings known, in that today is the launch of You Make The Movies, a UK Industry Trust initiative conceived to reinforce the importance of supporting the UK film industry, and condemning video piracy in its various forms.

This is something my wife’s firm, Blue Rubicon, have co-ordinated, and this seems like serendipitous opportunity for me to lend my support.

The internet has changed movie marketing and distribution in so many ways.  Now that all we peasants have rifles, and are able to post our views anonymously, the old embargo model is looking kind of shaky.

The point I made, and I stand by it, is that it’s no longer just a case of being careful what we write, or publish, release, but also a case of being careful about what we read, and what we watch, to make sure we aren’t robbing ourselves of something irreplaceable.

The internet is an essentially democratic medium – anyone can and should be able to speak.  But that doesn’t mean for a minute that all of us have to listen.

[Update 09:29 02/04/09 – The UK Industry Trust have three campaign TV spots hitting screens today. This is is my favourite of the three:

There are some nice equivalents for Jaws and Life of Brian. As a committed sweder of films, I like the campaign.]