LOS ANGELES – Sometimes you just cant wait for Comic-Con – whether youre a fan or a filmmaker.
With the summer movie season now beginning in early May (Iron Man 3 opens today), studios are co-opting the July pop-culture conventions model of stoking interest in anticipated films by bringing sneak-peeks of new material directly to super fans, who then, it is hoped, spread their enthusiasm via word-of-mouth and social media.
For Star Trek Into Darkness, which opens May 17, Paramount shared early photos and videos with Trekkies devoted enough to download an iPhone or Android app. Other aspiring blockbusters, including Disneys The Lone Ranger and Sonys Elysium, were subjects of their own individual Comic-Con-style events recently: Studios invited fans to theaters, where they heard directly from the films stars and were the first to see the action-packed trailers and other select scenes.
Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer took questions from fans at The Lone Ranger event in Las Vegas in a segment streamed live online. Matt Damon and District 9 writer-director Neill Blomkamp participated in the Elyisum showcase, taking place simultaneously in theaters in Los Angeles and Berlin.
Studios value the approach because it allows them to reward devoted fans while building early buzz for their films.
There are no better ambassadors to get word-of-mouth going, said Marc Weinstock, Sonys co-president of worldwide marketing. Movies are such a viral thing.
Asad Ayaz, senior vice president of marketing for Disney, said one aim of The Lone Ranger Las Vegas event last month was to generate as much international interest as possible in the films trailer, which made its public debut there. Fans from as far away as China submitted questions for Depp, Hammer, director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer via Twitter during the online broadcast.
Such starry mini-screenings can help raise a films social-media profile in the crowded summer marketplace, Ayaz said.
When we did our event for The Lone Ranger, Lone Ranger was trending on Twitter worldwide and in the U.S. for several hours during and after the event, and thats because of fans tweeting, he said. Its all about getting eyeballs on our trailer and getting people to see this amazing film, so the social-media aspect just makes it. Its a giant halo and it spreads the word.
Weinstock said the positive Twitter response to the Elysium event was just what the studio had hoped for.
The films writer-director, though, confessed that hed rather keep its content under wraps until the movie opens in August, but thats not the way the marketplace works.
I try to show as little as I can, Blomkamp told reporters after the fan screening. The thing is, if youre a responsible, functioning filmmaker in the 21st century, you cant spend $100 million and then try to behave as though youre going to wrap it under a blanket. Rationally, I understand that people have to get to know about the film and word has to get out there. Personally, I dont really like it.
Not all film marketing experts are sold on the ultimate value of fan events. Ben Carlson, president of market tracking firm Fizziology, believes the biggest social-media boost still comes from online trailer releases.
As soon as you put a good trailer out, it almost immediately becomes a trending topic on Twitter, he said, adding that in-person showcases like those held by Disney and Sony dont have the same social media impact.
Its more for the influential film bloggers. It does some nice heavy-lifting there, he said. I dont think the mainstream moviegoer who might be in Kansas City or Memphis or Helena, Mont., is going to necessarily be paying attention to whats happening at an event with a few thousand people, but they will read about it on Aint It Cool News.
Carlson said the trailer for another anticipated summer release, Guillermo del Toros Pacific Rim, premiered for a group of fans before making its online debut, and it was the latter that resulted in a palpable Twitter bump.
Still, in a hyper-saturated media world, theres something about being the first to see something really cool, never mind seeing movie stars like Depp and Damon in person. Disneys Ayaz said he expects the studio to hold fan-focused events for future tent pole releases. People are more distracted than ever before and they have a lot of different mediums to get access to our content, and what is more basic and more powerful than having a live event where you have your creative (people) – the actual filmmakers and the actors and the talent from your film – directly answering questions and showing their work to the fans? Ayaz said. Its a basic idea, but its still one of the most powerful ideas when youve got the goods and youve got a really good movie.