Creator calls for studios to reduce proliferation of pre-release promo footage

As studios release more clips and trailers online in pursuit of pre-release buzz, the question becomes, How much is too much?

One frustrated movie fan may have found the answer.

Using only TV spots, clips that Sony released online and a bit of fan footage shot during the pic’s location shoot, a Twitter user who goes by the moniker Sleepy Skunk stitched together a 25-minute “The Amazing Spider-Man” minimovie that posted earlier this week. It was picked up by dozens of blogs and widely shared on social platforms. By midweek, it was mostly pulled down (though a few sites still had playable versions online as of Wednesday evening).

Sony wouldn’t say whether it was responsible for yanking the video, the creation of which the studio attributes to fans’ enthusiasm for the forthcoming film. But the person behind the Twitter handle, who asked not to be identified by name for fear of retribution, said his mashup was meant as a simple message to the studios: enough with the early clips already.

“I am a movie fan who has become frustrated to see so much online footage for Hollywood movies everywhere that it has become impossible to experience them in the theater for the first time,” the vid’s creator wrote to Variety. “I did this as a piece of criticism because I don’t think it’s fair to the moviegoing public and, most importantly, I don’t think it’s fair to the artists (actors, director, crew) who worked thousands of hours to entertain us.”

The person said Sony had not contacted him. But days after the video went online, his Vimeo account was deleted, with site administrators claiming the video violated its terms of service; it was reposted on Viddler but didn’t last long there, either.

In this age of easy-edit software and instant viral mashups, it’s a bit surprising that no one had undertaken such an effort to make this point earlier. There’s certainly plenty of fodder: WB’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” which opens July 20, has more than 25 minutes of trailers and clips online, and Disney released more than 24 minutes of assets before “The Avengers” hit theaters.

“Definitely the thought has crossed my mind that if you have enough assets out there, someone might try to do that,” said a rival studio’s marketing guru. “On the other hand, that shows there’s a pretty strong appetite out there for your movie.”

Twentieth Century Fox offered a plethora of footage prior to the release of “Prometheus,” causing co-writer Damon Lindelof to wonder in his Twitter posts whether the film had been overexposed.

The “Spider-Man” reel did nothing to spoil the film’s ending and was padded with a certain amount of duplicate footage and b-roll (Sony claims only about 10 minutes of the reel is from the movie, though it plays with very little duplication). Still, its widely shared release serves as a cautionary tale for studios, who are shifting away from traditional online ad buys in their pursuit of “earned” media — publicity generated by social-network users.

“There’s going to be a little bit of that in the back of my mind, but I wouldn’t let it dictate strategy,” the rival marketing chief said. “You’ve got to put out there what’s strongest to sell your movie. But if they do (stitch it together), you have to do your best to contain that when it happens.”

The Sleepy Skunk said he was satisfied with the reaction his video created and had no plans to do something similar again. As for the upshot of his “Spider-Man” venture, he believes it’s only helped the film’s publicity campaign while ultimately hurting the moviegoing experience.

“One one side, you have a large amount of people who have been mobilized by this fan-made mashup and who are now discussing ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ instead of ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’?” the Sleepy Skunk said. “On the other side, knowing every plot point before watching it decreases the overall enjoyment that we have watching movies.”

The Sleepy Skunk video also tests the extent to which studios will allow or even encourage fan videos before deciding that they’ve gone a step too far toward infringing their copyrights. While makers of fanvids have claimed “fair use,” there is no exact standard of what that is.

In general, unauthorized limited use of copyrighted material for a “transformative” purpose — such as criticism or commentary — is protected from infringement claims. In a recent high-profile example, a librarian created an online encyclopedia of the Harry Potter franchise; when the fan tried to publish the guide for profit, Warner Bros. and J.K. Rowling sued.

A federal judge in 2008 recognized the fair-use argument in such cases but said that the librarian had gone too far in lifting verbatim portions of Rowling’s work and ruled in favor of the author and Warner Bros.

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