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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is ‘Catfish’s “don’t talk about the film” marketing campaign brilliant or annoying?

Perhaps the best time to talk about a marketing campaign for a film is before everyone has seen it: this way, the discussion of the film itself cannot get in the way.

The documentary Catfish — a real, honest-to-goodness doc, not a fake one pretending to be — opens in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, and Toronto on September 17, but Rogue Pictures has been promoting the hell out of the film with lots of advanced screenings open to the public. At the same time, however, those of us who haven’t seen the film are being implored, “Don’t let anyone tell you what it is” while those of us who have seen the film are told, “Don’t tell anyone what it is.”

FishbowlLA is annoyed about this:

Don’t read about it. Don’t even think about it. Talk about it, God forbid, and you’re the biggest asshole on the planet.

Sorry, the marketing campaign for the film “Catfish” is pissing us off. We just got this press release for a Cinefamily screening next month:

The filmmakers of Catfish — the most buzzed about film at Sundance this year — urge you not to say what the film’s about, and we agree. In fact, we urge you to resist Googling it, resist looking it up on Yahoo — don’t even ask Jeeves! Catfish is a film that people can ruin for you, either by “spoilers,” or more importantly, the strength of their opinions — part of the fun of the film is putting together your own point of view.

If you feel that strongly about it, why cut a trailer?

Maybe we’re just pissed because we didn’t know about the film and now we feel like we have to see the damn thing. Our feeble mind (yes, we have a hivemind) was successfully toyed with.

We don’t want to ruin a cool film for anyone, and we don’t want it ruined for us. But can someone honest out there tell us whether this campaign is total bullshit? Can we really not talk about Catfish? It’s important to us to figure this out, and we’re not entirely sure why.

I think the campaign is pretty brilliant. It’s like saying, “Don’t think about an elephant.” Telling potential audiences that they cannot talk about a movie is precisely the way to get them to talk about it… though, hopefully, in less than revealing terms.

What do you think? Is Catfish’s “don’t talk about the film” marketing campaign brilliant or annoying?

If you’ve seen the film, try to avoid talking about it (except in the most general terms), and for pete’s sake, don’t spoil it.

If you haven’t seen the film… well, your reaction to the campaign is probably the one we should be talking about.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Catfish… Okay, I won’t ask about it. I won’t even see it. I don’t like seafood anyway.

  • Catfish might be related to Catweasel, the children’s TV programme of my youth.

  • Laura

    Ironic, when I definitely saw a group of people with flyers outside the Union Square movie theater advertising it yesterday. Pretty sure they were talking.

    Also, is it REALLY a documentary? Really-really?

    REALLY?

    :)

  • Rykker

    Oh, silly makers-of-film.
    I don’t spend hard-earned money blindly on today’s efforts; Hollywood or Indie.
    Ain’t none of the lot of ya have impressed me so much in the past five years that I’m willing to trust that I’ll get what I pay for anymore. Hell, even the films I go into being fully informed have been a disappointing let-down, so this “secret kind” that you are pushing… HA!
    If you wish for me to be totally ignorant of the content as a pre-condition to viewing it (and paying to view it), then I will simply remain totally ignorant, and not see it. I doubt I’ll be missing much at all.
    Which one of you thinks so highly of yourself that you thought this would be a good marketing strategy?

  • markyd

    Seems an odd marketing strategy for a documentary. Is this a desperate attempt to actually get people interested in seeing a documentary? They generally don’t do that well.
    No way I would see this without knowing what it’s actually about.
    I wonder how a doc could justify such a tactic. Spoil the film?
    This sounds like a bait and switch to me.

  • If the film is a real documentary, then this marketing is unbelievably annoying. I agree with markyd above: I’m not going into a multiplex without knowing generally what the film is about. And besides, if they made a film that was really powerful and was critical to today’s society in any way at all, it would be a bad idea to keep it secret. Look at Michael Moore: his films are strikingly biased and divisive regarding current events, but that’s the point: he wants you to know that it’s controversial because then you’ll be drawn into watching it. I think mystery is more effective for narrative films. Most people don’t even care about documentaries anyway, now you want them to not know about in the first place? Then why should they be interested?

    Just watched a trailer online, which makes it look highly interesting and entertaining. That makes this marketing truly annoying: if you’ve got a great film, why the mystery?

  • Ide Cyan

    I’ve just read spoilers for the whole film. *shrugs* Not that I’d’ve been that likely to see it anyway, but that’s a marketing campaign better suited to the state of communications that were available when Hitchcock used it for Psycho than today.

  • Pollas

    They don’t want to talk about it? Fine, then I definitely won’t see it. My curiosity is peaked, but not enough to go see the movie to find out. I can just wait until it comes out and people start talking about it.

  • SaintAndy

    [SPOILERS — added by maj. Please don’t spoil this film!]

    There still seems to be a debate as to whether this is really a documentary. Apparently, the studio releasing it is calling this a “reality thriller”, which would imply that it’s a mock documentary.

    Anyway, it better be a great piece of film making, well put together and smartly edited, because otherwise, given what the twist is (thanks, imdb posters!) this film looks like nothing special.
    Even without reading the spoilers at imdb, isn’t it kind of late to be discussing obvious things such as: do not trust people you meet online, particularly when it comes to who they claim they are? Like..seriously? Are you telling me that the hot model on Facebook might be a 43 year old divorced man? Wow, who would’ve thought?

    As to the marketing campaign, it’s annoying .. I understand independent films need to find a gimmick to get promoted, because the people involved don’t have huge publicity budgets, but…this ..is just annoying.

    On an unrelated topic…MaryAnn, WHEN are you going to review Sherlock? It’s fantastic, and so Doctor Who-ish that you’ll probably love every minute of it. Also, the dvd of the series contains the unaired pilot, and it’s fascinating to compare the two versions..it reveals a lot about what it takes to create a successful series..and how difficult it is to strike the right tone from the beginning…and also fascinating to see how an actor can play two very different variations of the same character…although he uses the exact same lines.

  • char

    I don’t like being marketted to at all, particularly when it comes to stuff like movies and music and books. I prefer to hear about awesome stuff from friends, who recommend things to see/listen to/read because they know me, know what I like and what I don’t like, and think I’ll genuinely enjoy it.

    To me most marketting reeks of “You might enjoy this, and who cares if you don’t; we still have your money.”

  • [SPOILERS! Seriously, guys: don’t spoil! –maj]

    We usually get this type of campaign with either horror films like The Sixth Sense (of course, “don’t reveal the ending” was already a cliche of movie PR campaign long before The Sixth Sense) or gay-themed thrillers like The Crying Game.

    More often than not, it’s an indication that whether the mystery is about wouldn’t be all that interesting if it were not shrouded in mystery.

    Either way, life is too short to spend time worrying about it.

    Even without reading the spoilers at imdb, isn’t it kind of late to be discussing obvious things such as: do not trust people you meet online, particularly when it comes to who they claim they are? Like..seriously? Are you telling me that the hot model on Facebook might be a 43 year old divorced man? Wow, who would’ve thought?

    Wow! That’s the twist? Wasn’t that twist already a bit old when they made Perfect Stranger in 2007? And Closer in 2004? Hell, wasn’t that already a cliche when Gillian Anderson was still able to film The X-Files without worrying about child care?

    Of course, it usually doesn’t matter where you get your ideas from as much as what you do with them. But I get the feeling they didn’t do anything particularly original or there wouldn’t be this big mystery.

    After all, bad movies like to play up the “it’s all a big mystery” angle too.

  • CB

    Meh. It could go both ways.

    “What is the Matrix?” was a brilliant ad campaign for a brilliant movie.

    “The first rule of Catfish movie is you don’t talk about Catfish movie” doesn’t instill me with confidence though.

  • Just read spoilers on IMDB. As I suspected: Doesn’t have anything interesting or unique to say, but they want you to think it does by keeping it a mystery. So annoying.

  • Dokeo

    Here’s the thing, though – marketing doesn’t have to be un-annoying to work. Look: here we all are reading about Catfish and its annoying marketing campaign, wondering what Catfish is or is about, thinking about what Catfish might be, Googling Catfish, commenting on the annoying marketing campaign and causing others to wonder, think and Google.

    Documentaries aren’t typically blockbusters: it’s hard to get people’s attention with a small film that doesn’t have a gazillion dollars and a major studio pushing it. So you do something that catches people’s attention, that gets people to search out what it’s about. Anyone who isn’t interested in what they find isn’t going to see it. But they already weren’t going to see it. Some of the people who check it out will be interested, though…and some of them will go to the movie.

    So if you can get your annoying marketing campaign to go viral and get lots of people to at least check it out, you’re probably going to come out ahead of were you would have with an earnest trailer showing in art house theaters. I’d call this an effectiveness win.

  • Orangutan

    It’s having the opposite intended effect on me, though. I normally try to avoid spoilers like crazy, but this whole campaign? Makes me REALLY want to find out what it’s about and what the spoiler is, and then not see it at all to spite them.

  • EZ

    The only thing I’ve heard about it is that it is not a documentary. “And don’t believe otherwise” was added by a friend who works in the industry.

    I still don’t know what it is. But I know what it isn’t.

  • MaryAnn

    I still don’t know what it is. But I know what it isn’t.

    And you believe your friend? How does your friend know for certain what’s going on?

    As I suspected: Doesn’t have anything interesting or unique to say, but they want you to think it does by keeping it a mystery. So annoying.

    I think it does have interesting and unique things to say.

    On an unrelated topic…MaryAnn, WHEN are you going to review Sherlock? It’s fantastic, and so Doctor Who-ish that you’ll probably love every minute of it.

    I have seen it, and I do love it. I just haven’t had time to write about it yet. I hope to get to it soon.

    Also, the dvd of the series contains the unaired pilot, and it’s fascinating to compare the two versions..

    I’m sure it will be. But since the DVD was only released on Monday, and couldn’t possibly have arrived in the U.S. yet, I’m still waiting to see that. :->

  • JoshDM

    They don’t want to talk about it? Fine, then I definitely won’t see it. My curiosity is peaked

    It’s piqued. Info.

    Sorry, pet peeve.

    After viewing the trailer, I decided I would likely fast-forward through the film if I saw it (a new habit I’ve picked up), so I read the film spoiler instead, and can accept that I don’t need to watch it. I did, however, require this post to understand the film title.

  • RogerBW

    Thoroughgoing meh here. If knowing about the film will ruin its impact, it’s a film that’s only worth watching once. If it can’t stand up to repeat viewing, what’s the point of watching it at all? There’s plenty of film out there that’s good enough that it can stand up to repeat viewing.

    Experience also tells me that the more “clever” the advertising, the less good the product is likely to be.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    I think it does have interesting and unique things to say.

    Then the marketing campaign is the movie’s worst enemy, isn’t it? If a movie has a familiar plot (for want of a better word) but an interesting and unusual point of view, they should be pushing it as the talking-point movie of the summer, the thing that you’re all going to be arguing about and picking apart. Putting all the weight on the twist seems suicidal, if only because, as has been noted above, people will probably just go to a spoiler site to find out about it.

  • markyd

    If it can’t stand up to repeat viewing, what’s the point of watching it at all? There’s plenty of film out there that’s good enough that it can stand up to repeat viewing.

    I never understood this argument. The great majority of movies I see, I will never see again. Even some of my favorite movies of all time have only been watched once. Who has time to be re-watching all these movies? I’d rather see something new.
    There are exceptions, of course(I’m looking at you, The Princess Bride).

  • Fuggle

    I’ve never heard about this before, and I:

    *Am pondering this idea that “no publicity is bad publicity”, because it makes me be LESS interested in this product in any way that gives them money, while at the same time

    *somewhat interested to find out what it’s about – on the internet.

    This not only makes me want to see the movie, rather than go see it, it also makes me have a negative opinion towards the filmmakers.

    And if I didn’t have the internet? I’d shrug and let it be a mystery until I could ask someone.

    And having found what might be the case for what there is to talk about (if Wikipedia is to be believed), it doesn’t seem like it has much new to say. Though I guess -how- it says it in the movie might play a big part of it, I agree with previous posters that if you want to communicate something this is the wrong way to go and do it, especially in this modern era.

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