Ten years ago, The Blair Witch Project terrified web surfers (and hogged all their family's bandwidth!) with its clever and comprehensive tie-in website. Police photos, archived video, and historical documents all helped bring the story to vivid life and drummed up interest in the movie well in advance of its release. We all know the result: $249 million at the worldwide box office, a sequel, and a never-ending parade of mucus-y “I'm so scared!” spoofs. Not too shabby!
Today, the kind of viral marketing made popular by Blair Witch is old hat – almost every film, big and small, has an online counterpart launched months before it hits theaters. And the features offered have only gotten more inventive: The Simpsons Movie encouraged fans to “Simpsonize” themselves into Springfield residents; The Dark Knight invited users to play a scavenger hunt, ultimately revealing new images of The Joker. In each case, the web has offered audiences a new level of involvement with their favorite movies; a World of Warcraft-like interactive experience, just not as sad. (I kid!)
The latest – and perhaps most unlikely – addition to the ranks of web-savvy movies is Judd Apatow's Funny People, which has been absolutely unloading on the Internet these last few months. In the film, Adam Sandler plays an Adam Sandler-ish comedian who learns that he's dying (and then SPOILER ALERT finds out he's actually not dying END SPOILER ALERT). With the help of Seth Rogen, he tries to find closure in his legacy. More like Kind Of Sad People, right?
Whatever shape the movie takes, though, its viral campaign is nothing but hilarious. Treating characters from the film as real-life actors and comedians, Apatow and Co. have launched three websites – one for George Simmons (Sandler), brash stand-up comedian Raaaaaandy (Park and Recreation's Aziz Ansari, pictured), and actor Mark Taylor Jackson (Jason Schwartzman) – that offer movie clips, soundboards, and interviews with completely made up people. The similarity to real-life people and their work is eerily authentic, like Jackson's Yo Teach! sitcom (which totally ran on an alternate-reality NBC) or Simmons' Mer-Man movie (with Elizabeth Banks!). Are they real? Is this reality? The whole campaign is sort of like that movie S1m0ne, only not terrible.
Ansari's Raaaaandy site stands out in particular, an open riff on in-your-face comics like Dane Cook. The meandering stories. The complete non-sequitirs. Watch his “Impressions” video (NSFW) in which he imagines different scenarios for…let's call it “getting a __” and try to keep it together. It's Randy time! How about you, Popwatchers – does this kind of viral promotion get you to the theater? Does it add to the experience…or take something away? Will you be seeing Kind Of Sad People Funny People regardless?