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If You Build It, They Will Come to a Film--or Will They?

Internet: Does a hot Web site help a movie gain an audience? The studios don't know, but create them anyway.

March 23, 1998|KRISSY HARRIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

'Titanic": terrific. "The Full Monty": unadulterated fun. "L.A. Confidential": has style. "As Good as It Gets": not as good as it gets. "Good Will Hunting": keep hunting.

Oh, not the movies. I was talking about the Web sites.

Wondering if the Web site is any predictor of Oscar success? Don't ask the studios; they can't even tell if the movie sites--or the studio umbrella sites they're a part of--are getting audiences to the theaters.

Most of the studios can't even gauge if people are going to the Web site before or after they've seen the movie. But if having a Web site will nab an audience--apparently to any degree and without any measurement of success--then a Web site it'll be.

One of the only real measurement of effectiveness is a movie exit survey. Ticket and show-time links may help to some extent too. But if the studios were really interested, they would at least have some place on the sites asking the question directly. They don't.

So why has it become so important for every movie to have a Web presence of some kind?

A partial answer is that the cost is a pittance relative to the $40 million or more spent to market a movie. The sites often use ideas, themes and visual elements similar to those used by their more traditional marketing counterparts.

The cost of movie Web sites typically starts at about $10,000 and can run upward of $100,000 for larger-scale sites, such as "Mission Impossible" or "Independence Day," said Jonathan Grotenstein, vice president of new media development for Spin Cycle Entertainment, which designed the "L.A. Confidential" site.

Grotenstein wouldn't be specific about how much Spin Cycle charged for "L.A. Confidential," though he did allow that it was "in the mid to upper range, probably $50,000.

"It's a relatively cheap way to get the marketing message out," Grotenstein said. "And studios can get demographic information and see what the response is to marketing."

It's not only the publicity earned from visitors to the Web site, Don Buckley, vice president of advertising and publicity at Warner Bros., pointed out. "Go to the Excite entertainment page, and it will have links to our studio site," he said. "More publicity . . . by virtue of our Web site and by virtue of other Web publishers' desire to create content."

Movie executives agreed that the budget for the movie has little to do with the site's scale, because it's only a difference of a few thousand dollars, whether for something on a grand scale, such as "Titanic," or a little, wimpy site, such as "Good Will Hunting."

"It's determined on the movie," said Blaise Noto, executive vice president of worldwide publicity for Paramount Pictures, which is in charge of "Titanic's" site. "Some movies may call for a particular design, others people go to for informational purposes. There's a design created for each film."

"Because we're in the infancy of the Internet, the issue of size only takes you so far," Buckley said. "It's more about experimentation and discovering a better way to speak to your audience."

The trend seems to be that darker B-movies and science fiction almost have to offer something more elaborate, Grotenstein said. The action-figure-collecting sci-fi nerd who stays up all night at the computer may be a stereotype, but he--or she--is out there. And devoted. Witness the proliferation of 'Scream" and "Star Wars" fan sites.

Also factored into the scale of the site is the filmmakers' own geek factor. "Titanic's" James Cameron and "Godzilla's" Dean Devlin both have deep interests in technology. Devlin is considered to be the father of movie Web sites, having launched the first one in 1994 for "Stargate," which, as legend has it, generated such a pre-release buzz that it played a significant role in bringing moviegoers out on opening weekend.

At the very least, filmmakers are shown the Web site and asked to OK it. For the sites of the five films nominated for best picture in the Oscars, most of the directors or producers were very involved, the studios said.

So where does this get you, the Web site-visiting moviegoer? Let's take a look:

"Titanic"

http://www.titanicmovie.com

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It defies description--both in content and design. It's done in two parts: past and present. In the past section, you can take a tour and get the history of the ship, read character bios, download old news footage and more. The present section has interviews with the cast and info on the stars and filmmakers. Check out a time-lapse Quicktime movie of the building of the movie's ship and look at behind-the-scenes stuff such as sketches, paintings, costumes and storyboards. Also interesting is the wreck of the Titanic filmed by James Cameron. Much like the movie, the site has to be seen to be believed.

"The Full Monty"

http://www.foxsearchlight.com/fullmonty/index.htm

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