Only Gumshoes Can See This Movie

Buzz Proliferates After Mysterious Trailer for Film From 'Lost' Creator

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Hollywood has always had chutzpah, but the most recent work from "Lost" creator J.J. Abrams may represent the ultimate in outsourcing: We, the moviegoing public, are now responsible for finding out what a movie is about. Isn't that what marketing departments are for?
Photo: Dan Herrick

'Lost' creator J.J. Abrams

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Two weeks ago, moments before the opening credits of Michael Bay's summer blockbuster "Transformers," audiences were exposed -- and exposed seems the right term for a viral-marketing campaign -- to a recondite trailer for another Paramount film, one produced by Mr. Abrams.

In it, a surprise bon voyage soiree in New York City is rudely interrupted by a distant explosion and an ominous groan. The 20-something hipsters frantically run into Gotham's streets to investigate, but they're nearly bowled over by the severed head of the Statue of Liberty, caroming off a nearby skyscraper like a Brunswick Fury Pearl taking down a recalcitrant 10-pin.

The credits flash, and a release date appears: In theaters 1-18-08.

That's it. No title. No recognizable stars.

No YouTube
Audiences erupted in applause. YouTube was quickly infected. Within hours, Paramount, feigning horror, had its killer lawyers demand the ubiquitous and mysterious "Cloverfield" trailer be quarantined, citing copyright infringement.

The result has been exactly what the studio and Mr. Abrams must have been hoping for: a worldwide (or at least, a worldwide-web-wide) dissection of the trailer, repeating endlessly before the hoi polloi. Instantly, it became the Zapruder film of geekdom. Conspiracy theories abounded, and grassy knolls were identified: Much online speculation centered on, a site that was part of the movie's nascent online mythology.

It wasn't, or so Mr. Abrams himself claimed when he surfaced to tell fanboy site Ain't It Cool News that the "official" site for the movie is Visitors to that site find what appear to be time-stamped stills from the movie. Mr. Abrams did say, however, that there were other sites to be found.

The man himself
Who cut the "Cloverfield" trailer? Paramount isn't saying. Execs at and spokesmen for the studio did not return calls seeking comment. But a person at a postproduction house that works closely with Paramount on all its trailers told Ad Age that the trailer "came out of left field for all of us" and that the consensus was Mr. Abrams had cut the trailer himself.

The trailer-house insider was puzzled by the lack of clear branding on the untitled film. "We try and push the title of the movie [in a trailer], so people will associate the 'Wow!' experience with the movie. I don't know if this will backfire or not."

Whatever the case, "Cloverfield" is clearly an initiative that will require constant feeding with new, related websites -- such as, perhaps, The Slusho name appears on a T-shirt in the "Cloverfield" trailer. Whether it's a fluke or germane is anyone's guess.

Keeping an eye out
And so, rival studios are also watching "Cloverfield" -- if that is, in fact, its title -- with abounding interest.

Said Doug Neil, senior VP-digital marketing at Universal Pictures, "We like our materials to always be on-message. There's always a risk if fans are discovering that [message] on their own."

Whether viral marketing grants Hollywood immunity from clutter or becomes a pox on its house remains to be seen, but one thing seems clear: Even in an age of media overload, Mr. Abrams' latest message is anything but "Lost."
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