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Exorcist: The Beginning – Marketing Recap

(As I mentioned yesterday, I wrote a MMM column for Exorcist: The Beginning but for some reason never submitted it for publication. Here’s the column in its entirety.)

My, what wandering paths films sometimes take from the pitch (which for me will always be mentally visualized with Buck Henry pitching The Graduate: Part 2 to Tim Robbins) to the time it opens at your local google-plex (thanks to MST3K’s Kevin Murphy for that phrase).

If you follow movie-related websites (like, say, FilmThreat) at all you have probably heard the back story on the making of this prequel to the original Exorcist. Paul Schrader, a relative unknown with only small movies such as Taxi Driver, American Gigolo and Raging Bull to his writing and/or directing credit had completed shooting what was described as a dramatic and psychologically frightening movie. The studio, Morgan Creek – a division of Warner Bros. – wanted spinning heads and vomit. They then hired Renny Harlin (who really should have been exiled to the island of Elba after Cutthroat Island) who made like a circus seal and gave them exactly what they wanted.

So there is tremendous ill-will the marketing campaign for this movie has to overcome. It has to convince everyone who has been reading about six weeks of re-shoots by Harlin and the complete desecration of Schrader’s original film that this version is worth seeing. Good luck.

The Poster

Pretty cool. What looks to be a cross engraved on a piece of rock like a coffin lid conveys a nice sense of darkness while bringing across the point that Christian iconography will play heavily into the film. What works well for the marketers is that by not incorporating any imagery from the movie itself they haven’t had to adjust for the production SNAFUs. This poster worked just as well in late 2003 when the movie was originally scheduled as it does today precisely because it’s fairly generic.

The Trailer

So the total lighting budget for the movie was what? $35? $40? It couldn’t have been any more and most of that was probably spent on candles. More money was probably spent on off-screen fans to mysteriously blow the candles out.

Anyway, this trailer makes it very clear that the studio was delivered a film with lots of “shocking” moments. There are various shots of things falling from ceilings or mysterious shadows running in the background. Most of these shots don’t last more than three or four frames so as not to show how bad.. errr… I mean so as not to give away too many of the big reveals. I didn’t care for the trailer too much simply because it wants it both ways: To reveal the entire plot outline of the movie without giving away any of the showcase sequences.

The Website

Unlike some studios (I mean you Fox) Warner Bros. is pretty consistent in creating decent websites for even mediocre movies (see my columns on Catwoman and Harry Potter 3 for examples).

The first thing you have to do is unlock what I can only assume was a residual concept for the new star gate website. You have to delve into five little vignettes to get the symbols necessary to unlock the gate and enter the rest of the site. These little side trips are, in concept very cool. In execution they’re rather lame. Little parts of each station stop let you view production photos by clicking on a doorframe or hanging birdcage or some shit like that. Anyway, you get the symbol, go back to the main page, plug it into the star gate and hope like hell Richard Dean Anderson doesn’t show up.

There are a couple taglines that pop up in the site. First, “Every story ever told has a beginning”. Isn’t this the same line Lucas used for Episode 1: The Beginning of the Dashing of Dreams? Second, there’s “The very face of evil” which leads me to believe Harry Knowles was cast. Lastly, “A great battle is at hand between good and evil” which may describe the conflict between the studio and Paul Schrader. Thank you all for sticking around for what was solely an excuse for me to rattle off cheap one-liners.

Considering the number of pictures available during the endurance test you have to go through to get into the site the “Gallery” section is rather sparse, containing only about eight or nine pictures. “Cast & Crew” is pretty in-depth but devotes more space to Renny Harlin than he really deserves. “The Story” contains so many mentions of The Face of Evil that it could be used as a pretty decent drinking game. Then again most anything in my world can be used as a drinking game. The contents of “Downloads” include wallpaper, Winamp Skins, Messenger Icons and the secrets of the Egyption Book of the Dead laid out in Microsoft Word’s Wingdings font. That last part may have been made up.

Overall

This is a tricky movie to market. The people who are going to be most interested and aware of it are those on the Internet. That group is most likely to have heard all the gossip, backbiting and nasty rumors associated with this flick. So they have tried to create different aspects of the campaign to attract different portions of the public. The website is a little headier and creepier for the Internet lurkers. The trailer, which is designed for mass consumption, contains the gross-out sight gags that may make the general public come see this since they enjoyed Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator and Ed McMahon vs. Cheese Danish.

The studio has recently promised to release Schrader’s version on DVD as a peace offering both the director and to the fans who heard about it on the ‘net. This is a great move on the WB’s part as it honors the work done by the director and creates good will in the public. Great play on their part but the campaign as a whole is not very consistent.