In the messages, Mr. Jackson, in badass FBI character mode, tells people to turn out for the Aug. 18 release. It launched early this week with no marketing or promotional fanfare.
200 calls a minute
Devotees of the film's well-trafficked website found the new interactive feature and started using it, loading it up with such volume that it slowed to a crawl yesterday. It was fully functioning a short time later, logging some 14,000 calls an hour, more than 200 a minute.
Marketing for the "Snakes" calls, including some high-profile MTV mentions, is expected to start immediately.
The calls are the latest in a long line of interactive programs developed by Time Warner's New Line Cinema, which created extensive web-based promotions around "Snakes" that have now reached far beyond the early-adopter geek crowd that initially embraced them.
Fans, none of whom have actually seen the movie yet, have taken such an active role in "Snakes" that one of its producers has called them "co-creators." It was fans who demanded more action -- resulting in five additional days of shooting after the production had wrapped and the movie's switch from a relatively tame PG-13 into grittier R-rated fare -- and for Mr. Jackson to utter the line that has become the movie's over-the-top catchphrase: "That's it! I've had it with these motherf---in' snakes on this motherf---in' plane!"
An online contest with TagWorld picked the theme song of the film, Cobra Starship's "Snakes on a Plane (Bring It)," which is getting heavy airplay on mainstream radio stations and is one of Billboard's Top 100 singles. Its music video, with an appearance by Mr. Jackson, is in heavy rotation on MTV.
A rare quality for movie execs
New Line executives and the filmmakers have shown a rare quality in Hollywood -- the willingness to let audiences mess with an intellectual property through parody, satire and imitation. In fact, they've stoked the participation because they've said that the, ahem, high-concept movie, in which 500 deadly snakes are let loose in a plane flying from Hawaii to California, is suited for such audience interaction.
"We've benefited from this volunteer marketing legion," said Gordon Paddison, New Line's exec VP-new media marketing. "We decided to embrace these do-it-yourselfers."
The "Snakes" phenom has been building for nearly a year. The official website has logged more than 2.5 million visits, many of those prior to the launch of any paid media. The property has generated 25,000 blog references, 4,000 fan-generated products and 320 YouTube videos.
It's still to be determined if the bottom line will move because of all the pre-release attention.
The "Snakes" customized phone calls, through a partnership with VariTalk, work like this: People go to snakesonaplane.com and put in the information for a call to a co-worker, friend or family member. Pre-recorded audio bits allow Mr. Jackson to say the person's name, along with a few details like what that person does for a living (like "sucking up to the boss") and what kind of car they drive.
During the call, a vitriolic Mr. Jackson says "Snakes" "might be the best motion picture ever made," and calls it "the one summer blockbuster that will take a big nasty bite out of your butt."
Massive in-theater participation
The studio just launched another web feature that allows fans to write an online script for in-theater viewing, similar to the old "Rocky Horror Picture Show," that's aiming for massive audience participation. The promotion encourages people to organize viewing parties and lists theaters where special events are planned around the movie.
"Snakes" is designed for communal viewing at a time when it's increasingly difficult to get young audiences, particularly young males, into the multiplex, Mr. Paddison said.
The studio is launching a licensing program in which it will pay fans for their designs, a move that's unprecedented. Consumers can create their own "Snakes"-themed products, sell those through New Line partner Cafe Press and pocket the cash. If New Line wants to use some of those original designs, the studio will pay a licensing fee to the creator, who will then share in any sales revenues.
In another nod to the fans, the studio has decided not to screen the film for critics, an increasingly common tactic in Hollywood, choosing instead to have a "fan appreciation" showing on Aug. 17. That same night, there will be 10 p.m. and midnight showings of the movie at theaters around the country.