Click here to read part one of this blog series!
Social Media – An Abundant Toolbox for Simplicity and Toxicity
In my last blog post, I gave a brief overview of the fast paced nature of social media and how it’s shaped the way we consume and react to content. Continuing on from this conversation, I want to now take a look at how social media is directly impacting the film industry, specifically film production.
There are several ways that social media has become a tool for film studios and their respective actors. One way that social media has changed production is that actors can now be found online, rather that through the traditional audition channels. For example, Blake Cooper was cast as Chuck in The Maze Runner (2014) through twitter after fans campaigned to get him an audition by making fan art and contacting the director, Wes Ball. We have also seen the reverse of this, when the widespread backlash that actors have received due to their characters in films.
Franchise films with large fanbases have had a long history of toxic behaviour. Newer installments of beloved film series’ have introduced new characters to their world, and because hollywood is increasingly becoming more diverse, these characters are often people of colour. While it goes without saying that not all members of any given ‘fandom’ participate in these toxic behaviours, actors often fall victim to hateful, racist abuse from disappointed fans. Actresses Kelly Marie Tran and Leslie Jones have spoken out against the online abuse they received after portraying their respective characters in the Star Wars Franchise and Ghostbusters (2016).
The Benefits of Backlash
In my last post, I gave a shallow explanation of social media being a marketing tool for the film industry. But what happens when a film is promoted on social media, and audiences don’t like what they see? The biggest example of this is when Paramount Pictures released the first trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog in 2019. Understandably, there was widespread backlash following this release regarding the design of Sonic, which resulted in the studio pushing the release date of the film in order to redesign the character.
This redesign was undoubtedly a good thing. The Sonic in the latest film release looks far more akin to the video game design of the character (which raises questions as to why they couldn’t just design him like that in the first place but what’s done is done). On a smaller scale, there was a similar reaction to the initial character design of Alita in Alita: Battle Angel (2019). The character’s eyes were slightly adjusted and her skin was given a softer, more realistic texture.
Both of these experiences provide film studios with valuable feedback on the nature of social media and the importance of gaining approval from audiences. As a result, I believe film studios will continue to lean into this consumer input to gain positive word-of-mouth and ensure the film’s success, rather than risk facing the consequences of consumer backlash. We will see more films that pertain to the consumers needs and wants. The steady evolution of CGI technology and it’s integration in films allows for film studios to completely restructure and redesign films based on consumer input. As a result, it is fair to say that films will integrate more CG technology to emulate realistic environments rather than just fantastical scenarios, as we saw with The Lion King (2019).
The Digital Revolution
We have already seen the use of CGI actors to fill the role of actors who have passed away. This technology has been used in several Star Wars films to recreate past characters and ensure that the chronology of the Star Wars universe remains intact, and it was also used to bring a close to Paul Walker’s character in The Fast and The Furious franchise after his untimely death. While those actors were computer generated to reprise roles they had previously played, this technology has evolved to a CG James Dean now being cast in a brand new role in Finding Jack which is currently in production.
While there a will always be an audience that craves more practical and authentic experience (as theatre has never gone out of fashion), we have seen a steady integration of CGI technology in films over the past few decades. Whether consumers want it or not, they have inadvertently created a world where it seems easier and safer for film makers to lean on CGI technologies to allow for adjustments to be made, ensuring they keep audiences happy and their pockets full. These films take time, and we may not see the complete rise of these kinds of films in the short term future, perhaps we can envision a future where entire CGI films normalised by 2050. A world where actors will now be computer generated and historical figures can essentially play themselves in biopics; where actors will no longer have to face consumer backlash, and where franchises can keep being produced for as long as the story calls for, rather than halted due to an actor’s demise.
For my final thoughts on the future of social media’s impact on the film industry, click here to read the third installment of this blog series.
Jacobs, J S 2014, “Born To Maze Run” Pop Entertainment Archives, weblog post, 4 October, updated 24 April 2020, viewed 13 May 2021 <https://www.popentertainmentarchives.com/post/blake-cooper-born-to-maze-run
Christie, V 2018 “Kelly Marie Tran Breaks Her Silence on the Online Harassment That Led Her to Quit Social Media” Flare, weblog post, 22 August, viewed 15 May 2021<https://www.flare.com/news/star-wars-kelly-marie-tran-social-media/
Lee, C 2020 “Beyond the Creepy Teeth: How Sonic the Hedgehog Saved Itself” Vulture, weblog post, 14 February, viewed 16 May 2021 <https://www.vulture.com/2020/02/the-sonic-the-hedgehog-controversy-and-redesign-explained.html
Fowler, J 2019, “Thank you for the support.” Twitter, viewed 15 May 2021 <https://twitter.com/fowltown/status/1124056098925944832
Acuna, K 2020 “How the first trailer for ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ caused the design of the main character’s eye to change after criticism” Insider, 13 January, viewed 13 May 2021 <https://www.insider.com/alita-battle-angel-how-eye-design-changed-after-first-trailer
Eagan, O 2017 “Twitter Shows Influence of Buzz on Movies” International Journal of Interdisciplinary Research <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330015918_Twitter_Shows_Influence_of_Buzz_on_Movies
Guerrasio, J 2017 “The actor behind the CGI Tarkin in ‘Rogue One’ tells us how he created the character” Business Insider, 10 January, viewed 16 May 2021 <https://www.businessinsider.com.au/cgi-moff-tarkin-rogue-one-guy-henry-2017-1?r=US&IR=T
Deruvo, J 2020 “Furious 7: Which Brian O’Conner Scenes Weren’t Paul Walker” Screen Rant, weblog post, 8 April, viewed 16 May 2021 <https://screenrant.com/furious-7-brian-scenes-not-paul-walker-brothers/
Alexander, J 2019 “James Dean, who died in 1955, just landed a new movie role, thanks to CGI” The Verge, weblog post, 6 November, viewed 16 May 2021 <https://www.theverge.com/2019/11/6/20951485/james-dean-new-movie-cgi-recreation-finding-jack