As they say, there’s no business like show business. And in Hollywood, the only aspect of business that comes close to, making movies, is selling them. So with the industry’s peak period fast approaching, in the form of the Academy Awards, it’s time to have a look at some of the most memorable contemporary efforts, to put butts in seats and wads of cash in fists.
1. 5. Shia LaBeouf’s new movie is in the bag
Paper or plastic? The decision was an important one for Shia LaBeouf as he donned a bag to complement his smart tux, for his waltz down the red carpet, at the Berlin premiere of his latest film, Nymphomaniac. Adorned with tiny eyeholes and text that read ‘I am not famous anymore’, Shia’s peculiar headwear unsurprisingly, had the opposite effect, drawing attention from media the world over. Did it work? Apart from generating talk, it’s a little early to say whether the strange stunt will affect the film. Directed by divisive Dane Lars Von Trier (infamous for his brash, arguably misogynistic filmography and claims that he ‘understood’ Adolf Hitler), Nymphomaniac is by no means a big-money blockbuster, so the extra attention it’s earned, on account of Mr. LaBeouf, may well prove beneficial. Only time – and box office receipts – will tell.
2. 4. Henry Hill breaks the code of silence
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” So echoes Ray Liotta in the opening monologue of the 1990 crime masterpiece, Goodfellas. The film was both a critical and commercial success, yet the publicity it inspired, didn’t come from any red carpet antics, but from the real Henry Hill, who was so chuffed with the film’s reception that he couldn’t help but tell everyone who he was…so much so that the Witness Protection Program he was a part of had no choice but to kick him out. Did it work? Well, no wiseguys came out of hiding to gun Henry down soon after, so that’s a plus, right? Unable to earn direct royalties from the film (as its success was facilitated by his endless list of criminal activity), Hill took advantage of alternative opportunities this new fame offered; including selling his paintings over eBay, opening gangster-themed restaurants in the US and featuring regularly on The Howard Stern Show, before dying on his own terms in 2012.
3. 3. Joaquin takes method acting to its limit; proves he’s still here
Considered ‘one of the most intelligent actors of his generation’, the eccentric and unpredictable Joaquin Phoenix left many an audience member perplexed when, on Late Night with David Letterman in 2009, he appeared a little more than dazed and confused, decked in sunglasses, bird’s nest hair and a caveman beard, convincing many he’d lost his sanity. Did it work? The elaborate, four-year image was proven to be a hoax, designed solely to provide feature footage for Phoenix’s 2012 mockumentary, I’m Still Here. Failing to boast adequate reward for risk, the film was met with lukewarm-to-frosty reviews from critics, and snatched up a paltry $570 000 in worldwide gross. Fortunately for Phoenix, brilliant turns in follow-up films The Master and Her, prove he’s still one of the best in the game.
4. 2. Why so ingenious?
When you’re at the helm of possibly the most lucrative franchise in the world, about to navigate a turning point, that will either make or break the entire trilogy, a couple of posters and teaser trailers just won’t suffice. Instead, the powers that be at Warner Bros constructed an elaborate scavenger hunt for fans of The Dark Knight, whereby amateur detectives were asked to decipher clues with hidden messages in cities all over the US. Upon photographing the answer and uploading it to WhySoSerious.com, the composite revealed a new photograph and audio clip of consummate villain, The Joker. Did it work? Considering all the circumstances that surrounded The Dark Knight at the time of its release (none more impactful than the untimely death of Heath Ledger), it’s tough to say how much influence organised marketing of any sort truly had. But one upstanding truth in the corporate world is that numbers never lie, as the film took over a billion dollars worldwide, hurtled the Batman franchise into never before seen levels of mainstream appeal, and earned Ledger a thoroughly deserved posthumous Oscar.
5. 1. Fear gets a little too real in the Black Hills
Before ‘found footage’ was the ultimate groan-inducing staple of horror films; before the line between mockumentary and truth was totally separate; there was The Blair Witch Project. A completely new idea at the time, the 1999 horror (which follows a trio of student filmmakers who head into the woods to unearth the local legend of the Blair Witch) was filmed entirely on camcorder, and was the first – and perhaps only – film to so brilliantly blur the line between fact and fiction. In an attempt to keep up the illusion for as long as possible, actors were even kept from appearing in public and conducting interviews! Did it work? Not only did the bold idea work in every conceivable way, it cemented the legacy of The Blair Witch Project, as the godfather of viral marketing, in the modern era. Boasting a final budget of a little over half a million dollars, and worldwide takings of nearly a quarter billion, the film is still considered one of the most profitable and adventurous business moves of all time.
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