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Ridley Scott Teams Up with TED and Why Hollywood (and Independents) Should Take Note

If you haven’t heard of TEDTalks, we’ve covered quite a few of them here before, but now they’ve got a very special talk from a man named Peter Weyland, who happens to be the CEO of Weyland Industries. This a fictional character, of course, played by Guy Pearce, and it’s part of the marketing campaign for Ridley Scott’s “Alien prequel” Prometheus. If you’ve already seen it, good on you, but that’s not really what this post is about. If you’re one of the few people out there who don’t know what Prometheus is, here’s the trailer:

From an image standpoint the film looks absolutely stunning, and I’m sure a major part of that is Director of Photography Dariusz Wolski’s talent and familiarity with the RED workflow – in this case Prometheus is one of the first films shot exclusively on the RED Epic (and also in 3D). But anyway, that’s a topic for another post, and the film will not be released until June.

Here’s the TED clip if you missed it:


Compelling, not unlike many of the TEDTalks I have seen in the past, but obviously with a much, much larger “crowd” in attendance. This video was the brainchild of Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott, and it was directed by Luke Scott (son of Ridley Scott). Lindelof is no stranger to viral marketing, as his series ‘Lost’ had a few different campaigns that were intelligent and engaging. Since Prometheus is a movie about ideas, and since Lindelof is a fan of TEDTalks, he thought it would be a fantastic experiment to see what TED would look like in the future (with a few creative liberties taken), and tie it into the film. In this Q&A, Lindelof talks about his inspiration and how the project came about. Here’s a quote:

No, all scifi starts in some kind of grounded reality that seems familiar, and then the tornado comes and take you into Oz. I feel the same way about a TEDTalk. I know there was some discussion about what the scale of this was going to be. I think that it’s probably out there that TEDTalks are going to be happening in arenas and stadiums in 12 years, but we also thought that a guy like Peter Weyland — whose ego is just massive, and the ideas that he’s advancing are nothing short of hubris — that he’d basically say to TED, “If you want me to give a talk, I’m giving it in Wembley Stadium.” So, he could actually bend the idea of what a TEDTalk is to him. Could you get an arena-level crowd to show up and listen to someone talk about ideas? That to me was the cool step outside the realm that we’re all comfortable knowing.

We already know that there is plenty of product placement in films, but this is another animal entirely. Linedlof and team have done a sort of product placement that is not only intelligent and interesting, but also gives vital details about the movie without spoiling it (not to mention enticing fans). By partnering with TED, the video is more or less grounded in reality, and it doesn’t feel like simply a piece of marketing. Whatever you feel about TED, you can’t deny that they are a benevolent organization and are, in fact, inspiring people every day.

So what Linedlof and the Scotts have done is create a completely plausible universe for Prometheus to exist in, because it’s entirely possible that this TEDTalk could be happening in the near future. This gives the film a different sort of credibility it might not otherwise enjoy. Science fiction is normally fanciful and otherworldly – that’s a given. But there’s a comfort in actually being able to wrap our heads around the ideas and themes of the film in a setting that’s almost familiar – at least familiar enough that we actually care about the words that are being said more than the cool effects and the grandeur happening around Guy Pierce. That’s really what is so impressive to me and why it was a brilliant move to partner with TED. It certainly helps if you already know what TEDTalks are before seeing the video, because you know what to expect: you’re going to hear something you’ve never heard before and you’re going to be taken places in your mind that you probably haven’t experienced before.

This brings me to the real point of all of this: this should be a clue to the rest of Hollywood that there are much better ways to advertise to audiences. The typical big-budget Hollywood film does nothing but bombard viewers with advertisements of all sorts – movie, TV, radio, magazines, billboards. We are beaten over the head senselessly until we’re not even sure why we want to see a film anymore, we just know we have to. Why does it need to be like this? Hollywood is always searching for the largest possible audience for every film and it’s often that they dumb down every piece of promotional material until it’s unbearable. I think Lindelof was on to something in this piece because he’s treating viewers like they have some working brain cells. The video presents actual ideas in a realistic way about a fantastical premise, but it makes me want to hear the rest of the talk. Not only that, but the ideas are presented in a way that I actually want to find out what this whole thing is about and why I should care. Isn’t that really the point then? Don’t treat me like a child and you’ll reel me in, and I’ll be more than happy to talk about it with friends and want to find out as much as I can. I unknowingly become part of your street advertising team because you didn’t pander and you genuinely made me want to tell others and discuss it.

Which is really another reason it was such a great idea to partner with TED. The talks are all about having a discussion, and getting people engaged and enthused. It’s time that the rest of Hollywood take note and stop reaching for the lowest common denominator in every single promotional piece. We see this every day when a brilliant teaser poster is made for a particular film, and then the DVD or Blu Ray comes out and it’s a bunch of big floating heads in generic scenery.

You need to know your audience and figure out a creative way to make them engaged. This is something most independent filmmakers could be doing a lot better. I think for the most part we don’t pander nearly as much as Hollywood does, but that doesn’t mean we are being creative either. If you’re making a tiny film, you’re not going to have the P&A budget that a big blockbuster film is going to have. Figure out a way to creatively engage the potential audience for your film. Partner with an organization or a website – create an entirely different product or service (or anything) that an audience will instinctively pick up on or want to use. It doesn’t have to be directly related to the film you are selling.

Transmedia is a concept that has been discussed many times here as Koo has his own project called 3rd Rail. It’s a fantastic way to engage audiences on different levels without resorting to making them feel like children (unless your actual audience is children). As independents it’s our duty to be more creative than Hollywood when we’re selling our projects – and most of it is out of budget necessity. I think regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, it’s time for movie advertising to start engaging audiences intelligently.

Does anyone have any specific examples of movie advertising or transmedia that engaged or intrigued them?

Links: Peter Weyland: TED 2023

TED Blog Q&A with Damon Lindelof

Weyland Industries

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  • Wow. The promo is nothing short of brilliant. I have nothing else to say on the matter, you’ve covered everything I could possibly say, Joe. Great article. :-)

  • Ahh..confusion. Movie shot on Red and done in 3D by Ridley Scott..but this
    Ted Talk is done by Ridley’s kid…but it’s not real and only 2D…but maybe
    Ted from Red who travels and gives all the Red pep talks makes a cameo ???

    ..Hey Kids…Be sure to Drink Your Ovaltine….Another crummy commercial….thanks..RSA

  • off topic… but

    has anyone else had problems accessing the NFS site recently? I have been getting weird errors and unresponsive pages when I have tried to load NFS.

  • Really good article, Joe. I whole heartedly agree that this should be a clue to the rest of Hollywood. Right now it seems that the advertising isn’t just right in your face, but it’s also terribly planned and executed for the most part. Take the recent release THIS MEANS WAR: marketing push in Jan. with the release date moved to Valentine’s, then just about a week before it’s pushed back a week. Of course it doesn’t do much business with a total haul right now of 41 mil. Probably not even enough to cover two thirds of the marketing. Then there’s the terrible posters we’ve been seeing lately; X-MEN: FIRST CLASS and THE AVENGERS are seriously horrid. Not to mention trailers that follow the same old formulas and give away most of the plot. I seriously wonder who are the guys okaying this shit. But with Ridley back in his element and Lindelof (not Linedlof) getting a considerable amount of work I’m crossing my fingers that others will notice and follow suit…and maybe learn how to use photoshop better too.

  • I hadn’t seen this Ted video and after reading this article, was pretty excited about it. I think it’s a delicious idea, but having seen a lot of Ted talks, this actually didn’t feel like one to me. I think part of the problem is using an established actor, which automatically breaks the illusion. It felt more like a short film, especially with all the camera angles. You could argue, of course, that in 2023 it would be possible to do that in a live talk (as indicating by the floating camera?), but again, this took away from the “real” feel for me. I also think that his acting was a bit too “Hollywood” for me to accept him as a real person. Maybe that was never the intention, but I think it would have made an otherwise awesome idea stronger.

  • thought it was a clip from the film, can’t say no to guy though . . .

  • It´s an amazing viral campaign. Gave away a wee more about the film without actually showing us anything that is in it. I love Ted talks and so does my brother. When I showed this to him we both got pretty excited and it’s true about the public advertising, we have been showing it to everyone.

    I remember the first time I became intrigued by a trailer and spent hours researching it. It was the trailer for Cloverfield. I was so excited to watch this movie but at the end was very disappointed by it.

  • Lliam Worthington on 03.20.12 @ 11:21AM

    Great article.

    You can’t help but feel like this is going to be one of Ridley Scott’s seminal works and that’s an impressive achievement and bloody exciting. I thoroughly agree re creative marketing by independent film makers. It’s an excellent and well made point, and I will be certainly taking this advice on my upcoming feature.

    Cheers Joe

    Best

    Lliam