I finally had a chance to see The Avengers last night after waiting nearly a month for the hubbub to die down. I’m not much for the hype machine.
Not that I don’t enjoy live events or cultural happenings or the zeitgeist. I dig and want to be a part of cultural change movements, but I’ve learned in this business that when it comes to blockbusters, best sometimes to just hurry up and wait, as the old adage goes.
and I’d have to say I totally agree, especially since I was primed for it in advance (literally an hour before I entered the cinema, courtesy of more than 30 (!) random commenters on my page – thank you so much guys and gals!).
The picture was funny in spots and the action was nonstop, in line with the way things generally took place throughout the course of the comic books, for those who have done their share of panel scanning during their salad days.
There wasn’t anything cheesy about it, and for a director, Joss Whedon, who was entrusted with such a large budget for this first time in his career, he held down the fort more than capably. He writes extremely well (he also earned the screenplay credit on this one) and Robert Downey, Jr.’s jokes were crisp and elicited a chuckle on almost all counts.
This post wasn’t intended to be a film review as much as a commentary about continued audience engagement, how a studio blockbuster and the striving Marvel folks were able to squeeze out one additional audience reaction beyond those frenetic spikes and swoons of the typical blockbuster tale.
<<< SPOILER ALERT!!! Stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens in The Avengers! >>>
Ike tipped me off to something if I hung around long enough, which I proceeded to do (the credit sequence alone burned up around five-plus minutes of screen time).
and yes, there’s the much-promised “setup/payoff” shawarma sequence – shot in digital video, incidentally, complete with early 2000s grainy 24p look – showing our superheroes enjoying a well-deserved bite after literally saving the island of Manhattan from a nuclear holocaust.
Now, indies reading this post won’t ever have the kind of resources to actually persuade their would-be audiences to carry on sitting in a darkened room five minutes beyond a film’s inexorable end to partake of one final glimpse at, say, the A-List talents of Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey, Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, or Chris Evans scarfing exhaustedly on New York’s finest lamb kebabs, but they can up the ante in other ways and create something of a phenomenon. A conversation piece which gets the media and viewers buzzing about what they’ve just seen, conveying excitement onward to other potential fans and thereby gaming the system, as it were. It’s obviously a bit of a gambit, but in our terribly competitive 2012 marketplace indies demand every scintilla of advantage they can lay their hands on.
Lest this doesn’t become a post about glorious and lofty generalities, here are five suggestions you may be interested in taking a crack at:
- discount codes or exclusive URLs for free film-related swag and themed merchandise: if audience members are persuaded to stick around just a bit longer, filmmakers can make it worth their while. The key here is to make sure this is the absolute last frame they see during run time. Otherwise it kind of defeats the purpose and will be one hell of an expensive promotion.
- if you’ve casted prominent actors: have them appear on staggered performances totally by surprise for an “impromptu” Q&A, and get your publicist or PMD to ensure a member of the media is in attendance to document it. Snap off plenty of stills as well – not to mention gonzo video – as proof that it went down. Sometimes actors will show and sometimes they won’t, and as fans won’t know unless they arrive at a screening, this builds anticipation. Needless to say, the strategy only works for the most prominent of players so don’t be pulling this stunt with a cast of Hollywood nobodies, so to speak, as you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll be alienating your core audiences faster than a sulphur bomb tossed smack in the middle of Grand Central Station during rush hour.
- unique swag bags distributed to loyal fans outside the venue: only fans who have remained until the fat lady sings – in which the final title is a request for an email signup from a mobile app (I’d seen this sort of technology in action last night as well during what they called the “pre-show”) – are on the list to receive exclusive merchandise in exchange for contact details. Details used to grow a filmmaker’s mailing list.
- invitations to an exclusive, unannounced after-party which the filmmakers share with the remaining audience: and if you’re organizing some kind of live event, it works splendidly since people are already in “going out” mode. Announce a password they can mention at the door in order to gain access to the party venue. Be sure to leak rumors as well that this will be happening so it doesn’t come as a complete shock to the audience who are prepared to return home or head out for dinner/drinks, potentially derailing their plans. It also builds up hype a bit, which is never a bad thing.
- transmedia extensions of your story: indie filmmakers, hopefully, by now know what I mean by this…extensions to your story world across a variety of different media. With filmmaking being only half the job today, there are countless other ways to carry on the discussion with fans long after your film’s final credit rolls. Depending on the nature of your feature, you may succeed in carrying on the narrative in another venue or medium on that very night. A treasure hunt, of sorts, or a need to physically show up at another venue in order to obtain a clue. There are literally dozens of ways you can attempt to do this, so be open to possibilities that your audience is sitting right there, primed and ready to receive more impulses from you especially if your story has been well-told. Capitalize upon this opportunity when the going’s good and strike while the iron is hot.
Remember, we don’t shoot films any longer as startup operations. We have a beginning of a film, we have a middle, and an end. And then there’s the “story after the story.” And this is what The Avengers did so well last night…
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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