Bad Hare Day
As a low-budget independent film with a less-than-descriptive title, Donnie Darko is a movie marketer’s conundrum. The plot is about gaps in the space-time continuum but it’s not a Star Trek sequel. It stars Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, and Jake Gyllenhaal (Bubble Boy) but will only play in a dozen cities on its Oct. 26 release. All of which leaves its distributor, IFC Films, looking for inexpensive ways to shed some light on Darko. They turned — where else? — to the Internet.
While no one has really perfected the art of generating Web buzz, DonnieDarko.com’s creators, Hi-Res!, certainly have a stellar record. The U.K.-based designers of breakthrough sites for Requiem for a Dream and The Center of the World build accompaniments that are alluring enough to pique visitors’ interest in a movie. Which is why IFC hired them to create a trio of Web destinations. The project began with a bubbly site for the July release of Jump Tomorrow (jump-tomorrow.com) and ends when The Business of Strangers (thebusinessofstrangers.com), starring Julia Stiles, comes out on Dec. 7.
But there’s still no gauge of how much a fancy website enhances a film’s box office prospects: Requiem was a high-visibility disappointment, while Center of the World fell off the map. Major releases like The Lord of the Rings attract Web surfers due to built-in cult followings. For smaller films, the Web probably doesn’t help fill seats prior to release so much as in the weeks after. Joel Hopkins, Jump Tomorrow’s director, recalls that during one of his post-screening audience Q&A’s, he encountered just one person who had visited the site before attending. ”My feeling is people go and see the movie and then check out the website because they liked the movie,” he says.
With that in mind, Darko director Richard Kelly wrote a prologue to his film that Hi-Res! transformed into a website. It’s full of eerie music and engrossing mouse-play and unfolds in three password-protected parts (clues are hidden in the text and sounds). The centerpiece is a 12-chapter book on time travel, which is one of the film’s most important props — but one that can only be paged through online. Darko’s high-profile cast, meanwhile, is glimpsed only briefly on the site, if at all. And even the trailer and release dates are given short shrift.
Kelly decided instead to ”pay tribute to the film geeks who are going to investigate and truly appreciate the film.” Those diehards will, he hopes, spread the gospel buzz on their favorite insider websites. That sounds like a very roundabout way to market a film, but what do you expect from a director whose movie features a monstrous six-foot-tall bunnyman?