Studio, movie Web sites offering more than bios and hype

Online, “The Perfect Storm” explodes with lightning and distress calls. “Mission: Impossible 2″ and “Titan A.E.” need you to save the world and the human race.

Long called boring and viewed as nothing more than glorified press kits offering actors’ and directors’ credits and/or downloadable trailers, the new crop of studio Web sites are showing a little more creativity and introducing hours of exclusive content online to whet Netizens’ appetites for upcoming releases.

For “Storm” (www.perfectstorm.net) Warner Bros. has uploaded nearly an hour of video, including exclusive amateur videos of the fateful 1991 storm that is the basis for the pic, animations of the f/x from Industrial Light & Magic, virtual set tours, and taped interviews with the cast and helmer Wolfgang Petersen, along with pages from the script and other features.

Site recently bowed a 14-minute documentary, shot over four days on digital video, about the life of fishermen and the storms in the region of Gloucester, Mass., where the pic was shot and the fishing boat Andrea Gail (the distressed ship in the pic) last set sail.

“The documentary was only intended to be shown online,” says one Warner Bros. exec. “This is our tribute to the real people and their amazing stories portrayed in the film and the town.

Last year, the studio screened more than 30 minutes of outtakes from Oliver Stone’s gridiron romp “Any Given Sunday” online.

Similarly, for “Gossip,” helmer Davis Guggenheim contributed outtakes and shots to the site, which he designed.

Growing trend

A director’s involvement in Web sites for their pics is becoming a growing trend.

“Designing a Web site is much more like filmmaking now,” says Thomas Lakeman, prexy of DNA Studio, a Web design shop that creates sites for the major studios. “The filmmaker is often more involved in the Web site than the studio is.

“Very often, filmmakers look for a direct connection with the audience where they couldn’t before. They know people want to learn more about their films and will watch anything and they want to be the ones who provide it.”

At other studios, the focus is on fun and games.

Fox and Paramount have boosted, respectively, their flashy sites with interactive games for “Titan A.E.” (www.afterearth.com) and “Mission: Impossible 2″”(www.missionimpossible.com).

“It gives people a reason to be there,” Lakeman says. “For example, chat services don’t work if there’s no reason to chat. You can’t say come here and be a community surrounding this film if there’s nothing to talk about or do. If you create a multiplayer game, that helps.”

Exclusive images

Also on the exclusive front, New Line and Sony, respectively, are slowly bowing exclusive photos and videos of their highly anticipated pics “The Lord of the Rings” (www.lordoftherings.net) and the fully computer-generated videogame-based “Final Fantasy” (www.finalfantasy.com).

The trailer for “Rings” was downloaded 1.7 million times in the first 24 hours, showing that there is an online audience looking to wet their appetite for upcoming pics.

The “Lord” number of downloads eclipses the record set by the trailer for “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” which tallied 1 million downloads in its first day online.

The move to feature more video-based content online follows stunts that Universal and Warner Bros. hosted years ago, including live Webcasts from the sets of “Dante’s Peak” and “The Postman.”

“First it was QuickTime clips and now it’s streaming media,” Lakeman says. “It’s good for a stunting perspective. In advance of a film’s opening, everyone knows you don’t want to open the kimono too much. After a film is opened, people develop an interest in how the film is made.”

ut why bother if most Netizens visit a film’s Web site after they’ve seen the film? And why have a site at all? A big summer film will do well whether it has an online correspondent or not. “Jurassic Park” didn’t feature a dot-com nor did the “Star Wars” trilogy when they first hit theaters.

If it’s an indie film or a cult film, like an ‘American Psycho,’ you can definitely use the Internet to break through to a particular segment,” Lakeman says. “But our clients are shifting their budgets away from the big-ticket films. In so many ways, the big-ticket films don’t need the Web.

“The big question is what are you trying to do with the customer or audience?” Lakeman says. “Are you trying to attract them to see the film or get them to see it again?”

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