Genre label adds to conventional tactics

Fox Atomic doesn’t just want to market movies — it wants to create entire worlds around those movies.

When the genre label launched last year as an upstart competitor to genre stalwarts like Sony Screen Gems and the Weinstein Co.’s Dimension, some critics scoffed.

Atomic said it wanted not only to retail films to fans but to create destinations audiences would flock to between and beyond movie releases.

That move flew in the face of conventional wisdom in the genre world, which dictates that fans will relate to characters like Jason, or brands like “Hostel,” and not the studio behind them.

But Atomic is trying to live up to its promises with marketing that goes beyond the expected licensing and promotions.

The key, execs say, is not so much to hammer home the Fox Atomic name but to create entertainment and a mythology that exists independently of the films. This way, fans will stick around even when there isn’t a new release — and will also hopefully be there when there is one.

So the company created Fox Atomic Comics, a book-publishing line whose titles will be distributed to mainstream bookstores via News Corp. sister company HarperCollins.

Instead of just the usual roster of tie-ins, which are usually handled by an outside partner, the studio itself has hired creators in the manner of an A-list comics publisher.

Two of the label’s new releases, for instance, are “28 Days Later: The Aftermath” by veteran comics author Steven Niles, timed to coincide with Fox Atomic’s May release of the sequel “28 Weeks Later,” and “The Hills Have Eyes: The Beginning,” by another veteran, Jimmy Palmiotti, which is timed to release with the March pic “The Hills Have Eyes 2.”

The titles don’t just offer behind-the-scenes shots or easy novelizations of the movies; Niles’ book bridges gaps between the action in the first film and the second while Palmiotti’s offers background info that enhances understanding for the sequel.

Both are boosted by the fact that Atomic is behind them, and both cleverly offer something new while also feeding into the new releases.

Company has additionally created a number of areas online that essentially turn the keys to content creation over to users, in the manner of another sister company, MySpace.

On the virtual community Second Life, for instance, division has created Fox Atomic Island, a virtual movie studio where citizens can pick up and play with avatars from all its leading pics.

Atomic has also created a blender tool on its own site, FoxAtomic.com, that allows mash-ups of scenes from user-generated movies.

And the Nightmare Factory section of its site lets fans indulge their inner Wes Cravens, inviting users to submit their most vivid nightmares, with the best ones serving as the basis for shorts that Fox Atomic will produce.

“We want to embrace not only the core audience but their creativity as well,” says media promotions director Eric Lieb.

These methods also will be on display at the New York Comic Con, where the company will be promoting with the usual methods — a Wes Craven signing at the booth, handing out “The Hills Have Eyes 2″ patches and other trade-floor swag — as well as trying more original promos.

For instance, the label at the show will promote its “15 Gigs of Fear” contest, in which fans can submit a musicvideo for “The Hills Have Eyes 2.” Atomic is making scenes from the film available and allowing fans to mash them up using its blender tool.

Of course, whether all this will translate into what a genre label really wants — more tickets sold at the box office — remains the biggest question.

The ideas propagated by Atomic can sometimes seem so broad they have only tangential connection to the slate. The blender tool, for instance, solicits new movies that are unrelated to anything the studio produces.

And there may be a reason Rogue, Screen Gems and Dimension haven’t tried something so sprawling. There’s little track record for a company trying to attract interest as a lifestyle brand, let alone converting that into ticket sales.

Online manager Nancy Kim says there is no way to measure box office sales for site visitors, but the number of hits on the site is strong, suggesting that awareness for the films will follow.

On the floor of Jacob Javits Center, amid the light sabers and grown men in superhero costumes, the company will hope the rich world of Comic Con will have room for Atomic — and that fans will have room for the division’s pictures.

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