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Starburst Magazine Issue 406 - Out Now

Starbursting Social Media

PrintE-mail Written by Kris Griffin Monday, 09 May 2011

Digital Jazz - by Kris Griffin

It is said that in 1997 the negative film review for Batman & Robin from Harry Knowles on his website www.aintitcool.com was responsible for its box office disaster. The film wasn't much good but it appeared to be an easy excuse from studio executives to blame a third party. We can be certain that this situation created two interesting scenarios. Harry Knowles and his website became a phenomenon on its own. Influencing the movie industry and prompting stars such as Sylvester Stallone (@TheSlyStallone), Bruce Willis and director Kevin Smith (@ThatKevinSmith) to interact with the AICN website to sell their films. The second, most important scenario was the advent of fan power and the realisation by movie-makers they could interact directly with and influence their audiences.


Fast-forward 14 years and we have a situation where a film can open on a Friday night and by Saturday morning be stone dead from negative social media commentary. This commentary has revolutionised the way we communicate and broadcast our views and opinions. The amplification of viewpoint and the financial constraints of the audience means this is not good news for the studio system. Thankfully for every Sucker Punch, which was universally derided by the majority on and off line, there is a  Moon. But for a handful of art house presentations Duncan Jones' (@manmademoon) directorial bow could have come and gone unnoticed. As it happens the global box office was just shy of $10 million excluding a healthy rental and retail market. Similarly Monsters made $4.5 million on the back of a $500k production budget. It certainly helped that both of these films were admirable productions but social media amplified the fervent voice of the audience who watched it. Of course the granddaddy of them all was James Cameron's (@JimCameron) Avatar which certainly wasn't to everyone's taste but kept making money. The final global box office was $2.7 billion! Without interaction, hype and a healthy dose of word-of-mouth online the film may have slowed to Titanic proportions, pun intended.


The Blockbuster film was the moment we reached critical mass and word of mouth has  been vital to the proliferation of the film industry. We have arrived at a new landmark where immediacy, strength of voice and hype have all reached new heights. An actor can live out his dramatic life and dispute with a TV network in public: @charliesheen. A TV showrunner can tease his audience about the next adventure of a Time Lord legend: @steven_moffat. Fans can petition studios for the return of a cancelled show or can download an application allowing exclusive content of forthcoming films and TV series.


I'll keep you abreast of developments in this fast paced, ever changing world of social media. Sometimes we'll spend time analysing just one particular social network, or an aspect of genre or film-making. I'll keep you up-to-date with the breaking news but most importantly where it breaks so you can catch it first hand next time.


Let's start at the beginning and return to Ain't It Cool News (AICN) and look at how film news is distributed social-media-style.


This Is Cool News


Covering many genres the site prides itself on geek-chic. The AICN team has really embraced the Twitter medium and the main correspondents can all be found there. The majority of posts from the AICN feed and Harry Knowles all redirect back to the main site. The extra value here is the interaction and disagreement between the fans and the correspondents themselves. Harry Knowles certainly divides fan opinion but along with the corrosive AICN forums, where the vitriol runs free and is not for the faint of heart, he has created a diverse community. With his vocal “spies” spread far and wide his social networks serve to report and express opinion. This network helps gather information and corroborate rumours but his good relationship with major players and the studios themselves have led to calls that he has sold-out. Nevertheless you won't go far wrong checking these Twitter accounts out:


@aintitcool – The news headlines from the AICN website.


@headgeek666 – The “HeadGeek” himself Harry Knowles. Retweeting messages from acquaintances such as William Shatner (@WilliamShatner), Pam Grier (@PamGrier) and Simon Pegg (@simonpegg) and providing a commentary on his life is what Harry does best.


@NordlingAICN, @CaponeAicn, @EricVespe, @Massawyrm are an excellent quartet of film reviewers, critics, news gathering agents and entertaining twitterers.


@ScoreKeeperAICN provides a very entertaining train of consciousness documenting music in film. Scorekeeper certainly knows his subject and conveys it well.


www.bloody-disgusting.com is considered the number 1 horror website and encompasses the entire genre. Formed in 2002 to rival Fangoria (@fangoria), it  remains independent with founders Tom Owen (@kill_robot) and Brad Miska (@bradmiska) in full editorial control. The writing is slick and the news is crisp. If you like your genre it doesn't get much better. Each article is accompanied by links to Twitter, Facebook or share the story. There is an extensive You Tube site with trailers, clips and interviews and unlike many they are still pursuing My Space as a social media option. Yet another excellent immersive community.


www.youtube.com/bdtv

@bdisgusting

www.facebook.com/BloodyDisgusting

www.myspace.com/horror-movies


If you are looking for a more mainstream way to pick up your movie news then you won't go far wrong with Variety (@variety) or Screen Daily (@screendaily). However I'd like to recommend Nikki Finke (@NikkiFinke) and her www.deadline.com/hollywood website. It is no coincidence that Finke was named in Elle magazine as one of the top 25 influential women in Hollywood. During the 2007 writer strike she tripled the readership of her blog by working around the clock on the column she founded in print in 2002. It is said that the blog is read by everyone in Hollywood and has around 50 million unique readers worldwide. Offering a unique perspective on “infotainment” she has become the critical forum of  Hollywood and has been labelled the, “most feared, despised, and uncompromising journalist”. When we talk of power in Hollywood Nikki Finke is up there with the best of them. At the time of writing she broke the story that Stephen King's The Dark Towers film and TV mini-series have been put on hold due to money issues. Unlike the AICN homespun approach to the movie industry this is purely business.


How To Make Friends And Influence Your Audience


We will focus in on 4 very different examples in the genre where social media interaction has made a huge difference in the way a fan, or audience member, perceives the brand. Studios are becoming very savvy on how much influence the internet can have on their releases. They try to engage audiences and in extreme circumstances, like the recent Avengers appearance at Comic Con (@Comic_Con), can start hyping 18 months in advance. The Avengers line-up worked with a social media explosion. The first photos were posted everywhere and it was hard not to miss the ballyhoo. Of course initially the winners would be Captain America and Thor, the latter looking to punch a $65 million hole in the US box office on opening weekend. With fans rabid by the time The Avengers rolls around who knows how the multiplexes will cope? However sometimes not everything goes to plan.


Wonder Woman: Wardrobe Malfunction


Whether it was the lack of satin tights or the bright latex re-imagining of the costume there is no doubt that the internet and the negative buzz have killed this project. Odd considering it is the last bastion of legendary superhero franchises to be revisited.


Could the failure really be down to those shiny leggings? If you Google search and visit some websites and forums it would appear to be the case. Upon closer inspection the production has encountered a number of problems. NBC (@nbc) ordered a pilot in late January after all of the major networks turned it down, McG dropped out of directing the pilot due to “scheduling conflicts”, the casting of Adrianne Palicki was met with apathy amongst fans and the script was leaked and reported in less than glowing terms by www.bleedingcool.com (@bleedingcool). Finally the costume was revealed and social media went into meltdown prompting the studio to release new photos with less shiny leggings. NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt was then quoted as saying, "We haven’t made any changes from what was planned. But it’s always good to hear the feedback.” He then also announced a third outfit with the traditional Wonder Woman shorts would make an appearance in the final showdown with Elizabeth Hurley (@ElizabethHurley). Surely, they must have thought, this will keep everyone happy. To date the Wonder Woman NBC Facebook page has 35 fans: http://tiny.cc/mlek2. I'm not making this stuff up. At time of writing it looks unlikely that NBC will be picking the show up for a full run.


The dangers of sailing too close to the digital wind can be seen here by all. Every tiny problem with the production was magnified. Not having your target audience on-side in the first instance by upsetting them with costume changes (fans are extremely fickle when it comes to costume) they swooped on every other piece of news like harbingers of doom. There are tens of thousands of negative tweets and Facebook messages about NBC's Wonder Woman and, quite frankly, it seems hard to see how the franchise has any future in this current guise.


Attack The Block, Then Tweet About It


Knowing that a good festival response would set it up perfectly for a May release  Attack The Block premiered at South by Southwest (@SXSW) back in March. Directed by Joe Cornish from comedy duo Adam & Joe (@bbcadamandjoe) this is his debut film. Described as a story of unlikely hoodie heroes called into action during an alien invasion of England; Scott Wampler (@ScottWampler44) of The Examiner rated it A+ and said it was officially the best film of the SXSW festival.


The film follows Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim in appealing to a niche market that can have excellent box office clout regardless of reviews. Trailers appeared at cinemas and at www.youtube.com/user/AttackTheBlockHD and were very well received. Using Twitter (@AttackTheBlock) and Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/68cut6v) this particular sector of the audience was targeted. In essence the studio generated buzz by associating themselves with cool brands and people. They piggybacked into the marketplace using social media.


Search for Attack The Block in the Apple App Store and you will find the free game. Highly addictive and currently rated five stars. Based on the movie and designed to immerse you in the world of the film you will certainly want more. Of course the next step being tickets to the cinema on opening weekend.


The website www.attacktheblock.com complements the social media by providing slick content, a good blog, a competition, games and ties everything together. Attack The Block is cool! This film can't complete with the millions of dollars spent by Hollywood Summer blockbusters but an effective online campaign means that it will bring home the money it is supposed to and more, mine included.


The King Of Social Media


When it comes to author George R. R. Martin's best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series of book it is difficult to know where to start. With the advent of the HBO (@hbo) TV series the fan-base has expended exponentially and the social media offerings amplified infinitely. To say the TV series has been well received is an understatement but it should come as no surprise considering the excellent source material. Similar to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth the world Martin has created is sublime, flawless and completely immersible. In fact HBO renewed for a second season after just one broadcast episode.


There are no limits to Games of Thrones social-media exploration and, I am sure, will warrant a dedicated article at some point in the future. George R. R. Martin's Twitter account at @GeorgeRRMartin has already attracted over 6300 followers and is listed 234 times even though he has never posted anything. The very well documented Campfire marketing campaign got things off to a flying start. Mike Monello, Campfire Executive Creative Director, explains the multi channel campaign, “a lot of this work was designed to facilitate the fan culture that was growing around the show and have HBO be a part of that, to have the fans know that HBO respected that”. This fan culture has prompted some excellent fan websites with Twitter accounts that are heavily followed: @westerosorg, @WiCnet and @FanofThrones. These complement the official Twitter feed @GameOfThrones, the official You Tube www.youtube.com/user/GameofThrones and the official Facebook www.facebook.com/GameOfThrones. There are also numerous applications to immerse yourself in. Content is reflected and standardised throughout and it all comes together at the official website www.hbo.com/game-of-thrones which really is an industry standard in promoting your TV show. With all of the content you would expect from a first class website the presentation is excellent and the added value through printable viewer guides, production diaries, competitions and videos just marks this out as something special.


Many of the cast are on Twitter and enjoy audience interaction: @IsaacBranFlakes, @gethinanthony, @Maisie_Arya, @sophieRRturner, @KristianNairn, @conanstevens and @johnbradleywest. It is also nice to see writers Bryan Cogman (@BryanCogman) and Jane Espenson (@JaneEspenson) participating in the fun too. Finally if you fancy learning the Games of Thrones' Dothraki language, created by David J. Peterson start here: www.dothraki.org and use the associated social media functions to complement your learning, you might need it!


Gollancz Turns 50


Gollancz (@gollancz) is the SF, Fantasy and Horror arm of the Orion Publishing Group (@orionbooks) and this year marks its 50th anniversary. Over the years Gollancz has worked with some of the most accomplished authors ever to publish and its indispensable SF and Fantasy Masterworks series is the final word in genre reading.


It is a wonderful experience to be able to trust a publishing brand but I find it even more admirable when they make such an effort to engage new readers as Gollancz have done. To celebrate the anniversary Gollancz have chosen 50 titles published under the imprint over the past 50 years and are asking for readers favourites. You can vote on the website www.gollancz50.com. I voted for I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester but the extensive list will keep you mulling over a decision for hours.


Gollancz also participate in more traditional forms of social media. They have a blog, Facebook page and Twitter feed. All 3 are kept up-to-date and provide a fascinating insight into the books they work with and the brand. That they are not as extensive as the Game of Thrones social media function or as exciting as Attack The Block doesn't matter. The engagement is fascinating and I always look forward to new transmissions.


www.orionbooks.co.uk/genres/sf-fantasy/gollancz-blog

www.facebook.com/GollanczPublishing


Our Voice


We are a powerful bunch and whilst we rail against one thing we may rally for another. We are the enemy of the studio system and at the same time their saviour. Treat us right , respect our opinion and we'll embrace your product, ignore us at your peril. Right now our voice is social media and I hope I've been able to fortify it with some keep observations.


I'd very much like to hear from you with suggestions of sites and areas to cover. I look forward to expanding and focusing in on different aspects of genres over the coming months.


Already @starburst_mag has several thousand followers with a healthy voice. I'm delighted to be part of this voice that would say hunt well, goodbye or as the Dothraki would say FONASHEK!


@kristhescript

kris.griffin@starburstmagazine.com



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