SAN FRANCISCO (04/12/2000) - Marketing movies online is a tricky business, and few have mastered the art. The Blair Witch Project's successful Web-driven publicity campaign made it a rare exception. Nonetheless, filmmakers feel they must try. a movie based on the gruesome and controversial Bret Easton Ellis novel that will debut in theaters this Friday.
So far, 45,000 people have signed up to receive e-mail installments. "Many novels, even the New Testament, were collections of letters," says David Evans, who helped launch AOL UK and is now president and CEO of Email Shows. "We want our [programs] to be literary events." Marketing movies online brings unusual challenges. For one thing, the odds are good that another company will already have registered the title of a given film.
This year's Academy Awards winner in the Best Picture category, American Beauty, is a prime example. Type in "www.americanbeauty.com," and you'll reach a macaroni company. Studios may get around this hurdle by adding "movie" or "the-movie" to the address, but the difficulties don't end there. Once a studio has nailed down an appropriately memorable Web address, it must decide what to do with it. Movie executives don't know if the site should provide a synopsis, show movie clips or spotlight critical praise.
Lions Gate isn't the first entertainment company to use e-mail to lure viewers.
HBO's to stay up to date with the show's twists and turns. But Lions Gate is taking the e-mail concept a step further and working with Email Shows to create original content. It works like this: When surfers visit , director Barry Blaustein sent e-mail messages documenting the experiences he had while making the movie. For American Psycho, people to receive e-mail messages from its main character, Patrick Bateman, and are blind-copied on e-mails to his therapist.
Events in the e-mails are described as taking place now, 10 years after the events in the script. Clifford Streit, the co-producer of the film and a friend of author Ellis, oversees the content. Subscribers have been getting American Psycho e-mail for the last 27 days, and new letters will reach them until the movie's opening on Friday. People who sign up after the movie release will get the e-mail messages in sequential order. "If you get these e-mails for a month, Patrick Bateman becomes a part of your life," says Tara Kole, manager of new media and acquisitions for Lions Gate.
"You can't not see the movie after that kind of involvement." Some might argue that the subscribers were already likely to purchase tickets, but Lions Gate thinks the e-mails will "create a buzz." Dubbed "Am.Psycho 2000," the daily e-mail messages link to video vignettes hosted at Pseudo.com, including scenes deleted from the film because of graphic language and situations.
Originally, a three-way sex scene earned the movie an NC-17 rating, but editing changed it to an R rating. Lions Gate decided to let its target market of 18- to 35-year-old males view some of the deleted material on the Web. And Pseudo.com, which boasts primarily male visitors ages 16 to 34, is also promoting the e-mail campaign and linking to the film's homepage.
Lions Gate is also working with other companies. Film.com has hosted the movie's trailer since February, and has reported more than 400,000 downloads.
Viral marketing firm Electric Artists has been hired to chat about the film on entertainment sites. Yahoo is hosting an auction for props, and Hollywood Stock Exchange visitors are speculating on the film's success. The American Psycho online campaign will culminate with a Webcast on Pseudo on Thursday, featuring the director, author and stars reading from the novel.
These marketing partnerships required a lot of work, but executives think the payoff will be well worth the time. "We spent more time and creative energy but less money on marketing on the Internet than on marketing in other media," says Mark Urman, co-president of Lions Gate. "One of the best things about Web marketing is that it can be so cost-efficient." While the total marketing budget for American Psycho was in the neighborhood of $8 million, Urman says, "the budget for online promotions, including the film's Web site design, was under $200,000."
Of course, this type of marketing wouldn't work for every movie. American Psycho is a known commodity with a dedicated following. But Urman believes the e-mail strategy might work for future projects. "There are a couple of shows in our lineup that would lend themselves to an Email Show," says Urman. "We acquired a film at Sundance about a woman journalist, and that could work nicely." For his part, Evans has big plans for Email Shows. The company will invite the 45,000 subscribers to "Am.Psycho 2000" to subscribe to other shows that the company plans to launch this summer, most of which will be original content unconnected to movies.
Evans says these new shows will focus on themes like travel, gardening, food and romance. The business plan would involve getting advertisers to pay for banners, and to promote sponsorships and product endorsements by characters.
"And maybe," says Evans, "one of our Email Shows will become a movie or book some day."