SXSW: Olivia Wilde Kicks Off Panels on Hollywood and Technology Partnerships

Olivia Wilde SXSW - P 2013
Michael Buckner / Getty Images Entertainment

The actress spoke about promoting her new film "Drinking Buddies" on Twitter, while Warner Bros. Television digital execs gave tips to technology companies on pitching products to Hollywood.

AUSTIN -- Two panel discussions on Saturday morning addressed the convergence of the tech world and Hollywood. The first was dedicated to how filmmakers can market themselves to movie fans in the digital space, the second saw a pair of Warner Bros. TV execs giving advice to tech companies on how to pitch their projects to Hollywood.

On the panel “New Grass Roots: Digital Age Movie Marketing,” participants -- who included Facebook head of market development Matt Jacobson, actress/producer Olivia Wilde, Radius-TWC co-president Jason Janego and ID-PR vp of digital strategy Natalie Bruss -- engaged in a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the relative merits of digital versus traditional marketing, whether movie studios consider social media presence as a factor when hiring talent (the answer: kinda) and whether Facebook will ever get into the content creation business.

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Jacobson underlined that the stakes have gotten higher and higher as the number of movies that studios release each years decreases. Digital marketing, he said, “has to be more efficient and powerful than it was in the past.” The Facebook exec pointed to a number of movies that in particular have benefited from exposure on the social networking platform, such as Julie & Julia, The Notebook, Paranormal Activity and most recently Dear John. “Dear John ran a campaign on Facebook 13 weeks out before the movie opened. The studio saw what ads were engaging the public and it became obvious that there was appeal to military wives,” he said. Relativity Media then created focused marketing to tap into that market of military wives and their friends. Facebook also works with studios to put up “20 or 30 versions of creative in one day and in real time we’ll see what optimized and decide which of these five pieces of creative are working better.”

Added Bond, "When a film is not embraced the critics, that’s a huge placed where digital and social media has the power to rise up. The fans can come in then even if the critics say the movie is horrible. The fans can drive the initial first week gross.”

By contrast, Janego — whose Radius division of The Weinstein Company releases films in a multi-platform strategy, including pre-theater-release VOD -- spoke up for advertising in traditional media, pointing to the creative marketing of Silver Linings Playbook as an example. “If you have the money to spend, old-fashioned marketing is still effective,” said Janego, looking back on the initial discussions about how to promote the film. Despite finding the movie “amazing” when he first saw, the feeling was that “We have no idea how to market this movie. Harvey will probably shoot me for saying this but I don’t think anybody in that room thought that this movie would do over 50 million at the box-office. We had to build it over a significant period of time.” One marketing tactic involved advertising in The New York Times in a targeted way by running different ads in different sections of the newspaper. TWC ran an ad showing star Robert DeNiro’s football fan character ran in the sports section, while an ad with Jennifer Lawrence dancing went in Arts & Leisure. “I think on some level that stuff absolutely is very effective.”

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Wilde, in town to promote her film Drinking Buddies said that also being involved as a producer of the romantic comedy made her especially engaged with promoting it on social media. “It really allows me to be a more effective producer. It becomes the responsibility of everyone involved in a film, particularly a small film, to speak up for it.” With her own sizable Twitter presence (815,000 followers), “you feel you are launching the film from your personal social networking space. It’s changed everything in terms of feeling responsible for a small film.”

As a side note, she remarked that being on Twitter has given her a chance to show her funny side which in turn has made people in Hollywood perceive her differently. Her fans “will say, ‘I didn’t think you were funny at all and you were and I read you on Twitter and it made me laugh.” In turn, Wilde was asked to write a comedic story for a publication and believes that she’s now seen as having a comedic side to her by producers. Janego though chimed in that while Twitter has put talent on his radar (“I had no idea who Damon Lindelof was until his day-long diatribe against Justin Bieber’s fashion decisions”), if TWC is on the edge of whether or not to choose an actor for a part, it most likely won’t make a decision based upon social media following. “More importantly, one of the first things we do once we are working on a film is reach out to the cast and crew and ask them about engaging their various followers.” Sometimes it takes begging. Adam Scott, one of the stars of TWC’s Bachelorette, “was not at all down” with promoting the film “until the film started to perform. He has a lot of Twitter followers and he’s pretty active. We were bugging him and bugging him ‘Please tweet’ and then we got a one-page spread in Entertainment Weekly and then he tweeted away.”

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Jacobson cited Will Smith as an example of a star who went all in once he joined the social-media space. “He embraced it and he said, ‘I want more fans than Obama and he was serious about it. He did it for a while and he was stoked. He is the hardest working guy. He’ll go to the opening of an envelope if his movie is opening somewhere. He’s going to do anything he possibly can to make sure that movie is successful. That’s part of the new economy that’s happening. Every piece of the puzzle is really important.”

The talk turned to Vin Diesel, who went beyond that, resurrecting his career by building one of the biggest social-media presences on the web. The actor, said Jacobson, “Really wanted to be in the next Fast and Furious. It wasn’t a lock and he made it a lock by building a big following and have an authentic voice. It was him living his life that proved to filmmakers this guy is still meaningful and relevant.” Added moderator Krista Smith, the senior west coast editor of Vanity Fair, “He changed the course of his career. He had entered actor jail. He was very cold. And he then exploded.”

The discussion touched on the possibility that the way people watch television and movies at home – engaging with the so-called second screen (phone, iPad, etc) --- while viewing content. Theaters, by contrast, “are relatively prescriptive. You walk in there. You can’t talk and you have to turn off your phone. I was talking to a head of a studio who said he was taking his 10-year-old kid to the movies and he said, ‘Why can’t I do the things I normally do when I watch a movie.’ I’ve pitched this a couple of times – Let’s find a place of that movie where you encourage people to do something on our platform while the movie is happening.”

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Replied Wilde, “It’s an interesting concept, but it makes me nervous to think of people texting or tweeting during a movie.” Jacobson elaborated that the idea was for a concert film. “I think it will happen for some movies, but I don’t think it will happen with a really well-written, narrative, high-drama film.” On another side note, Jacobson was asked whether Facebook will follow the likes of Netflix and Amazon into the content creation business. He stated no emphatically. “We’ve been committed to being a platform. I have been adamant from the beginning of the company that we don’t have an editorial point of view or a voice.”

On a following panel Saturday morning, Warner Bros. Television execs Hiram Norman, vp digital media, general manager,  Warner Bros. worldwide television marketing (“the longest title in the business,” he joked) and Bob Mohler, senior vp of digital media at Telepictures Productions, a division of Warner Bros., gave tips for tech company execs on how to pitch their platforms and apps to Hollywood. The shows the two oversee between them for digital strategy include Ellen, Anderson, TMZTV, Arrow and Vampire Diaries.

The tips included: Take a look at an entertainment company’s work and determine where your company’s tech product fits in. “You’d be surprised how many times people don’t take this into consideration,” said Mohler. “We get all a lot of pitches from people and yet their product doesn’t fit in anywhere. (Case in point, at the end of the talk, a man got up during the Q and A to pitch an app that would help people find their cars in parking lots, something of little relevance to a TV production company.”)

They also advised that companies know their competition. “If we are using a competitive product,” said Norman, an entertainment company might not want to incur the cost of a switch-up if the improvement isn’t game-changing or near game-changing. “People coud look at what we are using, a competitive product, and could see a way to complement it or amplify it. I’ve never really seen a lot of that.” A video player, for instance, added Mohler, “has to be a lot better by a significant amount that would make us more money or the quality is better or the features are much broader. It can’t be nuances here and there to get us to move the needle.”

Other tips: Make sure tech support is set up to be on call with the client’s time zone. Be ready to scale a product if a client signs on (“People will lose interest if [implementation] drags on and on.”  Provide a way for the client to measure results. Suggest a trial partnership and get a company addicted to a product.

If you get a no, “keep us informed. It’s an opportunity to grow a relationship,” said Norman. “There have been a lot of times when I say I don’t need it right now and then two weeks later I go into a meeting and something gets dropped on you and here’s what you need to do and I say, ‘Funny you should mention that…’” Mohler gave an example of when the iPad was released and informed companies that “nothing can be on Flash on any of your websites. We were like how are we going to do this.” The company called a tech company they’d been in touch with, who pulled off the website changes in the two weeks before the iPad launched.

They finished by noting that there’s not always a clear correlation between social media engagement and ratings. “We get paid by how high the Nielsen ratings are. There are days we have killer engagement and nothing happens in the Nielsen rating. Other days, both of them line up and ‘Oh my god, there it is. We figured it out.’ And then the next day it doesn’t happen again,” said Mohler.

Figuring out that correlation, admitted Norman, is still “a big question.”