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Parnormal Activity in a Dark Cloverfield

Part 2 of: Marketing Hollywood.

The movie industry has now joined the many many industries that are doubting the efficiency of traditional advertising. In search for more efficient pathways to attention, the big studios have been busy shaking up their marketing departments.

Universal’s Adam Fogelson, started the trend of unconventional campaigns in 2007. Sue Knoll became president of marketing at Warner in 2008. Paramount’s head of marketing was replaced in 2008 by Josh Greenstein and Megan Colligan who previously created campaigns for independent movies. And just last week Disney hired an outsider to head their marketing efforts: MT Carney, who ran the New York office of Naked Communication, an advertising agency that shook up the trade by combining brand strategy and creative media planning.

Bold moves for Hollywood, “where movie marketing has always been seen as a specialized skill set carried out by an elite clique of veterans.” (deadline.com)

This has led to real changes in the way Hollywood advertises:

Looking at campaigns like Dark Knight, Cloverhead, Transfomers: ROTF (sic!) and Paranormal Activity, I would like to sum up the new developments in movie marketing in three rules:

  1. Big films will be even faster.
  2. Small films will be more connected.
  3. The biggest films will be both :-)

The first rule is easy to explain. Every once in a while, a really really expensive movie may also be really really bad. It used to take about two weeks until everyone knew just how bad it was. But in social networks, bad news spread like wildfire. The easiest way out of this 100 million dollar problem? More audience, quicker! So expect more advertising on more channels for more screens on the first weekend. Iron Man 2 started with 4380 screens, that’s more than 10% of all movie screens in the US. And a new record.

Of course, this kind of fattest ass strategy takes up the space for medium movies, and increasingly also for the smallest ones. For the last 2-3 years, there was palpable depression at the Indie film festivals like Sundance, as most ways of finding distribution have all but dried up. Independent filmmakers are just realizing they, too, need to reinvent themselves.

NEW BREED PARK CITY – Seeking the Answers, Part 1 from Sabi Pictures on Vimeo.

Here, the second rule comes into play. Small movies now have to try even harder to find their audience. As they don’t have the wallets to buy attention, they have to earn it. And this is where social media play a big role: The hope is that young filmmakers can find true fans, who stand by them loyally, and will freely advertise their movie in their substantial network of friends? Thus giving them a perfectly targeted and totally trustworthy advertising campaign for free!

This does indeed happen. A famous example being the picture perfect social media campaign for the Nazi Space Invasion parody Iron Sky. The movie’s premise: After successfully escaping to the moon! in 1945, the Nazis are planning a reconquista of planet earth -- in 2018. While the release date for Iron Sky is set “maybe in 2011″, the producers have already engaged in a deep relationship with their audience: For example with a fake online newspaper called “The Truth Today”, that reports straight from the future: “United States move to income based voting in 2020.” being one of my favourites. But it’s not all jokes. There is also a 50 EUR pre-purchase option for the DVD of a film that hasn’t even been made yet. Furthermore, a crowdsourcing platform is used to let fans take over research or design efforts. And of course, all the various social networks are used to spread production news, meetings with fans, jokes, or just random events from the life of the crew.

The most socialwebby part of it all, however, lies in its distribution. It’s social, too! Fans can demand a screening of Iron Sky by clicking on a button and entering their ZIP code. It is this circumvention of traditional distribution deals, that independent filmmakers put their hopes on. Social platforms like Crowd Controls, Eventful or Openfilm have the power to redefine indie filmmaking.

However, the Hollywood studios will not sidestep the social media space. On the contrary, by far the most involving, intelligent and fascinating social campaigns have been created by Hollywood itself; like the award-winning Alternate Reality Game for the last Batman movie.

Another example: the smart social media campaign for low-budget sensation “Paranormal Activity”. Shot for small change (15.000 USD), some folks at Paramount realized that they had stumbled upon a future classic and spent 2 million dollars on advertising “Paranormal” – extremely modest by their standards. The clever campaign intentionally showed little of the movie, and instead described it as an event for horror fans, including a request button on the website to ask for a screening in your vicinity. By avoiding traditional mechanisms, Paramount managed to turn Paranormal Activity into a cult hit, and the most profitable movie it ever released.

This leads us to rule #3. In less than three years, Hollywood has learned to use the opportunities of social media in campagins of every scale. It has created bigger and smaller campaigns. It has even shown that it can charm the angry voices of Twitter & Co when it has to. When “unpatriotic” details leaked about its brainfree blockbuster “GI Joe”, and forums and fanpages went wild, Paramount opened up and promised a rewrite to GI Joes tradional Midwestern fans. The resulting film remained surprisingly immune to the scathing press reviews – it had already been finetuned, with massive amounts of research, delivered directly by the target group.

Of course, it is easy to engage in dialoge like this, when your budget is 100s of millions. But what does this mean for the indiependent filmmakers directors? Some ask for a new kind of filmmaker/entrepreneur, others fear that the demands of a community will overpower the creative vision, which should focus first and foremost on the art.

Regardless of who will win this debate, the advent of social media has definitely opened new options to movie marketing. From the big Hollywood studios to the smallest independent director/producer-one-man-show, everyone can now establish a direct relationship with their audience, and offer them tools to support their movie.

Will this save Hollywood studios from going broke? Nope. Moviemaking is risky business. Just look at MGM. Will this unlock chests of gold for independent filmmakers? Don’t think so, either. The digitalization of movie making has made it easier to make a film. The digitalization of marketing has made it easier to publicize it. However, like with journalism or the music industry, it has not made it easier to make money with it. The long tail of the film market is not a fat one.

Only one thing is sure: I’ll soon be getting personal emails from my favourite directors :-)

Further reading

The first half of this quick look at movie marketing is here at

Check out the “Batman-Dark Knight” Alternate Reality Game at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpuC7HhCPWA

A series of the independent filmmakers exploring their future at http://vimeo.com/8928985

Great overview of the Iron Sky campaign at http://www.jenniferhoffmann.com/2010/02/26/fallstudie-filmmarketing-in-sozialen-netzwerken-teil-1-die-kommunikationskanaele-von-iron-sky/

More on the Paranormal campaign: http://adage.com/madisonandvine/article?article_id=139588 and also http://blogs.indiewire.com/thompsononhollywood/2009/10/15/with_paranormal_activity_paramount_sets_new_marketing_model/

Finally, a German film request site: http://www.moviac.de/

2 Responses to “Parnormal Activity in a Dark Cloverfield”
  1. Luci Temple says:

    Great post – think you’re on the money with this one.

    I had the pleasure of speaking with the filmmakers behind Iron Sky last week, and they outlayed some good tips about building a community around a film project. If you’re interested: http://yetanotherstrugglingwriter.blogspot.com/2010/06/iron-sky-crowdsourcing.html

    Thanks, Luci

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  1. [...] To be continued: How Social Media may or may not save the day for smaller films. [...]

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