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7 Movies That Had Mysterious Promotional Campaigns

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In a world where the Internet has most of the answers to a potential moviegoer's questions about any upcoming film—including how it ends—it's amazing that some filmmakers have managed to keep the details of their new movies a secret, right up until it's time to deliver the reels to the theaters. Some have blurred the line between fiction and reality. Some used the ubiquity of the Internet to their advantage. And sometimes, the viral campaigns were so great that they overshadowed the films entirely.

1. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999)

The "found footage" horror genre kicked into high gear with The Blair Witch Project, the story of three filmmakers who ventured into Maryland's Black Hills with video cameras and never returned. Nearly 80 million people read "police reports" on the incident and other information pertaining to the disappearances on www.blairwitch.com. That website—plus the use of unknown actors and a documentary featuring fake local news and newsreel footage titled Curse of the Blair Witch that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel prior to the film's release—led many of those 80 million people to believe that the movie was based in reality.

2. A.I. (2001)

The set of A.I., the film brought to us by Steven Spielberg and the late Stanley Kubrick, was notably off-limits to the press, and the stars of the movie had to sign confidentiality agreements. The hype of a Spielberg-Kubrick collaboration was probably enough to power the box office, but Warner Bros. created more than 40 websites to give background information on the alternate reality of the movie, where there is a robot uprising in the year 2142. It was all meant to be groundwork on a series of video games developed by Microsoft called The Beast, but ultimately turned out to be an alternate reality game (ARG) which lasted 12 weeks. The marketing campaign was massive, surpassing even The Blair Witch by utilizing phone lines, fax machines, email accounts, and live events.

3. CLOVERFIELD (2008)

While the first movie trailer for Cloverfield—which ran before Transformers (2007) screenings—showed footage from the actual movie, including handheld footage of New York City being destroyed, and credited J.J. Abrams as a producer, it left out the movie's title. Which only fueled speculation that it was a Voltron movie, or a big-screen spin-off of Lost. Websites were created for the fictional drink Slusho and a fictional drilling company Tagruato, two companies which ended up sharing responsibility in creating The Parasite, the name given to Cloverfield's monster. A MySpace page was even set up for the main character Rob, where "he" announced he was moving to Japan to work for Slusho.

4. DISTRICT 9 (2009)

District 9 is about a world in which sick aliens arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1982 and were subsequently confined to the titular government camp. Billboards and signs reading "Humans Only" began promoting the movie more than a year before its release, without any movie title. A website "written" by the alien character Christopher Johnson told of the cruelties the military company Multinational United was inflicting on his people, and websites were created by Multinational United itself.

5. I'M STILL HERE (2010)

It wasn't until one week after I'm Still Here's release that director Casey Affleck admitted to The New York Times that the film was a mockumentary, and that Joaquin Phoenix only pretended to quit acting to become a rap star. Most memorable in aiding in the deception was Phoenix's painfully awkward 2009 Late Show interview with David Letterman.

Affleck claimed that he "never intended to trick anybody," while Phoenix appeared again on Late Show—this time as his true self—to apologize to Letterman.

6. INCEPTION (2010)

Up until seven months before its release, the plot to Christopher Nolan's Inception wasn't publicly known. The official website was simply a spinning top controllable by mouse, and after some weeks, the top started to wobble. When more time passed and the top toppled over, users were directed to a new website that revealed the first teaser poster. A viral game called Mind Crime was also created, which featured a movie trailer hidden inside the virtual world's movie theater.

7. SUPER 8 (2011)

The J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg collaboration (Abrams wrote and directed, Spielberg produced) resulted in expectedly mysterious promotions; theater employees even had to use a special code to open up the canisters containing the trailer. The final frames in that trailer snuck in the phrase "scariest thing I ever saw," and fans who went to ScariestThingIEverSaw.com saw a PDP-11 16-bit microcomputer display. Along with RocketPoppeteers.com, the two websites dived into the story of the son of the scientist who derails a train containing an alien that starts a big mess on Earth.

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How Frozen Peas Made Orson Welles Lose It
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)
Rebecca O'Connell (Getty Images) (iStock)

Orson Welles would have turned 103 years old today. While the talented actor/director/writer leaves behind a staggering body of work—including Citizen Kane, long regarded as the best film of all time—the YouTube generation may know him best for what happened when a couple of voiceover directors decided to challenge him while recording an ad for Findus frozen foods in 1970.

The tempestuous Welles is having none of it. You’d do yourself a favor to listen to the whole thing, but here are some choice excerpts.

After he was asked for one more take from the audio engineer:

"Look, I’m not used to having more than one person in there. One more word out of you and you go! Is that clear? I take directions from one person, under protest … Who the hell are you, anyway?"

After it was explained to him that the second take was requested because of a “slight gonk”:

"What is a 'gonk'? Do you mind telling me what that is?"

After the director asks him to emphasize the “in” while saying “In July”:

"Why? That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with 'in' and emphasize it. … That's just stupid. 'In July?' I'd love to know how you emphasize 'in' in 'in July.' Impossible! Meaningless!"

When the session moved from frozen peas to ads for fish fingers and beef burgers, the now-sheepish directors attempt to stammer out some instructions. Welles's reply:

"You are such pests! ... In your depths of your ignorance, what is it you want?"

Why would the legendary director agree to shill for a frozen food company in the first place? According to author Josh Karp, whose book Orson Welles’s Last Movie chronicles the director’s odyssey to make a “comeback” film in the 1970s, Welles acknowledged the ad spots were mercenary in nature: He could demand upwards of $15,000 a day for sessions, which he could use, in part, to fund his feature projects.

“Why he dressed down the man, I can't say for sure,” Karp says. “But I know that he was a perfectionist and didn't suffer fools, in some cases to the extreme. He used to take a great interest in the ads he made, even when they weren't of his creation.”

The Findus session was leaked decades ago, popping up on radio and in private collections before hitting YouTube. Voiceover actor Maurice LaMarche, who voiced the erudite Brain in Pinky and the Brain, based the character on Welles and would recite his rant whenever he got the chance.

Welles died in 1985 at the age of 70 from a heart attack, his last film unfinished. While some saw the pea endorsement as beneath his formidable talents, he was actually ahead of the curve: By the 1980s, many A-list stars were supplementing their income with advertising or voiceover work.

“He was a brilliant, funny guy,” Karp says. “There's a good chance he'd think the pea commercial was hilarious.” If not, he’d obviously have no problem saying as much.

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How Google Chrome’s New Built-In Ad Blocker Will Change Your Browsing Experience
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If you can’t stand web ads that auto-play sound and pop up in front of what you’re trying to read, you have two options: Install an ad blocker on your browser or avoid the internet all together. Starting Thursday, February 15, Google Chrome is offering another tool to help you avoid the most annoying ads on the web, Tech Crunch reports. Here’s what Google Chrome users should expect from the new feature.

Chrome’s ad filtering has been in development for about a year, but the details of how it will work were only recently made public. “While most advertising on the web is respectful of user experience, over the years we've increasingly heard from our users that some advertising can be particularly intrusive,” Google wrote in a blog post. “As we announced last June, Chrome will tackle this issue by removing ads from sites that do not follow the Better Ads Standards.

That means the new feature won’t block all ads from publishers or even block most of them. Instead, it will specifically target ads that violate the Better Ad Standards that the Coalition for Better Ads recommends based on consumer data. On desktop, this includes auto-play videos with sound, sticky banners that follow you as you scroll, pop-ups, and prestitial ads that make you wait for a countdown to access the site. Mobile Chrome users will be spared these same types of ads as well as flashing animations, ads that take up more than 30 percent of the screen, and ads the fill the whole screen as you scroll past them.

These criteria still leave room for plenty of ads to show up online—the total amount of media blocked by the feature won’t even amount to 1 percent of all ads. So if web browsers are looking for an even more ad-free experience, they should use Chrome’s ad filter as a supplement to one of the many third-party ad blockers out there.

And if accessing content without navigating a digital obstacle course first doesn’t sound appealing to you, don’t worry: On sites where ads are blocked, Google Chrome will show a notification that lets you disable the feature.

[h/t Tech Crunch]

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