With producers spending close to half the film's budget on promotions these days, it's no surprise that newer, more innovative ways are being invented each day. For Kabali, an entire airplane bore the image of Rajinikanth. For Mersal, a new emoji was created. And now, the latest trend is to have portions of the films be screened or uploaded on YouTube, before the film's release. Actor-composer Vijay Antony can be credited for starting this with his 2016 film, Saithan, whose first ten minutes of footage was released online. He did this once again for last year's Annadurai. And now, for his upcoming film Kaali, he has again released the first seven minutes of the film on YouTube.
He doesn't quite want to call it a trend yet "For the moment, only I'm doing it," he says, smiling. He credits the idea to a basic need to survive. "I've already released the film songs for free through my website. This is also something no one has done to date. There's no other way to survive," he says, explaining that companies quote insignificant prices for purchasing audio rights. "So, I felt I should promote my film by giving out the songs and a few minutes of the film for free. It's a loss, sure, but considering my filmmaking style, my market and range, I think it's a good plan."
He also adds that this strategy can't be used for every film. "For some films, the first ten minutes will be interesting but in others, the story may get revealed." He is all for doing this again if the script lends itself. "It's not about monetization, even though yes, YouTube's revenue helps me recover a minor percentage of what I would get by selling the audio rights."
The film's director Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi is all gratitude for Vijay's idea. "He has a knack for coming up with such promos. It tells the audience what kind of film they can look forward to," says Kiruthiga. At first, she wasn't thrilled by this idea. "I was skeptical but Vijay knows how to promote his film. So, I trusted him. Now, after its release, I've been getting good feedback which gives me confidence ahead of the film's release," says Kiruthiga.
Last week's Vishal-starrer Irumbu Thirai too followed a similar idea, by screening its entire first half to the media, two days before its release. The film's director PS Mithran says, "We wanted spoiler-free reviews to create buzz but here, we can't expect that. Very few newspapers or YouTube channels have the ethics not to reveal the whole story. To create an opening before the film's release, we try a lot but often get lost in all the noise. A ten-second ad on TV hardly gets any attention."
He believes that we are at a time when filmmakers must think long and hard about how they are promoting their work. "In the name of publicity, we are carpet bombing without knowing actual reach. Playing the first half alone got us spoiler-free reviews. It also establishes that the filmmaker and the production house are confident," says Mithran, who got the idea to do this from Hollywood. "Avengers: Infinity Wars did a screening of a spoiler-free show that showed some of the best scenes from the film. The idea was ours but Vishal, who had no hesitation, took the final call. Moreover, Irumbu Thirai had that material to do such a show -- as the first half ends in a cliffhanger."
He says the idea has turned out to be a big success. "Not only did it help with the buzz, it helped us get better business too. There were some territories for which we couldn't do business, but they got sold after the positive reviews came out," he says. "We have to approach this with caution though because if the plan backfires, the business done till then will get jeopardised."
Producer Dhananjayan thinks this to be more a fad than a trend. "I don't think the audience cares all that much. It's a PR exercise, and one that I don't think can replace the efficacy of trailers and teasers. Ultimately, it's the first show that decides if a film does well," he says. "Irumbu Thirai, for instance, had average openings, but after positive reviews emerged, people started thronging the theatres. So, really, it's the first show that decides the fate of the film."