If you haven’t heard about Eli Roth’s new movie, The Green Inferno, it’s probably because he didn’t need you to. And even if you don’t like R-rated cannibal horror that recalls 1970s Italian splatter cinema, you should probably root for the movie to succeed. It could be a make or break moment for the future of independent film.
To understand why that’s true—to understand how a movie about people eating and torturing each other in the South American rainforest can effect anyone besides a few reprehensibly blood-lusty Roth fans—we need to go back in time. At this year’s South by Southwest, writer/actor/director/mogul/savior Mark Duplass was tapped to deliver the keynote address. During the hour-long address he repeated one line over and over again: “The cavalry is not coming.” The industry, he warned, was no longer equipped to sponsor and/or support young talent the way it did for, say, a young Quentin Tarantino in the age of Reservoir Dogs.
The Green Inferno could be a make or break moment for the future of independent film.
But after offering a litany of warnings about the dire state of indie movies, Duplass finally delivered some relief: “The good news is, who gives a fuck about the cavalry? Because now you are the cavalry.”
And thus we circle back to Eli Roth, whose latest gore fest is using heavy data mining and targeted marketing to most efficiently tease out the optimal market for his unique brand of cinematic experience. Where Mark Duplass and his brother Jay operate using the “available materials school of filmmaking” with a focus on alternative distribution channels like Netflix, Roth’s approach is to use 2015 technology to optimize box office returns by keeping marketing costs as low as possible.
“The low-end releases are $30 to $35 million,” says Roth. “We have $8 million, and that’s to put the movie in theaters, do the posters, cut all the clips. Everything.”
The point is this: Roth and his marketing partners at Blumhouse Productions want to prove that spending $30 million to tell everyone your movie exists is a waste when you can spend a lot less and make sure just the right people know it does. “In today’s world, the worst thing you can do, the stupidest way to try and reach an audience, is to spend millions and millions and millions of dollars blasting everywhere,” Roth says, “because you’re just making more noise and you’re not hitting your audience.”
To hit that audience, Roth is bolstering theatrical performance by adjusting to real-time consumer sentiment. To make sure Inferno’s box office future doesn’t die on the side of a bus, he and his partners are using data to tell him where promotional content should be aimed. There are, after all, more than a billion users just on Facebook who have turned the service into the most incredible reserve of personal information the world has ever seen.
“Everything that we are doing informs who we market to next. We are letting the data tell us who’s responding,” says Roth. “Like, OK, we know we’ve got the males. The horror fans are going crazy, but as a test we tested against Selena Gomez’s audience and Taylor Swift’s, just to see, we found teenage girls went crazy for the hardcore gory clips. It wouldn’t have been my intuitive pairing, but the data is telling us that the audience is going insane for it. So we can now retarget spots and redirect.”
Everything that we are doing informs who we market to next. We are letting the data tell us who's responding. Eli Roth
Aiding Roth in this venture are few key players. First, there’s the horror juggernaut Blumhouse, and more specifically it’s new offshoot BH Tilt. Tilt has been tasked with “shaking up distributing and marketing approaches,” according to a recent Variety story, and it’s on a path to revitalize the mid-market genre film business by moving away from old models of audience tracking and towards hyper-focused digital sleuthing. Instead of using the Nielsen Research Group model, where a bunch of people watch a rough cut and tell NRG what they think, Roth and Tilt just look at the data. The old method, Roth says, is “the most arcane, dinosaur process. … It’s like we’re on an iPhone and they’re on an Abacus.”
Roth is kind of right. Using “20 people on a random Wednesday night” as a facsimile for the entire movie viewing public seems ridiculous when you’ve got the entire Internet at your disposal to ask instead.
And getting the internet to engage with Roth’s movie is the job of the director’s other key collaborator: Crypt TV. Roth and Crypt TV CEO Jack Davis started the company after realizing there was a vacuum in the digital horror space and deciding to fill it. Crypt is now accessible through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat and it’s an outlet for updates about horror-related news as well as original video content with recurring mini-shows like Drug Deals and One-Minute Horror. The videos are funny or gruesome or scary (or all three) and they function as both stand-alone entertainment as well as clever marketing tools.
“We have our tracking pixel on all those sites. When we put a piece of content out we can see exactly who is watching so we can hyper-target those groups so they buy the [intellectual property], and then we can maybe convert that IP into something bigger,” says Davis. “We make high quality genre IP that can live on and potentially grow past digital.”
When you combine zeal of the entertainment industry with the vernacular and thought processes of Silicon Valley, you get a lot of jargon, but what Davis is ultimately saying is that Crypt TV is a place for the digital seeds of an idea to be planted so that they might grow into larger film or TV ventures. Or, when you’re Eli Roth and you own Crypt TV and direct a movie like Green Inferno, you can use your “original for digital” platform as a testing and promotional tool for your feature film. In other words: integrated marketing.
“We have a show called Drug Deals. That’s a dark, kind of an edgy comedy, and we did a Green Inferno one where they get a strain of weed called the Green Inferno and just organically it got half a million views,” says Roth.
The Green Inferno short, if you’re into that kind of thing, is actually pretty funny. A few average 20-somethings buy weed from a quirky dealer that comes from a strain supposedly farmed by a cannibal tribe in the Amazon jungle—just like the one you’ll find in the movie Green Inferno. It doesn’t feel like product placement because the content on Crypt TV traffics in exactly what the movie is selling—and you see an inoffensive title card with a release date for Inferno at the end of the video.
It’s a legitimate creative endeavor, but it’s also sponsored content. When the clip performed well, Roth and BH Tilt could see who was watching it, how much of it they watched and who the high-value users were that liked it, shared it, and commented on it. Then they could re-invest in the highest level engagers and funnel promotional dollars into making sure they got more of the right content, which could then theoretically be passed onto friends with similar interests.
“With $10 we can really see in like a 12 or 24 hour period whether it was males or females, or by interest groups like people that like Danny Trejo or Quentin Tarantino,” says Roth. “We have their data so let’s retarget the people that have liked the Facebook groups. The people that responded, we can tell they like Gossip Girl. They like all this different stuff I could have never anticipated. So you’re just listening to the data. Our goal is to only reach people that are interested.”
And then once they know who they are looking for and what they want to see, the Blumhouse team knows what kind of trailers to cut and where to direct them.
If this movie makes $10 million then everyone is doing really well and then we can do another one—that’s the idea! Eli Roth
Like we said before, whether or not you’re a fan of what Eli Roth is selling is beside the point. The point is that if you are a fan, you should have received many tailored updates by now about Green Inferno and where it’s playing and how you can see it. The campaign for Inferno is a beta test for a digital marketing strategy that says $5 million movies from any genre can be profitable business moves thanks to streamlined advertising budgets that necessitate lower box office returns to make money.
And Mark Duplass wasn’t kidding when he said studios won’t be rushing to the aid of indie filmmakers. In some cases, they might even be hurting them. One of the storylines that came out of the Toronto International Film Festival two weeks ago was that buyers might be more hesitant to purchase mid-level indies thanks to the “failure” of buzz-heavy movies that came out of Sundance, with entries like Dope and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl cited as examples. Considering the size of those movies and their lack of star power, they actually did very well in theaters, making $18 million and $7 million, respectively. But because they got snatched up for relatively massive sums—remember, these are independent films, not The Martian—these niche market movies are suddenly expected to open at $20 million dollars if they want to make back their money for studios who thought bidding wars were a good idea.
“If this movie makes $10 million then everyone is doing really well and then we can do another one—that’s the idea!” says Roth. “It’s very hard making independent films for money. So if this works with Green Inferno it can really open the door. Because why put an ad on the Kardashians if most of the people watching don’t want to see it?”
So whether you are going to spend this weekend finding a theater that plays Green Inferno or keeping up with the Kardashians or—in a surprise demographic shift—finding time to do both, just think about all those Facebook ads that popped up in the last six months. You probably didn’t realize you were clicking past the possible White Knight of independent filmmaking.Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.