Are Studios Finally Learning Fanboys are a Waste of Time?


Hey V, thumbs up to anarchy!
Photo: David Frank/

Can one article at The Hollywood Reporter alone spearhead a movement to put control back in the filmmaker’s hands and leave the fanboy wet dream out of the process entirely? Just getting back from Comic Con last week took me four days to readjust to normal life. I was on geek overload even though I did my absolute very best to maintain my sanity.

It began with 14-year-old girls yelling and screaming as the cast of Twilight was announced and it ended with a party with fellow online website owners hanging with the stars and drinking alcohol on a rooftop at the Hard Rock Hotel. It was certainly a whirlwind and it takes some serious getting used to.

Previewed at Comic Con were titles such as Watchmen and Terminator Salvation. One isn’t due in theaters until March of 2009 and the other until May. Warner Bros. also brought in its new Friday the 13th reboot which is also due out in 2009 while Paramount stayed home with its Star Trek film also due out in May of 2009. The article at THR talks about the growing trend of previewing the more geeky titles earlier and earlier saying the hardcore fans demand it as a “priority”.

Reaching the most devoted segments of entertainment consumers months or even years before a film or series debuts was once a luxury; now it’s a priority. The hard-core fans are so powerful, the thinking goes, that they not only should be targeted but also allowed into the process, their voices shaping marketing campaigns and even creative directions.

“I think some studios go to something like Comic-Con mainly because they’re afraid that if they don’t go, and their movies don’t work, someone above them will say, ‘Why didn’t you go to Comic-Con?'” said one producer to THR who’s had movies with large fan campaigns.

It takes a while for the article to get to the true point of it all, but when it does it lays out the reason I think people are getting way ahead of themselves with the whole Twilight hysteria:

On its face, this shouldn’t be the case. A brand’s cult following isn’t a very large number, and it’s also a group already inclined to like and spend money on a product, which by most marketing logic is exactly the group you should spend the fewest resources on.

This isn’t a knock against fanboys, it’s simply a fact that the hardcore groups out there just aren’t large enough to carry a film or television show on their own.

The article points out CBS’s “Jericho”, a cancelled show brought back for a second season only to see fewer numbers than the dwindling numbers of the first season. It talks about such films as Snakes on a Plane, Speed Racer and Grindhouse, all films that caught on early with geeky grass roots campaigns or excitement due to reactions based on footage shown at conventions. Those three films tanked and Grindhouse is a large reason The Weinstein Co.’s shit finally stinks.

It talks about Iron Man‘s impressive showing at the Con last year and how successful it has been this year. However, the article also notes how the film’s success has been credited to Robert Downey Jr.’s performance, a casting move questioned by many fans when initially announced.

Personally I think conventions such as Comic Con only benefit one kind of film: The Unknown.

In 2006, 300 was a virtually unknown entity when Warner Bros. brought it to Comic Con. Then, a preview reel featuring blood, tits and decapitated heads wowed the crowd and created a media frenzy from that point until it was released eight months later to major success.

In 2007 the unknown entity was Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. is cast in the least role with Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrence Howard as the supporting cast. Jon Favreau had just released a sci-fi stinker called Zathura. Paramount used the opportunity to preview footage from the film that brought the house down. Fans enjoyed it, sure, but sites such as also got excited about it and passed on the urgency. Iron Man isn’t Batman or Superman, the character needed an introduction, and it needed to impress. It did.

This year, Watchmen already made a splash with its teaser trailer before The Dark Knight, but that film will remain an unknown entity until it is released. Watchmen depends on online movie sites to encourage people, telling them Zack Snyder is going to adapt the much loved source material properly and those not familiar with the subject matter need to be told this is a film to get excited for.

Also reaching into the unknown was Terminator Salvation. Yeah, everyone knows Terminator, but no one really knows McG, the man that directed Charlie’s Angels and We are Marshall while producing “The O.C.” Who the fuck is this guy and why is he now directing a Terminator movie? Well, I now know he is a showman! McG brought the house down, exciting many, including myself. Fans needed to be convinced he was the one for the job and I know he convinced the crowd of 6,500 because they cheered footage that wasn’t exactly all that revealing or exciting. However, what does impressing 6,500 people really get you?

6,500 impressed people translates to the audiences of all the websites that were in attendance, a number too huge to even count. It also means word-of-mouth can begin to spread for a film that doesn’t hit theaters for another nine months. If those fans are happy won’t everyone else be as well? Ask the Weinstein’s about Grindhouse and the now defunct New Line about Snakes on a Plane. I have a feeling you will also be able to ask Summit about Twilight, but that jury is still out.

One final quote from a Comic Con presenter said, “You sit there and think ‘Six thousand people are cheering for us; we must be doing something right.'” It’s not a matter of exciting them at the time, it’s a matter of exciting them on release date.

Last year The Dark Knight was absent at Comic Con. The teaser trailer was released online and people were talking about it as a massive viral campaign began on the streets of San Diego, but in terms of an actual presentation there was none. From that point on the next 12 months were dedicated to online viral games that took computer geeks out of their homes and had them performing scavenger hunts that ultimately revealed not a whole lot about the film. Maybe someone got a free bowling ball or maybe a mask, but there wasn’t much more than that. How did The Dark Knight do in theaters?

All photos in this article were taken by David Frank for at the 2008 Comic Con Convention in San Diego.