Noomi Rapace, left, Kate Dickie and Michael Fassbender in "Prometheus."… (Kerry Brown, 20th Century…)
Months before the release of director Ridley Scott's "Prometheus," the studio behind his big-budget science-fiction film has been building buzz online with an unorthodox campaign.
Aside from traditional movie trailers, 20th Century Fox has been carefully introducing the film's major characters (and a bit of back story) through a series of online videos — including one released Tuesday that features actor Michael Fassbender ("Shame") in an eerily deadpan performance as an android named David. He serves as the butler and maintenance man on the ship Prometheus, which transports a team of explorers searching for clues to the origins of mankind.
The 21/2-minute video debuted on Yahoo and Mashable and was picked up by hundreds of film, technology and news sites and blogs. It's the latest installment in a digital marketing campaign that has turned to unusual venues — including this spring's TED conference in Long Beach — to build awareness for the June 8 theatrical release.
Film studios increasingly are experimenting with new ways to reach audiences digitally, including launching campaigns on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to lift a movie's box-office performance.
Warner Bros.used a mock "I Believe in Harvey Dent" campaign, and another built around the Joker villain called "WhySoSerious," to engage audiences — and ultimately propel ticket sales for director Christopher Nolan's 2008 release "The Dark Knight." The Batman movie set an opening weekend record, only to be surpassed last year by"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."
"What's amazing about the ['Prometheus'] campaign is it's shareable content. It's video that people can Tweet about, that they can blog about, that they can post on their Facebook wall — and they can then participate in it and have some ownership of it," said Ben Carlson, president and co-creator of social media monitoring service Fiziol.ogy. "It's not just another trailer. It's something that feels like it belongs to the fans.... It turns your fans into evangelists."
The initial "Prometheus" video, screened Feb. 28 at the technology, entertainment and design gathering known as TED, featured a speech on robotics by Peter Weyland, the industrialist portrayed in the movie by actor Guy Pearce. His mock TEDTalk extolled a future inhabited by "cybernetic individuals who, in just a few short years, will be completely indistinguishable from us."
Tom Rielly, community director of the TED conferences, said the group was approached by Damon Lindelof, one of the writers and executive producers of "Prometheus," about the possibility of creating a TEDTalk video from the future — 2023, to be precise. The conference participated in imagining how these presentations might evolve, including suggesting the flying cameras and real-time Twitter-like feeds depicted in the short film.
"'Prometheus' got attention, and we got millions of new people visiting TED.com who had never been," Rielly said via e-mail. "It was a perfect partnership, untouched by money or contracts, but instead built on the power of a great idea."
Oren Aviv, Fox's chief marketing officer, said the TED conference screening gave the studio a high-profile platform from which to talk about "Prometheus" to fans of director Scott's films, as well as non-fans who would be intrigued by the picture's futuristic setting.
"When the second trailer came out [in March], Google called us and told us ... that the trailer became the No. 1-most viewed video in the world," Aviv said. "The point is it's all connected. These don't happen independently. It's designed to be part of this trans-media effort. It gives people a chance to explore and share and discuss and never ruin the movie."
The "David" video is similarly attracting attention online as it introduces a human-like next-generation robot from the film's fictional Weyland Corp.
An unseen narrator poses questions to Fassbender's character, in which he describes his capabilities, "I can do almost anything that could possibly be asked of me. I can assist your employees. I can make your organization more efficient. I can carry out directives that my human counterparts might find [pause] distressing or unethical."
David professes to understand human emotion, even if he does not experience feelings himself. "This allows me to be more efficient and capable — and makes it easier for my human counterparts to interact with me."
"Fassbender's performance, moving his head less than a real human would, or carefully orchestrating that single tear for emotions he doesn't feel, sells David as a robot almost instantly," entertainment site Cinema Blend wrote.
Tony Sella, Fox's chief creative officer, said these videos were conceived outside of the film itself, as a form of stand-alone entertainment that, like "Prometheus," is "this unraveling mystery." The viral campaign is designed to build enthusiasm for the movie among science-fiction buffs and fans of Scott's earlier hits, including"Blade Runner"and "Alien," before promoting the movie to a general audience.
"Before we started shooting, we started talking about this," Sella said. "Ridley shared this vision too. He wanted [to do this] in stages ... so that we could build all these levels of awareness. When we go ahead and spend our advertising money on TV spots for the general public, there was this fabric already built."