April 23, 2008
"It's Just a Trailer"

Is all publicity good publicity? This is the question on that is probably tormenting the members of Outsider Productions who launched a stealth viral campaign to promote their film A Beautiful Day.

The horror short was scheduled to debut at the Bare Bones International Film Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma and, as a way to promote their film, the producers decided to put up a video on YouTube warning the people of Muskogee that "... the end is coming. The wicked of this world will be separated from the chosen. I will not be on your doorstep to convince you of this. You either see or you do not see."

When Outsider Productions realized that the clip was becoming increasingly popular, they added a screen that clarified, "This is in no way a threat to do harm on anyone. This is a lame attempt at publicity for a movie." However, they quickly decided to pull it from the web.

By that point, school officials had contacted both the police and the FBI about the possible terrorist threat, and although, after investigating, nobody decided to press charges, the Bare Bones festival took it upon itself to reprimand the filmmakers:

"We're going to pull that movie from the festival basically to let the other filmmakers know that to use that type of marketing is not smart and there has to be some kind of consequences to it," said Oscar Ray, director of the event.

This is the current teaser for the movie, although I'm not sure when there will be able set up another screening. For now, all members of Outsider Productions are participating in a "It's just a trailer" campaign, where they hold a sign with this message for their My Space profile picture. Jason Alexander, the film's producer, has his profile status read: "Jason is not a terrorist."

Their stealth campaign might've been good, brilliant or stupid, but, as Lance Kneedler expressed on his blog, "Festivals should foster and encourage creativity not kowtow to the cult of fear." If there is a place where we can (and should) rebel against the isolation promoted by terror campaigns it's at a festival, a place for communion, dialogue and growth and it's sad to see this type of authoritative shortsighted actions take place.

The other issue that this event points us towards is the tension generated by a space of participatory and convergence culture, where creators must compete with the overabundance of stimuli received by the audience through novel and daring marketing techniques that clash with the status quo and require new literacies that were apparently lacking in the reception of A Beautiful Day's trailer. It's interesting to see how little society's reaction have evolved since Orson Welles broadcast War of the Worlds in 1938.

I heard about this story from Jane Green's blog who holds it as a case study on how not to promote your film online. From my end, I do oppose the actions taken against Outsider Productions on principal, but maybe, if they had thought about it more strategically, they would've come to realize that it wasn't the best way to attract an audience for their film, more so when it does seem like their fighting an uphill battle in Muskogee. On the other hand, it did work for Cloverfield and Blair Witch Project, so you never know...