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The Evolution of the Social Media Movie Hype Train

Indie Wire
Ever since 'going viral' started to mean anything other some kind of grotesque send-up to Typhoid Mary, film distribution has been reinventing itself for the age of information. Before, the first place most people saw an announcement trailer was actually at the cinema. Sometimes things would appear first on TV, particularly during events which pulled in big viewer figures, like the Super Bowl and 'first look' features in magazines played a big role, but in all those cases word of mouth was the real catalyst.

Social media has changed the nature of word of mouth, for ever and for always. The term could almost be replaced with 'rapid sharing', since that's how new information spreads most effectively through the public - links, tweets and posts. As such, the very core nature of film distribution and promotion has undergone a speedy metamorphosis.

Freedom of information online used to scare the bejesus out of the film industry as piracy continued to grow in size and strength, but now the two have reached a strange natural equilibrium. Piracy warnings are still circulated, but most film studios accept that having their films illegally distributed for free is a small price to pay for the biggest, most versatile marketing playground on the planet.



Some of the viral marketing campaigns distributors have undertaken in recent years have been nothing short of incredible, mapping the spirit of the film being promoted to social media beautifully, and in a way that gets people buzzing like a wasp attack in a chainsaw factory. For Toy Story 3, Disney created vintage 80s adverts for the new toys set to feature in the film, released on YouTube by a user named 'MrCrazycommercials'. More recently, the sci-fi film Ex-Machina created a Tinder account for the film's android lead character, luring unsuspecting suitors into a promotional web. The Last Exorcism played a similar, albeit more horrifying trick with Chatroulette.

Some films have created fully fledged alternate reality games with an astonishing amount of depth, Christopher Nolan's films have been undergoing this treatment since The Dark Knight in 2008, building an intricate world of fake news reports, social media profiles and websites to covertly push the film in question. Superhero films are especially good for this type of thing, Marvel have taken to using social media for 'costume reveals' in the run up to each new release, for instance.

Cinema is fuelled by voyeurism, so if marketing is able to offer a deeper insight into the fictional world the film exists in, fans will respond, especially if that insight is delivered to them on an inherently social platform. It makes them feel like the cinematic universe is blending with their social interactions, whilst also turning them into a massive, unwitting marketing team.



Most big films aren't reliant on dedicated accounts or pages at all, they just trust when they drop a new trailer, it will circulate through shares. Trailer releases have become mini-events in and of themselves, studios have started releasing teasers for upcoming trailers, which is ridiculous when you think about it, but if Deadpool is anything to go by, it works. By building the hype in a way which guarantees maximised shares, film studios are able to create a network of thousands of voluntary promoters, willingly bringing them exposure and asking for nothing in return (except a decent film). And then there's the leaking aspect.

Trailer leaking isn't all that new, every year trailers which were supposed to be exclusively reserved for Comic-Con guests surface online for a few days before swiftly being taken down. It's reached the stage now where the studios actually have contingency plans for it, decided well ahead of time whether they're going to simply get the leaks taken down and go dark or release the trailer themselves straight afterwards. Marvel actually called attention to it when the Age of Ultron trailer leaked at the end of last year, tweeting 'Dammit, Hydra' before releasing the teaser properly almost immediately after.

Sometimes leaks are even done deliberately to provide fans with an ephemeral preview of the film that will create a larger, faster sensation because fans know it will only stay up for a couple of days. Even beyond that though, social media leaking has become a means for getting films greenlit. This brings us back around to Deadpool again.

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The cult favourite Marvel anti-hero made a rather tragic appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, played by Ryan Reynolds and there have been rumblings of a standalone since then, but talk of a PG-13 rating (which would have neutered the character) and the notion that Reynolds would be busy working on a slew of Green Lantern sequels (appropriate) seemed to suggest that the project was doomed. Last year some test footage of what the film might look like 'leaked' online and the fan response was so massive that Fox made an executive decision to put the film into action almost straight away and now it's in post-production (with an R rating).

My favourite recent example though? The as yet untitled new entry in the Alien franchise. No, I'm not talking about the upcoming second Prometheus film, those are their own thing. I'm talking about a sequel to Aliens which will disregard all the events of Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection and bring in a whole new timeline, and in some ways we have Instagram to thank for its existence. Director Neill Blomkamp had been harbouring ambitions to make an Alien film more or less all his life and while talking with Sigourney Weaver on the set of Chappie the two of them began to seriously discuss it. He then dredged up some old concept art he'd done to show what a Neill Blomkamp Alien movie might look like and posted it on his Instagram account with little to no explanation.

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Suffice to say, the fans went insane and the artwork circulated across social media like wildfire. Before long Fox had greenlit this new entry in the franchise with him in the director's chair and Weaver set to reprise her iconic role as Ellen Ripley. This kind of thing is indicative of just how powerful public opinion can be when you use social media to stir it up, whether it be directly or otherwise. Personally, I find myself enjoying the hype almost as a separate entity to the film itself, it almost doesn't matter how the film turns out, the excitement that builds in the run up to it is an experience all its own.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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The Evolution of the Social Media Movie Hype Train Reviewed by Callum Davies on Friday, August 07, 2015 Rating: 5

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