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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.