Studios go behind the Black Curtain

Uni's 'Sydney White' latest in MySpace promotional screening program

For Universal's "Sydney White," opening Friday, the movie studio teamed with MySpace for one of the site's Black Curtain screenings, where the movie's star, Amanda Bynes, appeared to meet and greet fans and participate in a Q&A.

MySpace also created a custom "Sydney White" profile that includes a photo gallery, online quiz, downloadable instant messenger icons and a feature allowing users to create their own customized "You and Your Seven Dorks" widgets to embed in their own profiles. And an exclusive video "shout-out" by Bynes that ran before the film's trailer on the movie's profile page, MySpaceTV and MySpace's Trailer Park — the site's dedicated film community — has had nearly 300,000 views so far.

The promotional partnership and Black Curtain screening program for "Sydney White" is the latest of dozens of film marketing initiatives MySpace has implemented for Hollywood studios, leading the social networking site to claim that it has become a "staple" in the marketing of movies and to take at least some of the credit for the boxoffice success of such films as "300" and Rob Zombie's "Halloween."

Trailers and video clips promoting Dimension Films' "Halloween," which was the highest-grossing movie ever over a Labor Day weekend with $30.6 million in ticket sales, were viewed more than 1 million times on the MySpace network, and the official Zombie "Halloween" page on MySpace has more than 106,000 friends. The trailer for Warner Bros.' "300," which grossed more than $210 million domestically, was viewed 8 million times before the film's opening and more than 13 million times to date on the movie's MySpace profile page. The "300" profile has 208,000 friends.

Other films promoted on MySpace include "Superbad," "Transformers," "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," "Ratatouille," "Spider-Man 3" and "Borat."

"I think a lot of the studios and a lot of our users will agree they knew about these films because of MySpace," said Josh Brooks, vp marketing and content at MySpace. "I think the exclusive videos given to MySpace and the Black Curtain screenings that we promote on MySpace help push the boxoffice numbers. MySpace has just become a staple in how the studios are marketing their movies," he added, noting that the number of studios working with MySpace is steadily "on the rise."

Brooks said the Black Curtain screening program, which launched about a year ago and has so far featured about a dozen films, transforms MySpace "from an online community to an offline, or real-world, community as well." MySpace's Black Curtain community has more than 160,000 friends.

MySpace cited "Halloween" as a "particularly good example" of how interacting with fans on its site "can really drive a film to commercial success." It said director and musician Zombie was instrumental in the success of the campaign by personally interacting with fans, communicating with them through his MySpace page and creating a video message for the MySpace community that aired before a clip from the film.

Sanjeev Lamba, executive vp marketing and new media at Dimension Films, added: "The film opened absolutely brilliantly. We have a huge success on our hands, and we believe the MySpace program was a very important cog within the whole plan. We like to use MySpace as much as we can, depending on the nature of the film and the kind of budget we have allocated."

Doug Neil, senior vp digital marketing at Universal Pictures, said the MySpace program was an "important element" of an overall marketing campaign for "Sydney White" but that he could not determine its impact until the movie opened this weekend. "We're anxious to see how this all translates." He said fans lined up at noon in 95-degree heat Aug. 29 for a 7 p.m. Black Curtain screening in Burbank. "One of the reasons we like a program like this is because after the screening, at least 30 people went back to the 'Sydney White' profile and posted comments, all of them positive. It helps the word-of-mouth for people to be able to see reactions from people who have seen the film."

Neil said that though MySpace has a huge audience and is definitely a destination that is considered for all Universal films, "every film doesn't necessarily include MySpace in their campaigns. Each film has unique audience and positioning objectives. Amanda Bynes' fans are definitely part of the MySpace audience."

Among other successes cited by MySpace are "Superbad," which had nearly 2.5 million views of video clips related to the film. Each of the movie's three main characters — Evan (Michael Cera), Seth (Jonah Hill) and McLovin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) — had their own profile pages with individual video shout-outs to the MySpace community. MySpace held Black Curtain screenings for "Superbad" in Anaheim, Atlanta and Washington, with the film's stars showing up for a surprise appearance and Q&A in Atlanta.

While the studios are buying plenty of ads on MySpace as well, the content and Black Curtain partnerships are considered cross-promotional, and as a result, no money changes hands.