San Diego Comic-Con is an exhilarating time for fans of comic book and sci-fi films, as thousands of people flock into the famous Hall H in order to attend panels for their most anticipated releases. A major perk of going to the event is that attendees are frequently treated to an exclusive sizzle reel of footage designed to excite the die hards and get the conversation about the movie started.
Of course, in today’s day and age of social media, Comic-Con has become defined by panel leaks, where enthusiastic fans record the Hall H screens (despite being asked several times not to) and share their findings with the Internet. This year, just about every “exclusive” got out, with the most prominent examples being Suicide Squad, Deadpool, and X-Men: Apocalypse. The studios are none too pleased about these leaks happening, but what if they were intentionally putting it out there?
That’s a theory that’s been going around, with the chief catalyst being Warner Bros. putting the Suicide Squad preview officially online 48 hours after it leaked. As juicy as it may seem, not everyone’s buying it, including X-Men producer and former 20th Century Fox executive Hutch Parker. Parker gave us his reasoning for why he believes the theory is false:
“I’d say it really isn’t intended to be leaked. It’s really intended to excite a core. From a marketing perspective, what they want is to share it with the most discerning eyes that are out there for this material. It’s the biggest and probably most intense focus group any of us ever have. You hope that you excite a level of interest that they will express and celebrate it. But it’s a scary-ass deal, because they’re not shy. If they don’t like it, if they aren’t feeling it, they’re going to let you and everybody else know. [Showing footage] is something people do with trepidation, but with hope. We make a movie and you want to believe it’s going to be great. The reality is, not all of them are. But you have to believe that going in. We go in wanting to be accepted and embraced, and ideally even acknowledged for having done it well.
The problem with the theory about the marketing is, I don’t actually think it’s good marketing. Leaking footage a year in advance of a movie’s release is not such a good thing. The reason you don’t see footage out that far is you run the risk of it getting stale. Generally speaking, and I can’t speak for other studios — I can’t even speak for Fox any more — but I don’t believe their intention is [for footage to be leaked]. I think their intention is to get the most important opinions and opinion-makers in this community engaged in the promise of what’s coming.”
Parker explained that the intention for Comic-Con footage is to rev up the hardcore fans who spend days waiting in line to get into Hall H. They’re usually cut and presented in a way that’s specifically for that target audience – however niche it may be – which is a stark difference from a proper trailer. Theatrical previews are made for consumption by mainstream viewers, who at times can be uninformed about the inner workings of a comic book title like Deadpool or Suicide Squad.
The part of Parker’s quote that some may call into question is where he says the leaks are not “good marketing.” On the contrary, Suicide Squad got a massive boost in awareness in buzz over a year from its premiere because of the Hall H leak, and the overwhelming positive reception for the Deadpool reel set the Internet ablaze. It’s true that often times these Comic-Con previews are shown without finished special effects, meaning that the public could get a skewed opinion on how the movie looks should the footage leak. On the other hand, nobody really complained about shots looking incomplete for any of 2015’s leaks, so the practice seems to have done more good than harm.
At the end of the day, Comic-Con really has become a major part of Hollywood marketing. It’s one of the biggest pop culture events out there, and even those who aren’t attending follow it closely to see what comes out. Things have gotten to the point where if a tentpole skips San Diego altogether, it’s seen as a missed opportunity. The leaks themselves may not necessarily be part of the studio’s plans, but they wouldn’t show footage at Comic-Con if they didn’t intend for word-of-mouth to spread about their upcoming films. It’s no different from a movie like The Dark Knight Rises or Star Wars: The Force Awakens releasing its first teaser trailer a year in advance to kick start the excitement.