Marketing a movie on-line

By EW Staff
Updated September 15, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

When filmmaker Jeff Mandel tried to hawk a rough cut of his erotic thriller Turnaround at a movie trade show earlier this year, he couldn’t even get distributors to look at it. ”A direct-to-video film, no stars in it, hadn’t been entered in any festivals … Nobody was interested,” he says. ”Whereas a friend had Paula Barbieri in some little ridiculous film. He sold it for half a million.”

Faced with the bitter truth that the key to Hollywood success might just be having O.J. Simpson’s girlfriend as your star, Mandel, director of such video cheapies as Elves and Robo-C.H.I.C., turned to the Web to find an audience. Just as the major studios have established websites to promote nearly every movie in current release, Mandel spent what he says was about $4,000 to establish what he calls the first-of-its-kind website to peddle his $200,000 opus.

At the Turnaround site, visitors can download an audio clip of Timothy Leary (who worked with Mandel in 1992 on a syndicated TV series called Super Force) blurbing the movie, read Mandel’s tales of behind-the-scenes hard luck, even buy a $19.95 VHS copy and pay an additional $7 for the soundtrack CD. The photos and brief video sequences excerpted from the unrated movie — which stars Mandel’s wife, the single-named Steen, as a woman who adopts another’s identity and gets caught up in Central American intrigue — lean heavily toward sex and violence. Typically, one clip is labeled ”Two Fisted Guns — a woman not to be trifled with, under erie [sic] lighting.” Mandel claims 12,000 folks are visiting the site every day and says he’s sold 200 tapes since July.

Unfortunately, Mandel’s attempts to market Turnaround make for a story more interesting than the film itself. The adventure that Leary, the one-time high priest of LSD, praises as ”wildly unpredictable” unspools more like an underlit effort to mix comedy and suspense. If Mandel shows promise of mastering any medium, it’s the one involving a keyboard and mouse, not a camera.