Movie Marketing Madness: The Wolfman

(ed note: I should have published this last Wednesday but, between traveling and other work responsibilities, I just didn’t get to it. But considering I had it 85% done, though, I didn’t want it to go to waste and so I’m going ahead and publishing it now. –CT)

You have to love a good horror flick. I’m talking real horror – scary monsters and lots of shadows that might be moving – and not the recent spat of movies that are all about psychopaths torturing innocent people for no reason, movies that are supposed to be deep explorations of human depravity but which can’t hold a candle to the mythology and genuine terror the classic stories told.

Back in the early and mid-1990s there were a couple of revamps – today they’d be called reboots – of some of those classic characters. Francis Ford Coppola took on Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Kenneth Branagh directed Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (both movies I seem to have a higher opinion of than most professional critics). This was supposed to be part of a revitalization of these stories and the next entry was logically going to be The Wolf Man. But while there was Wolf, which starred Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfieffer, there was no direct adaptation of the original story of Lawrence Talbot and his tendency to wolf-out.

Now that gap has been filled, with Universal enlisting Benecio del Toro to don the fur and become The Wolfman. The story revolves around Lawrence Talbot (del Toro) coming back to visit his father (Anthony Hopkins) at the family estate after his brother has been mysteriously killed. There he becomes attracted to his late brother’s fiance (Emily Blunt) and eventually becomes the victim of an attack that leaves him changed, with that change then making him the object of a pursuit by an investigator from Scotland Yard (Hugo Weaving).

The Posters

The first two teaser posters were all about mood and attitude. The first featured half of the title character’s face, with the rest obscured by shadow, gazing menacingly at the audience. This one does a good job of showing off that character while not giving away the entire look that has been created. The second shows Blunt hiding behind a tree in a forest, obviously on the run from something. I like that what she’s on the run from isn’t directly shown but instead only hinted at with the barest of shadows on the ground in the background. It establishes a sense of terror without going over the top and that’s a rare and admirable show of restraint on behalf of the campaign. There was another teaser that showed nothing but a pair of hands gripped around the top of a walking stick, with smoke rising from those hands since there’s a silver ornamental top to that stick.

The final theatrical poster again brings plenty of atmosphere to the table but there’s also a big heaping portion of Big Floating Heads syndrome. The noggins of Hopkins, Del Toro, Blunt and Weaving are all arrayed around the top of the one-sheet and are arranged to be glaring at the audience, at each other or into the middle distance. Below them stands the wolf himself surrounded by forest trees and an eery light, while the copy “When the moon is full, the legend comes to life” is placed below the title treatment.

The look of the poster – washed out skin tones, lots of black and other such elements – all evoke to the audience that the movie takes place sometime in the 18th/19th century time period since we all know from other movies those years did not have any bright colors. The arrangement of the actor’s heads is designed to create the tension and show the audience how, in broad strokes, the characters relate to each other.

It’s not bad but it comes off as a little generic, with nothing all that striking about it, certainly nothing as striking as some of the teaser posters and the way they were able to create a feeling of suspense with simple images.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with an old man telling stories in a pub about the death long ago of a man who was torn to shreds and how the dead man’s father then wouldn’t leave home after arming himself with silver bullets. At that point we’re introduced to Del Toro’s character, who’s returned home after his brother’s death in the same manner. He begins to comfort his late brother’s fiance and the two of them begin a romance that takes a turn with Del Toro’s character is himself bitten by the beast and he begins to show signs of being something terrible. An inspector from Scotland Yard is poking around amidst all this and is on the trail of the killer, who at this point appears to be Del Toro. But his transformation is something he’s having trouble with and being tortured over, a conflict which appears to drive much the film’s story.

The second trailer takes more of a atmospheric approach, focusing less on the plot and more on the mood and look of the film as the relationships between the characters are less fleshed out while we get more shots of people being beat down here and there. There’s till the hint of romance as we see, from behind, a naked Blunt and so on and you can assume that Hopkins is the father figure with an agenda of his own, but the rest is all quick cut action that doesn’t burden the audience with an abundance of plot points.

Online

The official website opens by playing one of the trailers but you can close that and get to the first menu. Before jumping in to the content there are a couple things here that are notable.

First, there’s a “Share” button up in the right-hand corner that allows you to post the site to your social network/bookmarking site of choice. That option is on a lot of sites but this is probably the best implementation of that function.

Second there’s a prompt to post to Twitter a line from the movie and a link back to this official site. All you need to do is select one of the three available options and enter your Twitter credentials and you can become a marketing outlet for your friends.

There are also some nods to the cinematic history of the Wolfman at Universal with a link to a “Monster Legacy” site and an ad to buy the original Wolf Man movie’s special edition DVD.

Finally on this splash page are opportunities to download a mobile game, get free ringtones and more.

Once you enter the site the first options you see are opportunities to dive deeper into the film’s settings.

“Discover Lycanthropy” which opens a new site with history on this mythological condition. “Explore Blackmoor” takes you in to the history behind the myth, including a timeline of events that inspired the story and a deeper exploration of the physical locations the story takes place in. Then there’s another link to Universal’s “Monster Legacy” site, on which the Wolf Man is currently playing a starring role.

Going back to the site and opening the Menu, the first section is a “Synopsis” that lays out the film’s story and who many of the main characters are in a decent manner.

“Cast” and “Filmmakers” are the next two, providing bios and film histories on those who contributed to the film both in front of and behind the camera.

How the film got made is covered in “Production,” though all of the six sub-sections it’s broken into are pretty safe and just discuss the casting, design and other aspects of the movie’s making without getting in to the troubles it encountered, which is understandable.

The next two sections are devoted to video content, with “Trailers” containing both trailers, two TV spots and a behind-the-scenes featurette and “Clips” giving you access to seven extended bits of footage from the movie.

The same three things that were on the front page – Monster Legacy, Discover Lycanthropy and Explore Blackmoor can be found again in the “Features” section.

“Gallery” has about 15 stills you can view and “Downloads” has Desktops and Buddy Icons you can download to your computer if you so choose.

The site also has links to Universal’s Twitter feed and to the movie’s own Facebook Fan Page, which includes an app you can add so you and your friends can hunt each other in addition to all the usual information, materials and updates.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

There was a pretty decent advertising push for the movie from Universal which seems to be born of a desire to revitalize a more…traditional horror genre, many of the characters of which they hold the rights to.

Outdoor billboards were out and about bringing the movie’s message to the commuting masses. And there were a good number of online ads that I came across.

There were also a fair amount of TV spots created which mainly took the tactic of repurposing footage from the trailers, showing quite a bit of various transformation sequences, a bit of the romance, some scowling and crazy-looking laughing from Hopkins and a bit of Weaving going on the hunt for the monster.

In addition to those regular TV commercials the studio also bought 15 seconds of airtime during Super Bowl XLIV, using it to bring an even more slimmed-down version of the trailer to that broadcast’s audience. It goes by awfully quickly and opts for title cards instead of voiceovers, the inclusion of which eats into that sparse running time and leading to a spot that features even less footage than the others.

Media and Publicity

Unfortunately most of the movie’s publicity throughout 2009 was the constantly moving release dates Universal gave it. Originally slated for November 2008, then February 2009, then April 2009, then November 2009 it eventually got pushed to February 2010, a state of flux that didn’t do a whole heck of a lot to instill a lot of faith in the strength of the finished product, rightly or wrongly.

There was also a good amount of coverage devoted to Rick Baker and his mastery over the visual effects of the movie. Baker being a Hollywood legend there was lots to discuss, including his adherence to the idea of traditional, practical effects for the title character. While he did oversee the digital process that was used for the transition from human to wolf, the end result is an actor in makeup and that’s a good thing.

Closer to release there was the usual round of press interviews with the primary cast and crew (again, often involving Baker) along with a rehashing of the many and varied problems the film had through the production process, problems that included a director leaving just weeks before filming, an editor leaving halfway through production and more. That’s unfortunate but could serve to lower industry expectations significantly so a modest win this weekend looks favorable in comparison.

Overall

There’s an odd sense of inconsistency running through the campaign that I’m tempted to say is the result of so many delays and so many people looking to get their input registered since the stakes are so high. Sometimes the materials feel very atmospheric and spooky, sometimes they feel very overt as if they’re trying to make it fit in with recent horror genre offerings.

But there’s still some good stuff here, most of which falls in to the former of the two categories above. I love the early teaser posters (especially the one that shows Blunt hiding behind a tree) and much of the trailers are well done. And you’ll never go wrong in my book by acknowledging history, in this case the prominent placements of the classic Universal Studios horror film catalog.

Unfortunately the publicity aspect of the campaign has been mired in stories about the numerous delays, reshoots and other things that hampered production. But there’s an otherwise solid effort on display here that, with a few missteps, at least should get people re-interested in the character and its cinematic history.

Google Buzz: Yeah, not for me

I finally got access to Google Buzz about 48 hours after the produce was announced. If you’re not familiar with Buzz, the idea is to bring threaded conversations to status updates, all within the most powerful social network any of us has access to: our email inbox. This coming from Google that means it’s tied to Gmail. After playing around with it for a couple days I finally shut it off and wanted to make it clear why:

  • A lot of it looks like Google Reader: Buzz automatically adds items you’ve shared from your Reader profile. That seems like a good idea, but Reader already has two ways you can add your commentary while you’re sharing an item; either through Comments (not on the blog post itself but within Reader) or Notes, which puts a little blurb on top of the post you’re sharing. Buzz then allows you to have further conversations in a manner that looks a lot like Friendfeed with the people who are following you. Reader also allows you to “Like” an item.
  • Information was inefficiently organized: The first items in Buzz are those with recent comments, which is backwards. That’s trying to tell me what an algorithm thinks is important for me to know, when what’s more important to me personally is the newest while also having the ability to mark those conversations I’d like to pay attention and have them sorted somewhere else.
  • It’s a “middle” product: Status networks *need* that 140 character limit – maybe 200 but that’s it – in order to retain their singular focus. Buzz allows for updates with no character limit. But so does a full-featured blog. Quite simply I think there’s room for both in the market but products that attempt to blur those lines serve a vaguely-defined market that can’t commit to either.
  • It’s not easily measurable: If I want to I can sit there and count how many comments something has gotten, but then it gets messy. Is a comment on Google Buzz more valuable than a comment on the post itself?
  • It’s another interaction that the author can’t easily see
  • It’s another publishing opportunity I can’t export

Those last two are actually the ones that are weighing on my mind the most, though the first two are as well.

I’m less and less a fan of Google Reader Shared Items for the reasons stated above: It’s not something I can export/archive, it’s not a direct interaction with the author, etc. And the idea of Buzz being more of the same means I’m not all that anxious to bring it in to my publishing activities. I’m just getting tired of the ever-expanding number of outlets that I can comment on something and honestly believe this plethora of choices is hurting the long-term value of the social web. Since few of these interactions are direct with the author they don’t contribute to how authoritative any particular post should be considered by future visitors.

You used to be able to gauge the relevance and importance of a particular column, post or think-piece by how many comments it had received and how many links back to it there were.

Twitter doesn’t contribute to that because short URLs aren’t as powerful as full links. Facebook doesn’t contribute to that because it encourages comments on its own ecosystem. Google Buzz and Reader don’t contribute to that because all the interactions are, again, off-domain.

So how does all this thinking translate to what I’m doing with my own personal publishing?

  • MMM: Continues pretty much as.
  • Twitter: Conversation with friends and colleagues, links to MMM, me being a general smartass. This gets archived weekly on MMM.
  • Delicious: Continues to be where I save research reports, stats and such, with those being integrated into MMM’s RSS feed.
  • CT.WP: Will continue to be an outlet for stuff that doesn’t fit in to the above. But I think I’m going to link out more to the kind of items I used to share via Reader since doing so will help build the web.
  • I also think I’ll be making a conscious effort to comment more on posts I find interesting, whether I agree or disagree with the author since, again, that addresses my desire to increase my direct interaction point.

As with all things this is a strategy that will be revisited on a regular basis to see if it’s working and achieving the desired results, both for myself and everyone else.

The commenting…umm…comment above also brings to mind the last product Google rolled out which took control out of people’s hands and discouraged direct interaction: Sidewiki. That let people open up a browser extension and leave a comment or information on a site in a way that the author or owner didn’t have any control over, wasn’t directly and easily measurable and otherwise encouraged interaction on Google’s interface instead of the content publisher’s. And that’s a direction I’m tired of things moving in.

You’re looking at *now*

I haven’t had a chance to play with the newly announced Google Buzz yet – I’m sure I’ll get it in a couple days – but I fear that with all this emphasis on the “real time web” and everyone looking to have as quick a conversation as they can in as many places as they can we’re in danger of lapping ourselves.

Virtual attendance

Brook Barnes’ piece (The New York Times, 2/2/10) on whether or not, with so many films being available on-demand at the same time they debut at Sundance and as buzz pops up in everybody’s email inbox instantaneously, is well worth reading.

But pulling back from the microcosm of the film industry and looking at the bigger picture, it’s worth considering whether or not physical, in-person attendance at any industry trade show or event is necessary.

Having run programs myself where contacts were tuned in to what was happening at an event without actually being there, I can say there are pluses and minuses to trying to be “virtual” and yet still get the most out of these events.

On the one hand saying that a team of people will not be in-person but still be following – and amplifying in whatever manner the program is set up to do – the messages coming out of the event seems pretty simple. You don’t have to pay for airfare, lodging or anything else that goes along with such attendance. And in some respects they’re able to follow the overall conversation more closely since they can be receiving inputs from a broader spectrum of people than they would be if they were limited to where in the physical space they are at any given moment.

On the other, though, there are downsides. Personal contact with important people is absolutely more valuable than an @ reply on Twitter or a comment on a blog post. And while the breadth of the conversation that can potentially be covered increases, it’s probably a wash in the end since the whole point of not attending is that the person doesn’t lose a day of their regular duties. It’s not like they can sit there hitting “refresh” on a Twitter hashtag search all day and do nothing else.

I’m not coming down on the idea of virtual attendance. It can be a valuable strategy for influencer relations and audience building. Social media allows for those who aren’t able to be in an actual location to still participate in the conversation and, potentially, add to the value attendees take away with them in the same was as if they were actually there. That’s huge.

What’s important to keep in mind is that, with social media broadcasting available either options carries with it the same substantial amount of research that must be done beforehand. Who’s going to be there that the attendees should try to connect with? What’s the official conference Twitter handle? What’s the agreed upon or recommended hashtag, category or other label? Attendees need to be armed with the answers to these questions whether they’re going to be on the ground or still in the office.

Even more important is the idea that, because virtual attendees are going to be expected to not drop everything else they would do in a day they need some filters…some assistance. That’s where agency partners, in-house specialists or someone else comes in and provides that “Here’s the wheat, here’s the chaff” perspective, allowing the point person – the one who’s supposed to be paying attention to the event’s goings-on – to be their best. That’s what we do.

ICG Publicists awards nominees announced

The publicists and promotional departments for a number of films are included in the nominees for the ICG Publicists awards which were announced (Hollywood Reporter, 2/1/10) the other day.

Campaigns for Avatar, 2012, Couples Retreat, The Hangover, Paranormal Activity and The Proposal are among the nominees, which also extend into the television and other entertainment industries.

There are some here that make sense and some that don’t, but it seems like there are a couple of key omissions. The campaigns for Up in the Air, Crazy Heart (which gets points for happening really quickly), A Serious Man, Up and Moon all were among my favorites of last year and I think show more in the way of innovation than some of the nominees. I’m not certain these comply with ICG union rules but they certainly deserve to be looked at more seriously.

Put Sundance 2010 in the books

Sundance 2010 ended last weekend, with most of the media heading home in advance of the end of the festival once the majority of the anticipated press screenings and other debuts had taken place and the feeling that the fizz was lessening started to settle in. It was fun, on some level, to watch a bunch of movie blog writers who live in California get there and complain about walking half a mile in six inches of snow, to which my reaction was a resounding “Wimps.” ‘Cause I’m hardcore.

But now that we have the benefit of hindsightt it’s a good time to look at how the festival was perceived and what resulted. Yes, this is part of the obsession with sales figures that Patrick Goldstein questions in a great Q&A with LAT writer John Horn but, as Horn says, lacking any other yardstick sales is the only true measure we have.

By that measure this year’s festival was a moderate success, at least to my eye. While the buying started, according to Brook Barnes (New York Times, 1/29/10), gingerly it proceeded at a steady if moderate clip, which is a good thing. There were some traditional deals cut, some non-traditional deals made and generally it seems like everyone’s progressing in a non-hurried and non-panicked manner, which is probably a good thing.

But was the fest a success artistically? Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter, 1/28/10) weighed in skeptical of how “recharged” or “renewed” the spirit of the films in competition actually were, saying they seemed to play it safe more often than not and didn’t push boundaries in the way one might expect festival entries to.

I wasn’t there and so didn’t see the movies themselves obviously. And the problem is few people outside of Sundance attendees will ever see them. Even those that did get theatrical distribution deals will be limited, in the main, to New York City and Los Angeles arthouses with possible expansion to Chicago and a couple other major metro markets.

Can you imagine if Sundance rearranged itself into a distribution network, with theaters across the country that played these films for people everywhere? Or as an on-demand and online channel where films were available to anyone at anytime? Or as a DVD distribution house that fed you a new movie every week at random and then provided an online community for people to come and discuss the movies with others who had seen the same one? Then run a small-scale festival as more of an industry convention where panels and discussion groups can happen.

The one take-away, as an observer, is that for all the momentum that has indeed occurred over the last year or so we’re still a long way from a large-scale shift in how the film industry is run and Sundance, which has always positioned itself as an artistic showcase and not a sales market, has some room in front of it that can be used to lead the charge.

More indie titles coming to Netflix streaming

Netflix is adding somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 new titles to its streaming library (Hollywood Reporter, 2/1/10)  from distributors such as Music Box Films, Criterion and a handful of others.

Objectively anything that enables movies to reach as large an audience as possible is a good move. And streaming is the perfect way to achieve this since it means the only additional cost (on top of the Netflix subscription) is the time of the movie without gas, concessions and drive time to the theater added on top.

There’s been some criticism in the past – rightfully so, I’ll grant – that the filmmakers here aren’t seeing much financial benefit from streaming and that there isn’t much marketing done around new streaming titles, so many of these titles go rarely watched or completely unwatched.

Well that’s where indie filmmakers need to put on their big boy pants and do the hard work themselves. Get on Facebook, get on Twitter, get on their blogs and get people aware and excited. Set up a time when a bunch of people can watch remotely but together and participate in an chat through Skype or AIM.

If you think there’s a problem it’s on you to fix it.

Your distributor did the legwork to get your title here, there or wherever and that’s exactly what they’re there for. So now pick up the ball and run with it in order to get it seen. Do some research to see who has been talking about the movie previously and let them know they can now watch it and where they can do so.

Set goals and execute against them. Make it happen. If you don’t succeed in a given period figure out how to readjust your tactics and try something new. The only way to break through the clutter is to do so yourself and social media lets you connect with – and become important to – the audience in a whole new way that then puts you in a position to draw awareness to your film (or whatever the end product is) in an immediate way that actually winds up being a great fit with streaming video, which allows for instant gratification of felt needs.