Firing off 700-1,000 words about next to nothing is a talent many writers on the internet gladly utilize. ScreenRant, in particular, is remarkably adept at spinning compelling narratives and analysis out of what’s often little more than a picture from the set of a movie which is still filming. For example, why is the Ben Affleck Batman in a car chase with the Margot Robbie Harley Quinn and Jared Leto Joker on the set of The Suicide Squad? Oh, here’s an in-depth history of their comic book history, and a run-down of all the rumors we’ve heard about the script before they ever even cast anyone let alone started filming. Maybe we’ll even mention that time Harley Quinn mucked up a car chase in a classic Batman: The Animated Series episode, angering the Joker so much that he kicked her out of the gang. However, we’ll always end with a reminder that we don’t really know for sure what’s actually going on in the scene we glimpsed, and we’ll simply remind you of the movie’s release date, which in the case of the Suicide Squad is August 5, 2016.
I have done the same kind of reporting multiple times, like when the internet erupted in sarcastic laughter after a picture from the new Terminator movie revealed the studio was seriously running with the subtitle “Genisys,” as if to intentionally inspire a new generation to accidentally misspell the word “genesis” for the rest of their lives. Plus, I have covered plenty of movie rumors, and even today my site still gets daily hits for very old articles breaking down casting announcements for Arrow and The Flash. I’m not naïve about how the internet works. As FilmSchoolRejects argued, “It’s an obsessive beast, perma-hungry for blurry shots of the Batmobile on a surprising set, leaked (and “leaked”) pictures of spandex suits and other tiny reminders that The Next Giant Geeky Thing is being willed into existence as we speak.”
However, once a movie starts filming I tend to back off. I don’t obsessively follow Twitter accounts or Instagram pages through which directors release the now obligatory steady stream of spoiler-y pictures. I didn’t see James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Facebook pictures until after the film came out. I’m not currently obsessing over what Doctor Strange director Scott Derickson meant when he posted a picture of a comic book character who may or may not be introduced in his movie. I’ve largely ignored everything from the set of X-Men: Apocalypse, and in the past couple of weeks I have seen seemingly countless headlines about Suicide Squad photos/videos. Going further back, I didn’t even know that Marc Webb posted pictures from the set every single day during the filming of The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
That’s all because I have been trained my whole entire life to value the power of first impressions films make through official teasers and trailers and officially released posters. That’s when I finally want to see how everything looks. I don’t want to see a street photo of the villain [mild Civil War spoiler] Crossbones from Captain America: Civil War a week into filming nor do I want to see the Batmobile driving at a surprisingly leisurely pace down a busy city street in pursuit of the Joker in Suicide Squad. In reality, the former looks like a guy in a mediocre costume, and the latter like a car strategically maneuvering itself through a controlled atmosphere; in film, Crossbones will probably look awesome, and that Batmobile will look like it’s driving a thousand miles an hour, Batman avoiding wrecks like the badass he is. The artifice of that can come down once I’ve seen the film and own it on home video at which point I can see how everything was made thanks to Blu-Ray bonus features.
But that’s not where things are headed right now. I fear I have become Frank White. He was a former Kansas City Royals second baseman who dreamed of managing at the big league level once his playing career was over. He spent several years managing one of the Royals’ minor league clubs to gain valuable experience, but when the job opened up at the major league level he was passed over for promotion. He immediately retired from managing altogether, ranting to the Kansas City Star about how the young players these days seemed to care more about their video games and iPods and watching video of their previous day’s at-bats than sitting around the clubhouse and playing the cards. The first comment underneath the article backed White’s “kids these days” complaints while the second argued that it actually sounded more like White was out of touch and could not find a way to relate to his players.
Okay, that was a long-winded way of saying maybe I should be obsessively following Twitter and Instagram. Maybe I should be paying closer attention to films which are in production. That’s where a lot of internet traffic is flowing. Plus, while I have only mentioned all of this in relation to big films, in truth on-going social media engagement throughout production can also be the life-force behind smaller films which truly do need to cultivate an audience. As Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse told RogerEbert.com last year, big budget movies operate according to a self-fulfilling prophecy where the sheer act of spending more on a film can sometimes lead to higher revenues. Bigger production and marketing budgets sends certain signals to the marketplace as well as to theaters, the media, and critics, assuring that we’ll “make sure to cover all the big-budget movies that everyone is talking about, thereby giving the ones that were already drawing attention even more of a push.”
So, something like X-Men: Apocalypse does not need the extra push of Bryan Singer releasing photos from the set throughout production as much as indie films like The Big Day and The Last Hurrah need continual social media updates just to let us know that they even exist. Films like those often have a crowdfunding component whereby their audience is also their financier, and that inherently demands a sense of ownership.
It is interesting the way so many big budget movies have taken that principle to heart. They don’t need our money until it’s time to buy a ticket, but they want to indulge our sense of ownership of the characters or franchise. As FSR observed of one famous current example, “Because Deadpool was born from the screaming hot Fallopian tubes of the internet, fans were involved from the very beginning. They kept the movie alive, and the production obliged by dropping polished shots of Reynolds in costume matching the irreverent tone of the character […] You feel less like a target and more like part of the family. You’re involved.”
That sense of being involved can blur boundaries, such as how David Ayer’s brilliant social media manipulation from the moment he was hired to direct Suicide Squad has now resulted in super fans freely snapping photos and taking videos on the set. This led FSR to (jokingly?) argue that the studios might as well bite the bullet and simply start live-streaming productions of all major movies. It could be like a weird Truman Show, “a horrific marathon of interviews with every crew head, lengthy discussions of the inspirations for the film, breakdowns of the comic book series (or YA novel) it was based on, events where fans get to come to set to meet the filmmakers, and, of course, a medium for fans to watch the movie they want to watch being made before they can watch it.” Think of it as a “Making Of” Blu-Ray bonus feature that we’re watching in real time. After all, Suicide Squad is filming right now, but it doesn’t come out for 14 more months. Who has the patience for that anymore?
Ultimately, though, I am reminded of an old Simpsons Halloween special in which all of the advertising mascots in town come to life and wreak havoc. They are ultimately defeated when Lisa enlists a legendary jingle writer who pens a tune convincing the townspeople to simply stop staring at the mascots, “Just don’t look, Just don’t look.” They need attention to survive, and when that is taken away they go back to being inanimate statues. I can continue on mostly ignoring leaked photos and videos from the sets of next year’s big movies, although clearly curiosity gets the better of me sometimes. What about you? How much do you actually want to know about movies while they’re still being filmed? Is it only in extreme situations, like you’ve followed every Star Wars: The Force Awakens rumor and you don’t care what anyone thinks about that because you simply have to know everything about that movie? Or do you rely on trusted pop culture sites to act as a filter for what you need to know and what you don’t? Or do you just sit back and wait for that first teaser to arrive? Let me know in the comments.