Normally, were such scandalous celeb footage to surface on YouTube or MySpace, studio executives would cringe, agonizing over what new fire the relentless paparazzi from TMZ.com had just lit for their publicity teams to try and douse.
This time, though, it's the studio suits who are the ones doing the leaking. The footage is part of a last-minute viral campaign to goose the tracking numbers on 20th Century Fox's upcoming comedy "What Happens in Vegas," which is set to open wide on May 9.
In "Vegas," Mr. Kutcher and Ms. Diaz play two strangers who, after a booze-soaked bender in Vegas (he's just been fired; she's just been dumped), awaken to discover they've gotten married the night before. Moreover, he's also won a huge jackpot playing the slots with her quarter. Sobriety sets in and, because Nevada is a community-property state, each is soon trying to undermine and con the other into ending the marriage in order to get their hands on the windfall. But, this being a Hollywood comedy, they eventually realize that they're falling for each other. Think of it as "Leaving Las Vegas" meets "The Shop Around the Corner."
If all that sounds a bit juvenile to you, you might have a career in Hollywood market research: One marketing executive who shared Marketcast data on the film said that while it currently enjoys an awareness level of 64% (not bad by Hollywood standards), its "interest" numbers are discouraging, because they skew heavily toward young females to the detriment of most other demographics. Of those aware of the movie, the highest interest levels came from women under 20, 43% of whom said they'd want to see the film.
Not a top three choice
Worse, when those surveyed were asked for their top three choices of movies to see this summer, only 13% of Marketcast respondents named "What Happens in Vegas." Instead, most mentioned blockbusters such as "Indiana Jones" (May 22) or "Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" (May 16). In short, when a film is tracking behind pictures that don't even open until two to three weeks after it does, the studio releasing it has a potentially significant problem.
Complicating matters, Ms. Diaz was forced to skip its press junket last weekend after the sudden death of her father on April 15.
That has not been lost on Fox. The studio hastily cut new TV spots showcasing broader humor that might skew more male, and the planned leak of the illicit "wedding video" may yet stir up interest among heretofore unenthusiastic males.
"The 'wedding video' is only in the actual movie for a little bit, but they shot 10 minutes of footage, and it's fucking hilarious," said Shawn Levy, a producer on "Vegas" who has also directed the comedies "Night at the Museum" and "Cheaper by the Dozen" for Fox. Mr. Levy said it had not been determined where the video would surface online but that it was being turned over to Fox marketing execs.
Can 10 minutes of viral footage turn around a picture's prospects in nine days? Fox must surely hope so, or it too may find itself waking up with a hangover and the vague feeling that it may have done something wrong over the weekend.