Graphic Film Festival Promo Engages the Emotions

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See the Light

The Objective: Not for the faint of heart, creative agency RPA's most recent multimedia campaign for the Newport Beach Film Festival aims to position the annual event as avant-garde versus the more established festivals out there. The aim is to “create a brand story that's different from Sundance or Tribeca,” says Scott McDonald, VP and creative director at RPA. The festival runs between April 25 and May 2 this year in eponymous Newport Beach, CA.

“We can do things that a Sundance can't do based on our history of pushing the envelope,” McDonald says. “We weren't capable of the same kind of crowd as you might find in Hollywood up the street, so we created a brand that was sort of eccentric, a little self-effacing, and edgy.”

The Creative: The centerpiece of the campaign is a short film entitled Mandible [Note: potentially NSFW and viewer discretion is advised; see above for the preview], which tells the story of a demented dentist and his sadistic assistant whose obsession with flossing takes a disastrous turn for one unfortunate patient. At the end of a rather disturbing torture sequence right out of Marathon Man, the dentist, standing above his now disfigured patient, addresses the audience with the words: “Are you repelled? Appalled? Amazed? Amused? We're particles of light on the screen, but we can make you feel anything.”

With a script by Two and a Half Men writer Lee Aronsohn and photography by Academy Award-winning Robert Richardson (he was most recently nominated for Django Unchained), the short film centers on the idea that something as ephemeral as particles of light—for that's all a film really is—still has the ability to play with an audience's emotions like putty, says Erich Joiner, who co-directed the film, mostly pro bono, through his production house, Tool of North America, which is also responsible for 2011's supremely creepy “Take this lollipop” spot.

“To show the power of the medium of filmmaking, this film had to be strong,” says Joiner, who has collaborated with RPA on promo films for the Newport Festival for the past four years. “The mantra between us all here is we want people to literally turn away from the screen and be horrified, but we don't want them to walk out of the theater.”

The Customer View: One Facebook user briefly summed up her reaction, dubbing the short film “INTENSE!” while another declared: “holy s**t that was disturbing.” One YouTube viewer wrote, “I'm going to floss right now.”

The film is polarizing, says RPA's McDonald, who isn't surprised at the variety of reactions.

“It's a piece of art, and with art, some people feel the experience is valid and some might not,” he says. “With a piece like this, some people might think we went too far, others will applaud us for how far we went, and some people will wish we went further.”

The Channels: In addition to Mandible, which RPA distributed on YouTube and via other social channels, the agency created collateral for billboards and bus shelters in the LA and Orange County markets, as well as newspaper ads in area publications and in Esquire. Additionally, RPA designed a series of Vines—basically six-second long looping videos along the lines of GIFs for social media—with references to the “Particles of light” messaging.

Mandible will also be screened before many—but not all—of the films at the festival itself.

“It's going to be targeted by audience,” says Joiner. “You don't want to play it and scare the heck out of some poor person who just came to the festival to see a romantic comedy!”

The Results: While the 2012 RPA/Tool spot brought in a little over 60,000 views in about a year, Mandible's YouTube count was at more than 24,000 is less than a week—and growing. Festival attendance has continued to increase each year, from 51,500 in 2010, to 52,000 in 2011, to 53,000 in 2012, and the buzz around the short film can only bode well for attendance this year.

The Takeaway: As a piece of content marketing, Mandible is an excellent specimen—when you strip away the branding, it's still a quality piece of sharable content.

“Whether it's Chevrolet or Coke, brands want to surround consumers and they know that just putting up a 30- or 60-second roadblock in front of a TV show or a sporting event isn't going to do that,” Joiner says. “And with that in mind you have to step back to look at your message and ask, ‘Is this also entertainment?'”


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