Photo: Steve Wilkie
Hands-on guy: Darren Lynn Bousman (foreground, with actress Alexa Vega) is putting personal time into the online marketing of his latest movie. He hopes Repo! The Genetic Opera will inspire a Rocky Horror-style cult.
by Beth Accomando
When Darren Lynn Bousman makes a movie, he usually gets a marketing budget. (Duh: he's responsible for three of the five installments in the highly successful Saw franchise.)
But with Repo! The Genetic Opera, he essentially had no money to promote the film. And in an odd way, that's turned out to be a plus.
It's meant that Bousman has had to turn to the Internet, which costs him nothing but his time.
Connecting with the fans, generating a buzz, after the jump ...
"Every single night myself and the creators are on the Web site — in the chat rooms talking to the fans, planning little stunts, figuring out what we can do as a grassroots effort to get the movie out there" says Bousman.
"So I think the fans feel a part of something because think about it, you're talking to the director, the lead actor and the composer of the movie on a nightly basis on this Web site, saying 'Okay, everyone print out 10 flyers and go to 10 different locations and convert 10 strangers."
So fans can log on to Facebook or MySpace to help spread the word, or participate in an online contest to create fan art.
Such fan participation creates the kind of community that's crucial in developing a cult following. Or at least that's what the Repo! crew hopes.
"If you go to Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight on Saturday night, you are not watching a movie," says Bousman. "You are watching an event, and you show up there and people are dressed in outfits, and you have this diverse group of people in the theater having fun, and there's this sense of community around the showing."
But communities created online don't always translate to box-office dollars.
David Glanzer is marketing director at Comic-Con International, where many films have come to try and assert their cult-worthiness.
"There are a couple that come to mind that had a huge response on the Web and then when the movies came out they didn't do very well," Glanzer says.
Think Snakes on a Plane and Cloverfield. Both films inspired intense Web activity, but disappointed at the box office on their opening weekends.
If Rocky Horror set the standard for cult success prior to the Internet, The Blair Witch Project still defines cult success for an online generation. Released in 1999, Blair Witch is often cited as the first film to successfully use the Internet as a marketing tool.
That case, too, was a matter of necessity: The filmmakers had no promotional budget, so they used the Web to create a mythology surrounding the film's story, which they pretended was true. The $22,000 film grossed more than $200 million — thanks in large part to the Internet buzz that had people believing that the fictional Blair Witch was in fact a documentary about a trio of teens who disappeared.
Nobody's mistaking Repo!'s tale — about a man who repossesses organs when patients miss a payment — as fact. But with the help of the Internet, Bousman hopes, there will be a community of fans helping to spread the word — and turn his low-budget film into a cult classic.