Drive on Twitter

To promote the UK release of Drive on DVD and Blu-ray yesterday the distributors held a ‘Tweetalong’.

This essentially involved anyone on Twitter starting the film at 8pm and doing text commentary on it whilst watching.

Organised by online agency Think Jam, the official account was @DriveUK and users tweeted under the hashtag #DriveTime

Twitter commentaries on television shows aren’t anything new, but this was the first time I’d seen it used as part of the launch of a new home entertainment release.

(At the end of this article is a Storify post of what the comments looked like)

Although it is still in its relative infancy (it was first launched in 2006), the microblogging service can be a very useful tool in getting the word out about certain films.

The distribution game is still generally dominated by major studios and films with enormous marketing budgets, but beneath them are some interesting exceptions.

Just in the last year, The King’s Speech and The Inbetweeners Movie were home grown independent films that ended being the 2nd and 3rd highest grossing films at the UK box office in 2011.

Drive represents a very interesting example of a wide release.

It is essentially a stylish genre movie (LA noir crime drama) with arthouse pedigree (Nic Winding Refn) that stars two hot young actors (Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan) alongside an experienced supporting cast (Albert Brooks, Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman).

Although originally a studio project set up at Universal, it was eventually put into turnaround before being financed independently.

The US distributor was FilmDistrict, a relatively new outfit formed by GK Films, and hopes were high for its US theatrical release when it was warmly received at Cannes (where Refn won Best Director) and Toronto.

Festival buzz, generally great reviews and a hot young cast meant that the distributor opted for a wide release at 2,886 cinemas.

But on opening weekend in mid-September when it came in third behind The Lion King 3D re-release and Contagion (on its second week of release), people realised it wasn’t connecting as they hoped.

The post-mortem on widely-read industry site Deadline cited the fact that young males are a more unpredictable demographic than they used to be:

“…young guys who used to be Hollywood’s target audience are just not consistently (and indiscriminately) going to the movies anymore. The reason is either financial or too many other entertainment choices. That was the gist of internal conversations inside studios all summer when uncompelling fare like Conan The Barbarian, Fright Night, Cowboys & Aliens, and Green Lantern fell short with young guys. ”It didn’t dawn on us they weren’t coming to the malls,” one perplexed exec told me. Instead, adults did.”

Bob Berney – who has since left FilmDistrict – was also quoted in the piece:

“Some people thought it should have done $20M the first weekend, but they are crazy! Even with the great reviews and Cannes pedigree, it’s still an ‘arts-ploitation’ film. It’s out there in a new genre. It’s really a polarizing film but in a good way. The pacing, music, style, and violence creates heated debate and reaction. The people that love it, really love it and talk about it. But it’s too extreme for many.”

Berney is right – what made Drive such a critical and festival favourite was probably what put off average mainstream audiences.

But only to an extent.

Drive cleverly fused traditional genre elements with considerable artistic flair and obviously the theatrical run didn’t conform to expectations, but why do I get the feeling that this is a film which could have a long shelf life ahead of it?

Not only are Gosling and Mulligan captured in their youthful prime but it is perfect for late night home viewing and also has a killer soundtrack to boot.

So Drive clearly has a fan base, if not one as large as the films financiers had hoped for.

How could the UK distributor (Icon) tap into the Drive love for the home entertainment release?

Which brings us to last night’s Tweetalong.

Twitter has been fascinating Hollywood ever since it exploded in popularity back in 2009.

Previously studios had to pay substitutional sums of money to market research firms so they could track release expectations.

Whilst they still do this, a quick search on Twitter over opening weekend (either through a basic search of the film’s title or relevant hashtag) yields valuable data and insights (although one should be careful to treat it as a sample of the wider audience).

That’s why everyone from studio owners (@RupertMurdoch), major actors (@RussellCrowe), producers (@JerryBruckheimer), directors (@edgarwright) are on it.

In terms of reactions to Drive we know that Russell Crowe was upset that Ryan Gosling didn’t get an Oscar nomination and that Albert Brooks (@AlbertBrooks) is an absolute master of 140 characters as they are both regular tweeters.

You can even use it to follow box office numbers (@ercboxoffice), reviews (@reviewintel) and all kinds of related information.

It is basically a useful filter on the web itself.

But Twitter really rises above other social networks in its flexibility.

Not only can you track reactions over a weekend, but it comes into its own during live events broadcast on TV, such as the Superbowl or The Oscars.

This ‘second screen’ phenomenon is much talked about in TV circles.

The average room in which viewers watch television almost certainly includes some kind of web enabled device, whether it is a laptop, tablet or even a basic mobile phone.

Part of Twitter’s strength is that it is accessible across many different kinds of devices.

Using a hashtag related to a specific programme users can tweet their opinion and read and reply to other users.

If you all think this is trivial just remember the role social media played in the disputed Iranian elections of 2009 and the Arab Spring of 2011.

When it comes to home releases of films it is perfect, as it is a very cost effective way of getting the word out about a particular release.

Twitter is particularly powerful as it has a large user base, lots of influential users in the traditional media and messages can be quickly be duplicated and spread (“retweeted”).

Why is this important?

Well, the biggest single challenge any filmmaker faces is getting their work talked about in order to be seen by a larger audience.

This applies to a teenager who has just uploaded his first film to YouTube or the most experienced A-list director.

Like the video made in a bedroom with 4 views, the $100 million film opening on 3,000 locations could always do with a bigger audience.

If you create something good or distinctive, social media can be a powerful ally in building buzz.

Word-of-mouth has always been an elusive but easily recognisable phenomenon in cinema.

Films like Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Jurassic Park, Titanic, Slumdog Millionaire, Avatar and The King’s Speech all became huge hits because they somehow connected with an audience at the cinema.

Home entertainment sales were a slam dunk because they already had the publicity of being huge hits.

But what about films that initially failed at the box office?

Although they are rarer, films like The Wizard of Oz (1939) and The Shawshank Redemption (1994) took time to build their audience.

But where it can be really effective in the modern era is for quality films that aren’t obviously ‘commercial’.

A black comedy about UK suicide bombers was never going to break box office records but Four Lions (2010) was a quality film that was loved by those who saw it at cinemas (in fact the UK distributor underestimated demand on the opening weekend).

But when it screened on UK television the actor Riz Ahmed (@rizmc) tweeted along to the broadcast.

It was a very useful exercise in audience interaction using simple tools (Twitter and a broadcast channel) and highly effective marketing as other users retweeted him and spread the word.

I’ve already written at length about the role social media played in making Senna such a success at the UK box office, but in the case of the Drive tweetalong you could sense the love for the film.

For the UK distribution people this would provide valuable insights if they decided to put out another edition of the film at a later date, either on another disc or via BD-Live (which up to now has been thoroughly useless).

Time is often the best judge for any film and in the case of tweeting along to Drive last night, it not only reminded me of how good it was but the value of seeing it on Blu-ray.

It was one of the first films to be shot with the Arri Alexa digital camera and even Janusz Kaminski (Steven Spielberg’s DP and a die-hard advocate of film) has admitted he was deeply impressed by the imagery put on screen by Newton Thomas Sigel.

The tweetalong reminded me what of how great the film looked and allowed me to spread the word via a very powerful social platform.

We live in an uncertain age of declining DVD sales and massive commercial pressures on the likes of HMV.

Surely this kind of online activity can only help films of all types find new audiences?

It is certainly preferable to them breaking the web with misguided legislation.

> Original review of Drive
> More on Twitter at Wikipedia
> Social Media and Senna

N.B. Here is the Storify stream of what the comments looked like:

Ferris Bueller Honda Commercial

The new Ferris Bueller themed Honda commercial is sure to upset some but is actually well executed.

After a short teaser that surfaced online last week (cleverly building anticipation) Honda has now released its full Ferris Bueller Super Bowl commercial.

An interesting aspect is that these days Superbowl commercials are screened before the actual game, which tells you quite a lot about how advertising has changed over the years.

It has already prompted cries of sell out (just check out some of the YouTube comments) but at least the agency responsible crafted something for genuine fans of the film.

See if you can spot all the references to the original John Hughes movie, which was the 10th highest grossing film of 1986 (US gross was $70m on just a $5m production budget) and went on to become a huge audience favourite in the VHS era.

The most eerie aspect is how little Matthew Broderick seems to have aged since the original release.

Interestingly, the 25th anniversary release last June prompted The Atlantic to write an article which essentially argued that fans of the film need to ‘get over’ their love for a story about an entitled brat from the North Shore of Chicago.

If you scroll down to the first reader comment by a user named Spadaque, there is this astute reply which hints at the film’s enduring appeal to all audiences:

I’m a 28 year old Haitian immigrant in New York. I came to America when I was about 4 or 5 years old.  “Ferris Buellers Day Of”‘ came out when I was 3, my first time seeing it was many years later as part of a Saturday movie matinee that played on a local channel in Queens. We didn’t have cable and we didn’t go to the movies (It was really the only way my brothers and I got to see any movies) and we certainly didn’t own any Ferrari’s, unless my stepfathers taxi qualifies?. To say we weren’t privileged would be an understatement akin to saying BP had a “little” leak in the gulf. But watching “FBDO” for the first time as a 12 year old boy I instantly fell in love with it. To me, the movie was a fantasy. Ferris was well liked, cunning, mischievous, popular, and smart; all the things an often bullied immigrant kid with a super strict mother wanted to be. I even adored the awkward musical number in the middle; it made me happy. Yet, even back then I knew there was no way I could ever be Ferris or do the things Ferris did. I wouldn’t have a dummy fool my parents into thinking I was sick and in bed, I wouldn’t ride on a float in Chicago singing “Shake it up baby”, and I wouldn’t crash my best friends parents Ferrari.  Ferris is a character that could never exist in real life and in hindsight there should have been more, ahem, color in the movie. But that was 25 years ago. Seeing black and Hispanic people portrayed as thieves or poor gangsters is not a crime exclusive to that movie. To this little black, poor Haitian boy “Ferris Buellers Day Off” wasn’t about all that, it was about being a teenager from the land of fantasy and having the most fantastically perfect day of your life. That is why I’ll never get over it.

> Find out more about Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at Wikipedia
> Washington Post article about the cultural influence of Ferris Bueller

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 30th January 2012

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (StudioCanal): Tomas Alfredson’s impeccably crafted Cold War thriller finds new resonance in the current era of economic and social crisis. Set in the murky world of British intelligence during the 1970s, retired agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is hired to find out the identity of a Soviet double-agent inside ‘the Circus’ (in house name for MI6) and solve a looming crisis. [Read our full review] [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]

Drive (Icon Home Entertainment): This ultra stylish LA noir not only provides Ryan Gosling with an memorable lead role and cleverly takes a European approach to an American genre film. When an enigmatic stunt driver (Gosling) decides to help out his neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and her family, he finds himself caught up in a dangerous game with a local businessman (Albert Brooks). [Read our full review] [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD]

The Tin Drum (Arrow): Volker Schlöndorff’s 1979 adaptation of the Günter Grass novel shared the Palme d’Or with Apocalypse Now and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The story explores the rise of Nazism through the eyes of a young boy (David Bennent) who receives a tin drum for his 3rd birthday and decides to stop growing. A magical-realist classic the film is filled with striking imagery and has gained new resonance in light of subsequent revelations about Grass. Arrow have have the original theatrical version and the new Director’s Cut, which is the version that was seen at the Cannes premiere. Highly recommended. [Buy the dual format Blu-ray and DVD edition]

ALSO OUT

Alien (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Alien 3 (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Alien Resurrection (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / 10th Anniversary Edition]
Aliens (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
An Affair to Remember (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Ca$h (Metrodome Distribution) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Cleopatra (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Eldorado (House of Fear) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition]
Four Flies On Grey Velvet (Shameless) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Great Barrier Reef (2 Entertain) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Highlander: Endgame (Miramax) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Rolling Thunder (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / with DVD – Double Play]
Samurai Girls (Manga Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Star Trek the Next Generation: A Taste of the Next Generation (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
What’s Your Number? (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Win Win (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Yamada – Way of the Samurai (Showbox Media Group) [Blu-ray / Collector’s Edition]

Recent UK cinema releases
The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy VFX

A video showing how visual effects were used to create the period world of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy begs the question as to why wasn’t nominated for a BAFTA or Oscar.

Mention the phrase ‘visual effects’ and I suspect images of science fiction or fantasy movies leap to mind.

After all, films like Star Wars (1977) and Avatar (2009) are most associated with the field.

Tomas Alfredson’s masterful John Le Carre adaptation is not the kind of film you would associate with modern visual effects, as it is a realistic tale of corruption and intrigue in MI6 during the 1970s.

But this video shows how modern technology was used to skilfully augment Maria Djurkovic‘s amazing production design:

They were done by Swedish company The Chimney Pot they highlight just how sophisticated the digital augmentation of photographic reality has become.

So sophisticated in fact that it may have worked against them in the awards season as the film has missed out on both BAFTA and Academy nominations.

It isn’t easy to blend old school techniques with cutting edge digital tools, but when they are combined successfully the results can be magical.

There is the (possibly apocryphal) story that 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) lost the Best Makeup Academy Award to John Chambers for Planet of the Apes (1968) because the judges didn’t realize Kubrick’s apes were really people (perhaps that was actually a greater compliment than the Oscar).

It was a strong field this year but it begs the question, did The Chimney Pot lose out on visual effects recognition because they were too good?

> The Chimney Pot
> More on the history of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects