Kids! They’re into stupid things, they can’t get through the opening credits of a film without busting out The Twitter, and they wouldn’t sit still long enough to watch a truly good movie if it screened on the silky, sparkly tranquility of Robert Pattinson’s chest—which is why, if you want the little bastards to watch your film and then tell all their friends about it at the mall and “the cyber café” (they still have those, right?), you have to resort to extreme measures to entice them. Even if it means, say, totally ruining the movie for everyone and ensuring its utter failure across all demographics, as is the case with the latest casualty of focus-grouped marketing, Bandslam. While reviews have been mostly positive across the board (it currently holds an 80% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes), and it premièred with the always-promising strategy of bundling it with an exclusive New Moon trailer so that even its debut seemed like an afterthought, Bandslam’s box-office take to date has been pretty much dismal. Not even teenage girls are going to see it, and they’re clearly morons!
Or, at least, that was apparently the thinking behind the film’s promotional campaign, a sad bit of back-alley rape that involved taking a quiet, quirky indie film named Will, then giving him the marketing equivalent of holding him down, cutting his hair into emo bangs, and forcing him into a vest screenprinted with skulls in order to attract “the kids.” In this extremely depressing email dropped to Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood Daily, an “insider” outlines the whole brilliant strategy:
Start off with the fact that they chose BANDSLAM for a title instead of WILL. They thought WILL was too indie. But that’s what made this movie special. It was an indie voice wrapped up in a high concept. So instead of selling it quirky and cool (a la Juno) they sold it on the Disney channel's Vanessa Hudgens and Aly Milchaka. Instead of selling the concept, band of outcasts like The Commitments, they Disneyfied this movie with glitter paint. So what is an ironic, smart script with a killer soundtrack was sold like High School Musical meets Phil Of The Future.
Granted, the last thing we need is another “quirky and cool a la Juno” film, and by all reports, Bandslam sabotages any attempts at even that movie’s painful, only-in-screenplays realism the second a beautiful ex-cheerleader—who’s also a rocker!—walks on screen and falls in love with the content of a dude’s iPod. And of course, there’s the cardinal “rock movie” sin of having the scrappy teen band you’re supposed to be rooting for perform some limp, pop-by-numbers trifle that sounds like some fiftysomething’s idea of “rock” as written by the guy from Bread. But these are the reasons we should have been writing Bandslam off, slagging it as another trying-too-hard attempt to court the “indie” crowd. Instead, everyone seems to be patently ignoring it, and most of the blame for that can be pointed like an awkwardly positioned cell-phone camera at Vanessa Hudgens:
Instead of embracing it for its quirky-ness, for its unique voice (Will, the lead, calls high school “Guantanamo Bay with a lunch period”) they flattened it out so it looked like everything else… Rob Freidman and Summit infantalized their audience. They presumed that since HSM was a hit, and the same star was in their movie singing, they should just sell it the same way… He saw Vanessa singing and he could only could think of one way to sell it.
Except, of course, Vanessa Hudgens doesn’t play the same upbeat Austrian governess-turned-lunch lady with a secret and sexy past (or whatever) like she does in High School Musical: No, she plays a brooding, cynical goth-loving avatar sent from the future named “Sa5m,” who’s here to chew some gum and shatter all of mankind’s outmoded naming conventions (and she’s almost out of gum). Which is pretty much the opposite of what you’d expect from Bandslam’s squeaky-clean poster, in which the guitar-slinging, ravenously beaming Hudgens squares off against fellow Disney sleeper agent Aly Michalka with an expression that says, “OMG, I hope the boys like our songs! Tonight, both the amps and our curfews go to 11! etc.” The email further bemoans the fact that Bandslam was a wasted opportunity to “let the audience re-discover her as this Aly Sheedy, Breakfast Club, freak, but instead, they found shots of her smiling, and sold it on that.”
Which is a great strategy: Lure the teens in by making them think they’re going to see another Disney Channel fever dream of positivity and self-esteem lessons set to whatever punk-pop songs were generated by Deep Blue’s algorithms that day, then stick them with 90 minutes of scenes set in CBGB’s, conversations about David Bowie, and jokes that use "Nuremberg" as a punchline. As a bonus, by limiting your focus solely to the teenage girls who would absolutely hate your movie—even if it didn’t star Vanessa Hudgens, whom most girls apparently despise now anyway (because if she weren’t all over him like a total slut, Zac Efron would probably be showing up at junior highs and dating all of his fans alphabetically)—you’ve also ensured that anyone who might find that sort of stuff remotely entertaining would be choking on their own revulsion and bowing under the crushing weariness of age at the mere sight of the film’s ad. At this point, you may as well have called it Squeeeeeal!: The Movie. At least that would have made for a better Blingee, and apparently that’s the whole point of making films these days.