Kevin Smith’s Red State finally hits cinemas this week after the outspoken director took a unique approach to getting his film distributed.
Instead of getting a big Hollywood studio to put it in multiplexes for him, he took to promoting it himself via the internet and live appearances, after buying the rights from himself for a grand total of $20. It was definitely a left-field idea but it resulted in thousands of column inches and Smith’s best reviews in years – his Westboro Baptist Church-baiting horror has garnered praise enough to match his lauded debut, Clerks – so there may be something in his unlikely marketing campaign.
However, Smith’s not the first film-maker to eschew the usual promotional campaign in favour of something a little more outlandish, here are some of the best…
Alfred Hitchcock was a man who understood the power of advertising and, for the release of Psycho, he used all his considerable marketing nous to keep the secrets of his slasher classic under wraps.
Cinema managers were instructed to not let any patrons in after the film had started, with special posters featuring Hitch himself warning that latecomers will be met with ‘force’ handed out to hammer the message home. The director also did most of the promotion on his own, as he forbade the film’s stars Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins from making the usual television, radio, and print interviews lest they give away the plot.
It was a technique that worked, as the secret (Spoiler Alert: The film’s star Leigh dies early on and Perkins is revealed as the killer who likes to dress up as his dead mum) remain mostly unspoken of in the Press, and so the shock value was preserved for a long time to come.
The director of such B-movie schlock as House On Haunted Hill, Thirteen Ghosts and The Tingler had as much imagination when it came to promoting his films as when he came to making them.
Hailed as the king of movie gimmicks, producer/director Castle would pull any trick to get bums on seats. From installing inflatable skeletons to push viewers over the edge in House On Haunted Hill to offering a $1,000 life insurance policy to customers should they die of fright after watching Macabre, there’s little Castle wouldn’t do to get some publicity.
‘Fright breaks’, ‘Magic’ gold coins and ’13 pretty frightened girls’ aside, our favourite stunt has to be for the film The Tingler, in which Castle wired cinema seats up to an electric current so that audience members would feel an extra shock as they watched the movie.
Red State isn’t the first time that Kevin Smith has taken the promotional road less travelled for one of his films. For the follow-up to his storming debut comedy about a bunch of lacklustre shop assistants, Smith decided to give a shout out to his friends… all 10,000 of them.
Smith promised Clerks fans that the first 10k to become followers of the movie's official MySpace page would get their names featured in the final credits. It proved to be such a popular ruse that the contest hit its upper limit within two hours. And sure enough, if you stick around for the credit trawl, those names do indeed fly by at the speed of light.
Mac And Me
Lost and forgotten in the wake of the far more successful and, frankly, far better E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, this curio from 1988 is memorable for just one thing: its shameless pioneering use of product placement.
Director Stewart Raffill’s butt-puckering tale of one wheelchair-bound boy and his palsy-faced alien buddy was co-financed by companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. This resulted in plot points like aliens needing a particular brand of fizzy soft drinks to survive and a bizarre song-and-dance number set in a famous fast-food restaurant chain. Art may have been eschewed in favour of bucks but it at least got the film noticed… for about five minutes.
The Blair Witch Project
Nowadays, clever promotional use of the internet is as commonplace as found-footage horror films, but way back in 1999 first-time directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez pioneered the use of both mediums with The Blair Witch Project.
The lo-fi flick, made for just $35,000, purported to be based on real events and the website set up to give the film a boost soon became a phenomenon as viewers read up on the fictional characters who were "missing, presumed dead".
After the movie opened to an astounding $35 million in its first weekend, the supposedly dead student filmmakers were revealed as debuting actors. Needless to say, the internet soon became a useful tool in movie promotion.