Pic pros join in on amateur hour

Fans have become part of the publicity machine

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

That’s Hollywood’s attitude towards the amateur Web — a domain that features everything from fan sites to blogs to podcasts.

A few years ago, big studios weren’t quite sure what to make of this fan revolution, led at the time by Harry Knowles’ popular Ain’t-It-Cool-News site.

Many top execs went into panic mode. They tried to shut out the fast growing number of fan sites they felt were upsetting their carefully controlled marketing and PR campaigns with insider gossip and early reviews based on screenings and leaked scripts.

Jump to 2005, and most studios feel they have the amateur Web well under control. Fan sites like Chud and JoBlo are full of studio-sanctioned interviews and exclusive clips.

In fact, the fans have become a part of the professional publicity machine.

But more and more, studio publicists and their agencies view fan sites as an effective way to get their message across, particularly for genre pics not getting mainstream attention.

“We’re just like any other media in a way,” observes JoBlo.com prexy Berge Garabedian. “They do outreach with us for films like ‘Sin City’ when they need to build brand awareness, and pay less attention to us for films like ‘Spider-Man’ or ‘Batman,’ when it’s a given we’ll cover it and our readers will go.”

And, in perhaps the biggest sign of Hollywood’s acceptance of the amateur Web, blogs and fan sites are getting Hollywood money. They’re now full of ads for upcoming pics.

“The people on blogs and fan sites are usually the trendsetters who are looking for something beyond typical marketing and can really get engaged,” says Adrian Sexton, VP of digital media at Lions Gate.

Meanwhile, studios are starting to the build hallmarks of the amateur Web into their own proprietary movie sites, integrating blogs, podcasts and on-set video downloads to draw more hits to them.

Sites for Warner’s “Superman Returns,” Universal’s “King Kong” and Lions Gate’s “The Devil’s Rejects” all feature online journals with pic updates from directors and exclusive content from the film shoots.

Want to see what Brandon Routh looks like as “Superman”? WB-run BlueTights.net was the first site with the photos, which quickly spread across fan sites.

Notably, Fox Searchlight built a blog for “Garden State” that has a huge following and is still updated by helmer/star Zach Braff a year after the movie’s release. (The site includes links for users to order the DVD as well.)

And in the ultimate sign of blurred lines between the studio and amateur Web sites, fans and the movie talent they revere are swapping roles.

While Braff, David Duchovny and Kal Penn have blogged recently to promote their movies, Knowles and Chud.com founder Nick Nunziata have used their connections to parlay jobs producing upcoming films.

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