A couple weeks ago Lovely Molly, the newest film by director Eduardo Sánchez and Haxen Films released in a few select theaters across the United States, and it will be available on DVD later this summer. You'll not be alone if you don't know Ed Sánchez by name, but it's pretty likely that you've heard of his debut film, The Blair Witch Project. This 1999 no-budget blockbuster owed a large part of its success to its clever and unexpected viral marketing.
In the years since, Sánchez has continued to do freelance transmedia work. It should come as no surprise then that transmedia junkies like ourselves were breathlessly waiting to see what kind of campaign, or game, or experience Sánchez had cooked up for his first movie in years. The answer? Nothing. Or something. Or something that amounts to nothing. Let us explain.
Lovely Molly had a transmedia marketing campaign. It was really an Alternate Reality Game (or ARG), to be precise. It told a story secondary to the movie itself which followed a woman named Abby who goes in search of the truth behind the events of the film and gets more than she bargained for. In fact, Abby is playing a fictional ARG within the real ARG. Sounds interesting, right? And more than a little mind-trippy? You can see Sánchez himself describe the planned story here. Actors were cast, scenes were filmed, props were made, all in service of this transmedia experience, but the experience itself was abandoned and relegated to the YouTube clip of broken dreams:
There's not much point in asking what went wrong with the Lovely Molly campaign. This is a great example of the two chief challenges of transmedia stories; they take money, and they take time (and generally, if you find a way to ease one demand, you exacerbate the other). The project ran out; maybe it ran out of money, or time, or both. The story got made, mind you (you saw clips if you watched the video above), it just never got launched. Here’s another component of transmedia stories that complicates matters; the time and money that they require are ongoing. If you write a novel, or produce a film, or record an album, once that creation is complete, it’s complete. It may be a hit or a flop (or go entirely unnoticed), but it’s done and that’s that. Because transmedia stories involve interaction, they take maintenance, and maintenance takes resources.
It’s heartbreaking in a way. There’s every reason to think that Sánchez and Haxen Films would have put together a really kickass transmedia story; it’s essentially their specialty. It's worth remembering that it can't feel too good to be Sánchez in this equation either; the guy who is known for his transmedia campaigns has (in some sense) dropped the ball when it was his own movie. In another way it’s a helpful cautionary tale about spreading oneself too thin, or possibly operating on someone else’s timetable (And, to give Sánchez the benefit of the doubt, it may be an example of a devoted creator deciding that if he can't do something right he should drop it altogether).
By the way, the film itself—not that great, apparently. It's tracking 44% on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie wouldn't have been any better with a rich, engaging transmedia component, but at least we wouldn't have been left wondering what might have been.
Are there projects you were excited about that ended up falling apart before they ever got released?