Yesterday afternoon, two days after their San Diego Comic-Con panel took place, Warner Bros. entertainment released the first footage from David Ayer’s upcoming adaptation of DC Comics popular Suicide Squad comic book series. This was just under forty-eight hours after incredibly low quality footage captured by fans attempting to simultaneously hide their phones spread like wildfire across the web. If you have not seen the official trailer yet, you can do so below, as I feel it’s only right to promote the film before we address the problems with how the footage was shared with the public.
Had the footage above been released with a basic press release announcing the film’s release, everyone would have rejoiced and moved on. Instead, Sue Kroll, President Worldwide Marketing and International Distribution, released a statement alongside the clip that essentially attempts to shame comics fans for doing the same thing they do every year at this event when footage is not released. Her message reads:
“Warner Bros. Pictures and our anti-piracy team have worked tirelessly over the last 48 hours to contain the Suicide Squad footage that was pirated from Hall H on Saturday. We have been unable to achieve that goal. Today we will release the same footage that has been illegally circulating on the web, in the form it was created and high quality with which it was intended to be enjoyed. We regret this decision as it was our intention to keep the footage as a unique experience for the Comic Con crowd, but we cannot continue to allow the film to be represented by the poor quality of the pirated footage stolen from our presentation.”
We would never encourage the proliferation of digital piracy in any form, but companies like Warner Bros. need to understand how fandom works in the digital age in order to properly cater to today’s youth market. The fact people share poor quality videos of unreleased footage online is a shame, and that is certainly a point worth being made. You cannot, however, hold a public screening of unreleased footage in a setting where everyone is allowed to have their smart phone, especially if that place has a long history of video piracy, and not assume some level of risk. That’s just common sense.
The worst part of it all is that Warner Bros. seems to have been aware of SDCC’s history with video piracy this entire time. Within moments of premiering the latest trailer for Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, which was screened during the same panel as the Suicide Squad footage, the studio made the same trailer available on its official YouTube channel for the world to see. If I had to guess why this happened, it may because the Comic-Con exclusive teaser for Dawn Of Justice that was screened in 2014 suffered a cell phone captured leak immediately following its premiere, but that may not been a factor at all. Whatever the case, the release of the latest Batman V Superman trailer set a precedent for the event that the studio did not follow with the other footage screened, which infuriated the throngs of online comic fans who were relying on those clips to feels as close to their favorite characters as the people able to afford the trip and time needed to get into Comic-Con’s beloved Hall H. The studio had met the demand for content once, but why not twice? The Suicide Squad film may be over a year from release, but WB has shown teasers and trailers for other properties this far out, so why not this one?
The reason studios appear at Comic-Con is to show fans of various franchises that they are not going to bastardize their beloved characters by making them into something they are not. It’s fan servicing done in the hopes of creating long term buzz for big budget projects that play a large role in a company’s financial gambles in the year(s) ahead without the expense of a large scale marketing campaign. The idea, at least in theory, is that the people who attend events like Comic-Con are the biggest fans in the world, but as the market for comics, science fictions, zombies, and fandom in general has boomed over the last decade that is no longer the case. The people on the floor at Comic-Con are simply the luckiest of the lucky fans. They were able to register for San Diego Comic-Con while the rest of us were stuck on a wait list, hoping the page would refresh before every pass was taken. They may be the biggest fans, or they may just have good connections. Either way, studios big and small need to realize that it’s a far better play to release whatever teaser footage themselves, both at Comic-Con and online, if they want to maximize reach and fan engagement.
To be fair, WB is not the only studio who has yet to learn from past encounters with digital pirates during fan-centric events. Fox, another studio with major properties to promote at Comic-Con, also refused to post footage of their latest properties. Though fan filmed footage of trailers for both Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse have found their way online, the studio remains quiet. Marvel, whose films were absent at Comic-Con this year, suffered multiple footage leaks following their Phase Three announcement event in Los Angeles last fall. Proper versions of that footage remained unavailable for a long time, but some has since been released (as part of Avengers: Age Of Ultron).
Studios need to realize that it’s not only fans who want this footage anymore, but legitimate news outlets as well. Every major entertainment reporter may be on-site in San Diego, but everyone knows posting a video of new footage is always better than writing about footage no one will see for weeks, if not months. The ‘X-Men’ footage mentioned above, which was leaked online a few hours after the Fox panel ended, was spotted on sites like Yahoo, The Wrap and Business Insider, though the clips were later removed. Still, these are legitimate news outlets posted cell phone captured video of unreleased footage for no reason other than the overwhelming demand for such content to be shared online. It’s as if sharing this material has become commonplace, and that is a very dangerous thought to entertain.
If studios wanted our advice we would tell them the same thing we tell anyone in music who tells us they suffered from a leak, and that is to find the fastest way to control the conversation. When low quality bootlegs are the first way fans engage with a studio’s new film, the studio itself has no say in the experience the fans have when viewing their content. They don’t control quality, supporting text, or even who has the quote/unquote ‘exclusive,’ but if they release a proper HD cut of the footage themselves the tables turn back in their favor. By sharing the footage when demand is already at an all-time high, as it is during Comic-Con weekend, Warner Bros.-or any other studio-can maximize their ability to hook fans early and generate buzz that, hopefully, will only continue to build in the many months leading up to the film’s release.
At the end of the day, you just can’t have it both ways. You cannot hope to build fan excitement for a high profile property by screening footage in a room open to the general public and not expect someone to share it with someone who isn’t in that room. Our culture today is defined by our ability to share seemingly everything we experience, often in real time. Until studios understand that fans will always find a way to share this content with other fans and stop scolding the people they are trying to get into theaters there will continue to be leaks. If you want to generate buzz from the diehard fans through sharing footage you need to make that footage available to everyone. It’s the simple. Just as life finds a way even in the harshest of environments, fans will find a way to get footage to other fans even if a sign or two told them to put their cell phones away.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him onTwitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.