MIKE MONELLO AND THE WORLD AFTER 'BLAIR WITCH'

Famed Haxan Hoaxers Move Into Branded Entertainment

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Who: Mike Monello, partner in Haxan Films, based in Orlando, Fla.

Age: 35

Credentials: Mr. Monello was director of media and marketing for the Florida
Mike Monello is one of four partners in Haxan Films.

Film Festival and Enzian Theater in Orlando, Fla. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1993 with a bachelors degree in Motion Picture Technology. In 1998, he and three partners started Haxan Films and produced the smash-hit horror film The Blair Witch Project. Since then, the company has produced documentaries, feature films and TV shows as well as branded entertainment projects for clients such as Sega and Sharp. Haxan devised the "Beta 7" Internet hoax to promote Sega's "ESPN NFL Football" video game and is now wrapping up the MoreToSee.com online entertainment mystery project for Sharp's line of LCD televisions.

Where did you guys get the name Haxan?
"Haxan is the name of a Swedish silent film from 1922, a documentary about witchcraft. It had re-creations and a lot of cool special effects for the time. We thought it was a very fitting name for the company to throw a little bit of respect back to the movie."

What are your current branded entertainment projects?
"We just wrapped the narrative portion of [the Sharp project] and it's all been posted. It's written in the form of blogs, journals, commercials, audio, various Web sites and a discussion forum for visitors who come to the site and work together to solve the mystery of the missing urns. [The TV ads tell a snippet of the story and drive viewers to a Web site, www.moretosee.com.] The story is that one of our characters found an urn, these three other characters found a second urn, and from now on it's a promotion wherein the clues are buried in the story and it's up to the audience to find the third urn."

How does a mystery story help people learn about LCD TVs?
"We've developed a narrative that as you go through it, you can't help but learn about the product. One of our goals was to educate people about the difference between LCD and plasma. There was a guy who actually wrote a blog story about the benefit of LCD over plasma. I don't think that guy would have done that if we had sent him an info sheet."

How did you draw attention to the Sharp site?
"There's an aspect of it that's very different from broadcast, where you want to blast [an ad] out and get as many eyeballs on it as possible. We want to put [our site] up there and seed it to the communities who would be most likely interested in what we're doing. We find out where they are and figure out ways to let them know that we're here through paid keyword searches and blog ads. For Sharp, we placed the ads on technology blogs. The ads did not say 'Learn more about Sharp TV.' It was very effective in bringing the right people into the [Sharp mystery story] world. These people are readers and have their own blogs and they are influencers. Most people really love it because they look at it and say, 'Wow, Sharp is actually not pandering to me, it is actually doing something interesting.' "

How can you ever outdo Blair Witch?
"By not trying. It connected and so much of that was hitting the zeitgeist. You can't manufacture that. All you can do is tell a great story. I would never have the expectation of outdoing Blair Witch."

What are you dying to tell advertisers?
"You have to start with the story. If you start with the story, you can be so much more effective without costing an extra dime. Stories are how we relate to the world. And every brand has a story, it's just a matter of finding it."

What's your personal pet project at the moment?
"I'm making a traditional documentary about these guys in Ohio who excavate outhouses to dig up old bottles, and then research them to find out more about the history of the place. It's part archeology, part treasure hunt."
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