Coming to you on FB: Twilight short films
TWO years after Lions Gate released the fifth and supposedly final instalment of its Twilight movie series, the studio has devised an unusual franchise-rekindling effort - and it may hold clues about Facebook's future in Hollywood.
On Tuesday, Lions Gate Entertainment and Stephenie Meyer, creator of the vampires-and-werewolves Twilight saga, announced plans to select five aspiring female directors to make short films based on Twilight characters.
The mini-movies, financed by Lions Gate and its production partners, will be shown exclusively on Facebook next year.
"We think Facebook is a great way for us to introduce the world of Twilight to a whole new audience while re-energising existing fans," said Michael Burns, Lions Gate's vice-chairman.
The effort reflects the manner in which Hollywood is maintaining its most valuable film properties between sequels, prequels and remakes.
In the past, studios barely kept a pilot light lit, forcing marketing teams to constantly reactivate cold fan bases. Now, the savviest studio marketers are using Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube and other online platforms to keep fans on a constant low boil.
"This is just the beginning - a template, if you will," Mr Burns added. "You can probably guess what might be coming next."
While fans salivate over his tease, Hollywood will no doubt focus on the Facebook component. What it signals seems clear: The social-media service can be more than a platform for movie trailers. Its future may well include the distribution of entire movies.
The entertainment industry is enticed by that proposition because Facebook attracts such a giant audience: 1.3 billion monthly users worldwide.
Movie companies are increasingly exploring non-traditional distribution of all kinds. On Monday, The Weinstein Company announced a deal to simultaneously debut the coming sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on Netflix and in certain Imax theatres.
Lions Gate has a history of novel Facebook partnerships. The studio created a teaser for Divergent in December that became the service's first video ad.
The upcoming short-film series, called The Storytellers - New Creative Voices Of The Twilight Saga, has the backing of Women in Film, an organisation devoted in part to ending a shortage of female directors.
While not overtly championed by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, the initiative could be viewed in the context of her Lean In efforts to empower women in the workplace.
A group of female panellists, including Twilight actress Kristen Stewart and Meyer, will select the winning shorts and mentor participants, Lions Gate said. Other panellists include actresses Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer and Julie Bowen; Catherine Hardwicke, who directed the first Twilight movie; film producer Cathy Schulman; and Jennifer Lee, who co-directed Frozen.
Contest details, including the length of the shorts, are still being worked out and will be made available on Tongal.com, a crowdsourcing platform. A spokesman for Lions Gate declined to say how much the studio would spend, but added that it would be a "significant" amount, at least by short-film standards.
The cast members of the Twilight movies are not expected to appear in the short films.
Meyer's four Twilight books have sold more than 120 million copies worldwide. The five resulting films - the final book, Breaking Dawn, was told in two cinematic parts - took in US$3.5 billion (S$4.5 billion) worldwide, after accounting for inflation.