NewsWire: Lords of spin exploit the web -

Thanks to Alex for sending over this article!

Lords of spin exploit the web
Alex Meehan - Dublin, Ireland - 4 March, 2001

Everyone knows that in Hollywood, bigger is better, and the more hype that surrounds a movie, the better it will do at the box office.

Spin doctors do their best to come up with new ways to get cinema-goers hooked into a movie, and internet marketing is proving to be a gold mine of promotional opportunities. Downloadable film clips, cast interviews, insider gossip and fan sites abound. In fact, movie sites are proving to be one of the biggest draws online.

The Official LOTR movie site.
When the trailer for the first part of the much-hyped Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy was made available for download this month, it attracted 41 million page impressions for (.com was already taken by a fan). Within a week of being available, it had taken the title of most downloaded movie title ever, leaving Star Wars -- The Phantom Menace in the shade.

This is partly due to the original book's legendary cult status. It was recently voted Best Book of the 20th Century by The Times newspaper and there are literally hundreds of thousands of fans online.

The studio behind the project New Line Cinema has three full-time staff that work on generating interest in the studio's offerings online, and LOTR is by far the biggest thing on New Line's horizon for the next year.

JRR Tolkien's fantasy epic has been filmed in three parts and split up into three movies. Part one will appear next Christmas, followed by part two the following Christmas, with part three hitting our screens in time for Christmas 2003. Liv Tyler, Sir Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett star.

The prospect of a big budget movie has hardcore fans salivating in excitement, but the anticipation has been fuelled with a clever online marketing campaign, led by New Line's Interactive Division head Gordon Paddison.

In an attempt to court the favours of the fans, Paddison and his team put a site up in May 1999, almost three years before the first movie release. As filming progressed, updates from the New Zealand set were posted and the traffic just grew and grew.

An internet-only trailer was produced last summer to give fans a flavour of what was to come. "It's one thing to throw up a trailer, and quite another to embrace a community, and that's what's out there for these books," he said.

Other features include hours of web-only behind the scenes video footage, interviews with the cast and also with specialist crew such as make-up artists and weapons specialists.

Part of the focus was also to control the information going out from the set to keep fans guessing.

New Line has been actively engaged in internet marketing since 1994, and builds internet sites for all its movies.

Three people work in its online department, but actual website development is outsourced. The studio has between 10 and 20 films in production at any one time, and all of them are marketed online as well as through traditional

Budget is also a consideration. A project like LOTR has a huge budget of around $300 million, and the website to go with it is a major site, but most movies don't have that kind of budget, so they get what they can afford.

While Paddison won't discuss how much New Line has spent on the site, it's definitely a lot. In fact, it may well be the LOTR website is the most ambitious promotional site ever designed.

Scheduled to be updated every week with new material until 2004 when the last movie is released, has already picked up a respected award from international trade journal PR Week for New Media Site of the Year, 2000.

Other than the Star Wars and Star Trek franchise, few other films are likely to whip up the same interest as LOTR online, but increasingly movie executives are using the net to create interest in movies long before they hit our screens.

The main Star Wars website ( is designed to constantly feed new information to the online fan community about the upcoming episodes.

For the upcoming film Tomcats, Revolution Studios started an online contest in which users would vote on casting extras over a year before its scheduled release this summer. Another movie company, Threshold Entertainment (, plans to launch internet prequel episodes for its animated title Food Fight more than a year in advance of its release. The most recent case of a movie being propelled into the major league by a website is the infamous Blair Witch Project movie.

The filmmakers behind this horror hit deliberately set up a website devoted to the "legend" of the Blair Witch, and then promoted the fictional movie as a documentary at the Sundance film festival.

The idea was to get studio executives to buy into the conspiracy angle. "You couldn't really do that again without being very lucky. The hype around the Blair Witch Project truly was lightning in a bottle," said Paddison.

"The best move the studio made was to leave the website up and not tell anybody it wasn't true.

"It worked incredibly online because all conspiracy theorists are attracted to the internet anyway."

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