Monday, January 12, 2009

The Power Of Fandom...

When David Mackay set out to tell Betsy Morris' story of a few quirky employees at a beachside sandwich shop in Ten Inch Hero, he never expected to create an internet phenomenon. Instead, he was simply drawn to the personal journeys on which each one set out (For my full review of the film please click here), and as an independent filmmaker, he wanted to ensure he could cast the best possible actors in those roles, in order to really bring the characters to life. After all, "a character is never underwritten, as long as the actor portraying him or her has great instincts." Mackay saw many for the ensemble cast of six, including Two and a Half Men's Jon Cryer, but ultimately he opted to choose who he felt was best for the part (Sean Patrick Flanery won out over Cryer in the role of Noah), not the biggest name, in order to make Ten Inch Hero the best he possibly could. Of course he wanted people to be interested in the film: "As a filmmaker, that is always something you're aware of," Mackay explains, "but it was more important to make a great film first and worry about the size of the audience later." After all, if the script is great, the audience will be there no matter who is in the roles.

It was in hoping an agent at William Morris could get the script to Mandy Moore that Mackay first agreed to consider Jensen Ackles for the role of Priestly, who in Morris' own words "was supposed to be slight and somewhat goofy, like a Seth Green type-- and nothing about Jensen's appearance said goofy." But something in the script just resonated with Ackles, and he was willing to undergo the transformation-- including losing a few lbs-- and his read stood high above any others'. Thus was born the kilt-wearing, pierced, mohawk-sporting version that spawned handfuls of fans from all around the world to dress up like him-- not just for Halloween, but also at sporadic screenings everywhere from Los Angeles to London. And it was in that casting that a cult internet classic was born.

Though Mackay admits he had never seen Ackles' work prior to Ten Inch Hero, he was already a huge internet celebrity due to past appearances on everything from Days of our Lives to Dark Angel to the more recent, even if spotty in the ratings, Supernatural. Hundreds, if not thousands, of young men and women from all over the world were loyally scouring fansites and his IMDb page to find out what he would appear in next, and when they caught wind of the somewhat elusive Ten Inch Hero, they never let go until they could find out every last detail about the project. Morris first Googled Ackles when he was still only being considered for the role, and she was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work strangers from all over the world were going to in order to dig up any news, photos, or hard to find projects of his. Flattered, if somewhat stunned, by a similar outpouring of unsolicited interest, Morris and Mackay set up a website and began reading (and answering as many as they could of the) hundreds of emailed questions about the project, hoping to put an end to some unfounded internet rumors (we all know how those spread!) as well as give the people what they wanted in the form of an album of production still photographs, an official trailer, and a "special look" at one of the more popular scenes from the film (in which Ackles shops for feminine products while he sports his trademark kilt).

Ten Inch Hero fans have been driving their own publicity campaign almost since the film was in the can, and they saw their first production still of the stereotypical All-American Ackles done up and against type. Through social networking sites like MySpace, fans created original artwork, widgets, fan videos, and even a "Priestly doll," which has found its way to various screenings around the country. When asked specifically about the doll, Mackay and Morris both admit they do not know how, where, or why it started, but they are honored nonetheless. To date, the "official" promotional items have just included posters, but it wouldn't be surprising if their PR firm decides to buy the rights to such an action figure and send them to entertainment news outlets; I know if one showed up on my desk, I'd be intrigued enough to want to find out more about the film!

Now, many in the studio system fear the internet for this very reason: technically these fans can be considered infringing upon certain copyrights when they manipulate likenesses or create their own trailers using actual, privately owned footage. But Morris is quick to point out that for an independent film, these actions seem extremely generous, and she is grateful for them. She also is adamant that the internet is an important tool in the marketing and the distribution of today's films. This online community, after all, started numerous "I Want My Ten Inch Hero" campaigns in order to convince the filmmakers to screen in their hometowns, and they drafted and signed multiple petitions for the film to have a wide theatrical release. Some even went so far as to organize their own screenings when they weren't getting a response fast enough, such as the one up in Vancouver during a Supernatural fan convention. During other similar conventions, fan videos (such as the one below) were screened for panels, urging them to help make this film a success. The fans virtually (no pun intended) put this movie on the map.

Their pleas did not fall on deaf ears, and though the film is going straight to DVD, it is perhaps due in great part to these dedicated fans that it is even getting that far. Not to discredit Mackay or his producing team, but so many independent films get produced and then never see the light of day due to a combination of lack of funds, lack of publicity, and lack of interest, but Mackay has a goldmine in his back pocket that is the incessant interest of some very persistent individuals.

The U.S. release of the Ten Inch Hero DVD will come months after pirated copies have already leaked onto sharing sites from the overseas release, but Mackay insists it is worth the cost of rental alone for the extra bonus features that will be available here and no where else-- bonus features that will include commentary, behind-the-scenes interviews with the actors, as well as a look at Bethany Joy recording her three original songs for the film's soundtrack, deleted scenes, and the ever-popular blooper reel, which is sure to include fun with Priestly's kilt. The DVD will be available to rent through outlets like Blockbuster on February 17 2009, and if it performs well on those shelves, it's "for purchase" release date shouldn't be too far behind. So if you want your Ten Inch Hero, be sure to rent it so you can ensure you can own it!

1 comment:

eclipse70s said...

Thank you so much for this great article! I have seen Ten Inch Hero three times in the theater in L.A. and own the Swedish dvd with no extras. David, Betsy and producer Mark have worked so hard to make this film great. The cast is brilliant. The story is brilliant. Jensen is wonderful in everything he does but Priestly is one of my favorite of his characters. I can't wait to see all the extras!