Movies rely heavily on social media these days. Publicity is made quick and easy for major studios and stars via their various feeds. But is it just an element of a film’s release, or do Twitter, Instagram et al have a significant role within the story itself? For example Tom Hanks played tech guru Eamon Bailey in The Circle, which sought to bring technological interaction to the screen in a dramatic way. Did it succeed? I’ll go into that later!
For now, I’m going to take a look at the various approaches moviemakers take to online connections, be they front of camera or behind the scenes. In exploring the whole area of social media at the movies I aim to find out whether it’s fertile ground for screenwriters or if it exists best as a PR garnish, drawing curious audiences towards an end product…
In a horror-saturated marketplace, it made sense for someone to turn social media into a monstrous threat. Unfriended saw Skype get the Blumhouse treatment, with a group of online pals getting picked off by a ferocious force from beyond the grave. Director Leo Gabriadze and writer Nelson Greaves cannily exploited the relationship between teens and their screens.
The result was viewed as both innovative and satirical, whilst boring some with its constant browser-heavy antics. Either way, the minimal production meant the budget was a lean million dollars, which it recouped multiple times. A sequel will be ready to download to your eyeballs soon.
THE CIRCLE (2017)
Renowned author Dave Eggers has a reputation for writing mind-expanding novels. So when an adaptation of his book The Circle was announced, it was met with trepidation…brilliant texts don’t often translate into memorable movies. This tale of a Google-esque web giant with plans to make the human race fully accessible in the ultimate online community was directed by the acclaimed James Ponsoldt and starred Emma Watson.
Watson played Mae Holland, an up and comer in the all-knowing Circle. However when she met Ty Laffite (John Boyega) she came to realize the company’s mission statement wasn’t as harmonious as it seemed. Despite the pedigree of the cast – including Tom Hanks and Karen Gillan – it was felt the result lacked the depth of the source material. An absence of big box office numbers sealed the film’s fate as an intriguing yet lacklustre attempt at something different.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)
One of the most successful movie portraits of social media took place against the backdrop of face to face relationships rather than virtual ones. The Social Network starred Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Armie Hammer as Facebook pioneers Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin and twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss. They and others were responsible for giving birth to one of the most-used online platforms of all time, though there was bad blood spilled in copious amounts along the way.
Based on Ben Mezrich‘s The Accidental Billionaires and directed by David Fincher, the script (by writing powerhouse Aaron Sorkin) dissected the young mens’ relationships with intelligence and scalpel-like precision. Sorkin relished the human dimension to this technologically-driven narrative, and produced arguably the greatest look at the inner-workings of a broadband-fuelled industry to date. His interest was in the characters not their controversial achievement.
So what have we learned…?
Social media is a tricky thing to capture well on camera. Unfriended certainly raked in the dollars on the big screen. But do people want to see more than one movie which is essentially a blown up version of the screen you’re going to comment about it on at home…?
The Circle hoped to provide greater insight into the direction of the populace under social media yet arguably fell short in terms of grasping the novel’s complexity. It didn’t escape the confines of its much-admired literary origins.
Oscars were bagged for a fictional Zuckerberg and The Social Network, thought it did this by focusing on human conflict rather than an online flame war.
The subject has an unlikely arbitrator in the form of postmodern comic book butt kicker Deadpool. That franchise has a perfect blend of online exposure and big screen action courtesy of star Ryan Reynolds. His steady stream of posts on his assorted outlets promote the character’s adventures in an irreverent and entertaining fashion. From reclining on a bearskin rug in order to introduce the costume onwards, Reynolds knows exactly how the mediums of online commentary and real world film production go together.
So I’m going to agree with the guy in red PVC: leave social media in the ether where it belongs.