Last week was an interesting week for leaked footage. Trailers for both Guardians Of The Galaxy and X-Men: Days Of Future Past hit the internet; both were met with huge amounts of positive response; both were immediately yanked, because they were exclusives shown at the San Diego Comic Con. Every year, studios debut trailers from upcoming movies and shows at San Diego, and every year almost everything gets a rapturous response. It brings the major movies for the next year down to a single point and fires them, like a focused beam of hype, directly at the collective geekbrain.
But it doesn’t work. Or at least, it doesn’t work consistently. X-Men Origins: Wolverine , Pacific Rim and Scott Pilgrim were all embraced like long lost family members at San Diego and all received a critical and commercial drubbing outside it. It’s not a bullet proof guarantee of success and yet, year in, year out, studios present material exclusively there to a small group of fans and press they hope will spread the word. It’s a flawed strategy and every single time it’s done, it uses the inclusive nature of fandom at its best to create fandom at its worst; exclusivity, faux hipsterism. Everyone’s welcome, but if you can afford to go to San Diego, you’re a lot more welcome than everyone else.
It’s as bad for stuff that doesn’t get leaked. Entering their triumphant 50th year of complaining about everything, ever, Doctor Who fans cut up rough about the 50th Anniversary show getting a trailer at San Diego this year. The reason was simple; San Diego was the only place that got that trailer. No BBC broadcast, no online rollout. Nothing.
On the one hand this is the latest stage in the largest grumble-a-thon in fandom history, but on the other it’s a legitimate beef. Why should 5,000 people crammed into Hall H be the only ones to see a trailer for one of the BBC’s flagship shows? Or indeed, any trailers?
The answer is simple; they shouldn’t be. If studios really want to energise the geek uber-mind, they need to talk to the bits of it that can’t afford the couple of thousand dollars you need to do San Diego properly. Geeks love stuff, purely and unconditionally, and if you can harness that then your movie or show is going to be hugely successful. Treat geeks badly and, well, ask Doctor Who fans of a certain age how many have forgiven the BBC for the show’s cancellation in the 1990s.
No compromise. Even in the face of Michael Grade.
That’s what studios are pushing against when they make these things exclusive. It’s a dangerous game. The naturally contrary nature of fandom means a backlash is as likely as hype. Even worse it makes fans miserable and leads to deserving projects not finding their audience.
The solution is simple; invite everyone to San Diego.
Here’s how it would work;
• Firstly, film every panel with a dedicated crew. I know a lot of them are up on YouTube from various sources but W00tstock has shown again and again that filming the entire show and putting it up for free is an instant and massive down-payment of good will.
• Secondly, arrange an opt in or opt out agreement with every studio and production company attending allowing their trailer and panel footage to be used.
• Thirdly, advertise a website URL very prominently in the convention centre. Anyone visiting it gets a countdown clock with 30 days on it.
• At the end of those 30 days, have every trailer and piece of footage available at the site. Stagger the release if you want to, or as a revenue builder (First place costs more and so on).
• Finally, turn the whole thing into social media. Offer prizes for people retweeting/blogging/vlogging/facebooking a clip, run a leader board based on votes and use the site as a jumping off point for the sort of viral marketing that’s standard issue these days. Market it as the convention, but for everyone. No exclusives, full access and the full weight of the geek community and the internet behind it as a result. Can’t make it to San Diego? No problem! Wait a month and San Diego will come to you.
Of course there’s a couple of dozen things that could go wrong, starting and finishing with the fact that the exclusivity at San Diego is one of the big drawers. But wouldn’t it be nice if just once, a year of film and TV geekery wasn’t defined by who got to see what trailer first? Wouldn’t it be great to get the fun extra content of the con even if you couldn’t afford to go? Exclusivity is killing the conversation, enabling bad habits in geek culture and most of all, it’s outdated. It’s the age of the geek, baby, like the man says and most of us are connected. It’s past time studios worked that out and started playing to their whole audience, instead of the lucky few.