TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: Has the Blair Witch’s marketing impact become a ghost story?

The smashing success of The Blair Witch Project stunned studio execs and revolutionized movie marketing. Web sites rule!

The smashing success of The Blair Witch Project stunned studio execs and revolutionized movie marketing. Web sites rule!

The smashing success of The Blair Witch Project stunned studio

execs and revolutionized movie marketing. Web sites rule!



Right? I mean, isn’t that what everyone’s saying? Well, in the parlance

of ESPN football analyst Lee Corso, ’Not so fast, my friend.’



Harry Clein, one of the masterminds of the Blair Witch campaign and a

dean of Hollywood publicity, believes that the site received too much

credit for the success of the film. ’There’s a misconception that the

film’s success was driven solely by the Web site. Not so. It was the

merging of an effective Internet presence with traditional media. The

Web site alone didn’t drive such spectacular box office.’



What’s this heresy? You mean you can’t just pull a golden rabbit out of

an Internet hat? That’s it - I’m telling all my clients to sell their

tech stocks. (Oops, never mind. I momentarily confused being a broker

with being broke.)



Witness American Psycho, which attempted to replicate the Blair Witch

phenomenon with its attention-grabbing Web site. Gobs of users logged on

to receive e-mail from the story’s murderous protagonist. The site even

hinted that the pic’s distributor, Lion’s Gate, would pay real dividends

to Psycho shareholders at the Hollywood Stock Exchange. (HSX sells

’fantasy’ stock in movies, actors and potential properties as a

game).



All in all, pretty catchy stuff. But don’t count that money just yet,

shareholders. The film’s opening 10-day gross was barely dollars 10

million.



Clein’s correct in asserting that heavy Web site traffic doesn’t

guarantee boffo box-office.



While the Net can contribute to all-important buzz, Clein’s

’hand-holding,’ as he puts it, of ’old media’ writers and critics

established intriguing yet realistic expectations. They were

sufficiently realized to generate a groundswell of favorable press for

Blair Witch.



’We told everyone, ’Hey, you’ve heard of a garage band? Well, this is a

garage movie.’ We saw responses grow more positive after viewers had

time to reflect on the experience. Screening results went from 7.5

immediately afterwards to 9.5 a few days later. So we left critics alone

for a while before gauging their reactions.’



Crediting the film’s distributor, Artisan Entertainment, with enhancing

the cross-pollination marketing, Clein says, ’I’m convinced attracting

traditional media to our side was key. We spent considerable time on the

production notes, positioning the movie as ’Fear in the first person.’

Our campaign reinforced the idea that the movie - while unique in its

subjective camera perspective - was old-fashioned campfire

story-telling.’



Of course, not everyone agrees with Clein. Next week I’ll share my

conversations with Web site developers who say the Net is the bomb - and

can prevent big movies from becoming one



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