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Eli Roth hails virtues of DIY filmmaking

Hyphenate talks up his hands-on style at Variety marketing confab

For filmmaker Eli Roth, it’s sometimes necessary to take even the minutest matters into your own hands.

“Every single time I see a cut of any of my trailers, if my name’s not in it I throw a fit, I go crazy — I tell them ‘Go fuck yourselves!’ and they immediately say ‘We’re sorry! We didn’t know!'” Roth said Wednesday. “You have to do that. If you don’t stick up for yourself, nobody else will.”

That was one of the pearls of wisdom Roth shared with the crowd at Variety’s Film Marketing Summit, held in association with Stradella Road at the Intercontinental Hotel in Los Angeles. Though “marketer” traditionally hasn’t been one of the multihyphenate’s many job descriptions, he explained in a keynote Q&A with Variety film editor Josh L. Dickey that a hands-on approach can bring countless benefits to a project without bloating the budget.

That was partly the case with “Cabin Fever,” Roth’s 2002 directorial debut. Struggling to raise an additional $700,000 mid-production to complete the film, Roth knew he had to drum up more interest from investors. Knowing that interested parties would inevitably look up the project on IMDB, Roth decided to post an extensive gallery of gory and intriguing images on the site.

In a moment of serendipity, someone at IMDB caught sight of it and prominently highlighted the gallery for site visitors to explore.

“That day, we got more hits than ‘Spider-Man,'” Roth said. “So of course I screen-capped it, printed it out and showed it to the investors, telling them that more people are interested in ‘Cabin Fever’ than ‘Spider-Man.'”

“We know that’s not true,” he added. “But I basically used the medium and manipulated people into investing in the film.”

Roth stressed the importance of these types of first impressions with a more recent example featuring his newest film, “Aftershock.” Instead of waiting to cut a trailer, Roth whipped one up after only three weeks of shooting so that he could immediately have a sense of how to sell the film.

“I showed that (trailer) to Bob Weinstein, and he bought the movie off the trailer,” Roth said.

The lesson from that experience, Roth said, is that careful planning before and during a production — coupled with a little bit of luck — can pay off big. But the crafty mindset Roth touts has helped also keep costs down on projects, through everything from improvising with equipment (Roth fondly recalled a “hacked Canon 5D with Zeiss lenses” that spit out 35mm-like footage on a Chile-based project) to finding cheap and unorthodox ways to promote completed projects to the public.

On “The Last Exorcist,” which Roth produced, a promotion involved a partnership with ChatRoulette, the anonymous video-chatting site that had developed notoriety for displays of nudity. The promotion was simple: Tease users in with video of a young female “user” beginning to strip down, then shock them by showing her quickly becoming possessed and grotesque.

“It was the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever seen,” Roth said of users’ filmed reactions to the promo.

More importantly, the footage of unsuspecting ChatRoulette users reacting to the promo went viral (currently, the “best of” compilation sports nearly 7.5 million views on YouTube), boosting target audience interest in the film exponentially without relying completely on traditional forms of advertisement.

It’s fitting for a filmmaker that has shown a penchant for flying in the face of convention — and one who even takes the time to tweak the “Trivia” section of his IMDB page to enhance his reputation.

Hands-on, indeed.

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