Jumpers on a Bandwagon
Story angle number one is the fact that New Line Cinema, following an increasing trend, decided not to show advance screenings for critics. This approach has adopted for a number of films this year, most famously with The Da Vinci Code, as studios increasingly decide the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Dennis Rice, publicity chief for Disney, has been quoted as saying: "If we think screenings for the press will help open the movie, we'll do it. If we don't think it'll help open the movie or if the target audience is different than the critics' sensibilities, then it may make sense not to screen the movie."
So how do you generate a buzz around a film without critics? You get the audience to build it for you. Story angle number two is the heralding of Snakes on a Plane as “the first Wikipedia-ised movie, created by the users themselves.” Peter Bradshaw (no relation), writing in the Guardian, says “The suits reportedly scanned the fan-sites for what should go in the script, and agreed to one blogger's suggestion that, at some stage, supercop Samuel L Jackson should definitely say: "I have had it with these motherfuckin' snakes on this motherfuckin' plane" - a gem that could be dropped anywhere into the dialogue.”
Screenwriter Josh Friedman's blog entry about the film is widely credited as kicking things off, inspiring other bloggers to create mock movie trailers, posters, fan fiction, parodies, and all manner of other material around the title and star alone. The Wikipedia entry for the film also describes “the creation of graphics for fictional movies about other animals in odd settings, such as "Bears on a Submarine" and "Sharks on a Roller Coaster" (Tagline: You must be this tall... to DIE!).”
“Snakes on a plane” has even taken on a life of its own as a bon mot, thanks to Josh Friedman. The Urban Dictionary defines it as: “A simple existential observation that has the same meaning as "Whaddya gonna do?" or "Shit Happens".”
The question is whether all this Internet word of mouth is natural, or studio-led. The answer is probably a bit of both. Ever since The Blair Witch Project successfully harnessed the emerging power of the web to build an audience, studios have been trying to repeat the trick. New Line have been canny in setting up online competitions to have entrants’ music featured in the film, and are discussing including some of the viral videos on the DVD.
The Dallas Morning News’ Chris Vognar sees this as a negative move saying: “Snakes is bad in a bland, calculated, marketing-is-all way, which is what you might expect from a movie that has been shaped around its marketing campaign from the jump”.
And despite the online buzz estimates of the film’s opening box office returns indicate a disappointing return. Perhaps the bloggers and viral video makers just enjoyed the gossip around the movie more than they were ever interested in the movie itself. But what are you going to do? Snakes on a plane, man. Snakes on a plane…
Paul Bradshaw is a lecturer at UCE Birmingham’s media department (http://www.mediacourses.com/). He also blogs on online journalism (http://ojournalism.blogspot.com/), interactive pr (http://interactivepr.blogspot.com/), and web and new media (http://webandnewmedia.blogspot.com/).