Channing Tatum, Kurt Russell and movie stars of today and yesteryear are no longer just actors, but marketers as well.
At the fourth-annual Produced By conference on Saturday, Hollywood agents, marketing executives, financiers and other industry experts stressed that filmmakers and actors have no choice but to get involved from start to finish in a project, especially when it comes to marketing.
"If there's an actor who won't pump a movie, he won't get as much work," Jay Cohen, a partner at the Gersh Agency, told the audience at a panel about digital cinema.
Studios have always used stars to promote films, but in the age of social media, the methods of promotion have diversified, increasing the demands on many actors.
A decade ago, stars like Al Pacino or Kurt Russell often resisted showing up at a theater for a movie opening – let alone tweeting their whereabouts.
That star attitude is now outdated, as studios look for any way to build a dedicated audience.
"You need to set a film up with a community that wants to own it," Dwight Caines, President of Worldwide Digital Marketing for host studio Sony, told an audience at a marketing-focused panel. "The myth is that a movie happens so fast you can start later. You need to start when you're casting, trying to find ownership of an audience when a script is greenlit. It's hard to compete with so many choices for consumers."
Caines cited two examples from his studio's slate this year – "21 Jump Street" and "Think Like a Man."
For "Jump Street," Sony staged a contest on Twitter between stars Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill to gain the most followers over a set period of time. The winner would release the trailer on Facebook.
Hill won, but overslept on the day he was supposed to post the trailer. The studio tracked him down and got the trailer up.
"It aligned fans with one of stars," Caines said. "It made people talk about the trailer and shaped conversation to make people say what you want them to say without giving them the words."
On the same panel, Lady Gaga's manager Troy Carter echoed Caines' sentiment about initiating the campaign early, noting that it took Lady Gaga time to amass her massive cadre of followers.
"Can you get an audience of 100 people to engage around casting where they feel they have a seat at the table?" Carter asked.
He also cited "Think Like a Man," which has now taken in more than $90 million at the box office, and the involvement of star Kevin Hart.
"You watch Kevin Hart engage the audience very early on in process and even before the trailer you were familiar. You felt like you were involved in the process," Carter said. "I do the same with artists."
Hart plugged the movie everywhere he could, including a series of spots linked with the NBA. He also tweeted early and often, and the cast later appeared at theaters showing the film.
That is an approach Kevin Smith has embraced, and will do so again with "Bindlestiffs," a film being released under his SModcast Pictures Presents banner later in June. Smith, along with filmmakers Andrew Edison and Luke Loftin, will host question and answer sessions at four theaters across the country.
This all points to a new level of commitment actors must show. No longer is showing up to the set enough.
'Filmmakers understand they and everyone in the process needs to take part," said Kevin Iwashina, managing partner of Preferred Content. "Everyone from the producer to the filmmaker to the actor is involved beginning to end."