Suicide Squad and the Folly of Controlling Content at Comic-Con

Suicide Squad and the Folly of Controlling Content at Comic-Con

Warner Bros has released the teaser for its Suicide Squad film, but it's not happy about it.

Over the weekend, the lucky and the faithful attended San Diego Comic-Con, one of the largest entertainment events in the U.S. There they mingled with fellow fans, cosplayed as beloved characters, purchased some great items, and heard about new stuff from their favorite creators. Many made the pilgrimage to Hall H, the most hallowed event space in Comic-Con, to see some sneak peeks of content from some of the biggest entertainment companies in the world.

One of those sneak peeks was at the Warner Bros panel, where the studio showed off a trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, footage from Suicide Squad, and cast members from both projects. While the Batman v Superman trailer went online a short time after its Comic-Con premiere, the Suicide Squad trailer was intended for Comic-Con attendees only. Unfortunately, like every other teaser at the show, a bootleg version of the trailer was available online within a few hours.

Today, after trying to keep that footage offline, Warner Bros finally released it on YouTube.

It's a solid trailer, but that's not what this article is about. Alongside the trailer, Warner Bros released a statement about how unhappy they are that the first look footage had to be released at all.

"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," said Warner Bros president of Worldwide Marketing and International Distribution Sue Kroll. "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."

"You really thought you were keeping that under wraps?"

I'm sympathetic to the plight of Warner Bros' marketing department. I've worked with marketing and public relations people during my time as a journalist. Leaks aren't fun for them. They are tasked with selling and representing a product in its best light. For many, that means controlling what gets sent to the public. Every image, screenshot, teaser, trailer, and demo is vetted. "Is this saying what we want it to say? What message does this send?" When something is released, it's sent across all social media accounts, posted on official blogs, accompanied by statements from the production team behind the product. Marketing always want to put their best foot forward.

The problem is for this specific venue, this is a battle they've already lost.

Comic-Con's Hall H fits over 6,000 people and most of those people aren't professionals. If you show footage or a demo to journalists, you can enforce an embargo. This usually prevents the content from reaching public before marketing is ready. Journalists are likely to work with your marketing department again, so even beyond non-disclosure agreements, most aren't willing to break embargo.

Behind-the-scenes footage is frequently shown at events like PAX and EGX, but it tends to be in closed theatre presentations. These rooms usually fit 15-20 people. It's far easier to enforce a "no recording" policy when you only have 20 people to watch.

There's no way to enforce your "no recording" policy in Hall H. [Image via KPBS Online]

6,000 fans though? That content is getting out. There's no accountability there and you'll never have enough ushers to catch even the most blatant recorders. That's before you count the people hiding cameras in backpacks, costumes, or other items. That's not counting the GoPros or those rocking Periscope on their phones. The ongoing march of technology means recording your panel or teaser footage far easier than it was in 2009 and 2010.

Beyond that, the logistics of getting into Comic-Con's Hall H means you're getting the most fervent fan, the one who's absolutely willing to go the extra mile to share your content. Think of the hoops they have to jump through to get to this point. Getting into Comic-Con in the first place is pretty hard if you haven't already gone before. Getting into Hall H is much harder, since only 6,000 of Comic-Con's 130,000 attendees can fit in the venue. Here's part of an article by a writer from The Verge, about the crazy nightmare of Hall H:

It was Friday and getting close to midnight, and I was still standing in the overnight line for San Diego Comic-Con's Hall H, where Zack Snyder and the cast of Batman v. Superman would be presenting the next day. Hall H is where all of the biggest panels are held - it's the location of legend at Comic-Con - and if you want to get in, you have to get there early.

This is what they go through to get into Hall H. [Image via The Verge]

I had been waiting for close to 10 hours at that point. For the most part, it hadn't been so bad. I was concerned about being stuck out in the California sun - one person I spoke with had gotten a "massive sunburn" on her arm from shielding her face while waiting in line the prior day - but I was fortunate enough to end up so far back in line that I was shaded in the trees of a small park about half a mile away from Hall H.

"Now it's become such a thing that you have to stay overnight," Arson says. It's around one in the morning and she's wrapped in a thick blanket near the front of the park line. Her group arrived at noon after monitoring the line's growth on Twitter. "You have to give them half of your convention," she says.

The people who are camping out for 24 hours to see your hour-long panel? Those folks are willing to go the extra mile to share your content. Because that's what fans do. Fans love your stuff so much that they can't wait to tell others in the community about it. They're excited and when you're excited, you want to share that joy with someone else. They want to talk about how cool that trailer was. They want to tweet and Snapchat about that new costume or new information about the next season. They want to share their enthusiasm.

Why would you want to stop that?

The power of Hall H, or attending any show in person really, isn't just the early content. It's in being there in the room. It's seeing the footage and seeing the people you love up there on stage. It's sitting next to fans who are as hyped as your are. I can catch every major fight from EVO on Twitch, but that's nothing like being there in the room when a Grand Final ends. If you've never been to a live fan event, there's nothing else like it. The lines are long, the events are short, but when you're done, it's usually worth it just to be there. That's the magic.

Studios, embrace your fans. Embrace the fact that they're excited about what you're making. At the Star Wars panel, Lucasfilm released a behind-the-scenes show reel for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A few hours after the panel, the footage was up on YouTube. It's been viewed by 5.8 million people as of this writing. Isn't that better than just 6,000 people relating that information secondhand? Isn't that better than those 5.8 million people watching low-quality smartphone camera footage?

In the gaming industry, if a trailer is shown onstage, you can usually find that trailer online a short time afterwards. Why not? You want to promote your creation, right? Sure, it might only be on one outlet or a Twitch archive, but fans who were unable to attend an event can engage with that content. They'll engage regardless of the format. I know, because I am a fan, too. If it's a blurry picture from the showfloor, they'll pore over it, dissecting every deal. Low-quality footage? Fans will treat it like gospel because that's all they have.

Part of putting your best foot forward is understanding the reality you work in. Warner Bros isn't alone in the industry. The new Ghostbuster film is controversial for some, but director Paul Feig has remained committed to showing fans what the movie is all about. On his Twitter account, he has been consistent in showing the cast, the new Ecto-1, the new Proton Packs, and more. He understands that you might be reticent to watch the reboot, so he wants you to know that he cares about the project as much as you do. Feig wants you to feel like you're a part of the process.

Another Warner Bros' property, CW's Arrow, also had a panel at Comic-Con. At the panel, Stephen Amell, who plays Oliver Queen/Arrow on the show, stepped out in his new Green Arrow costume. That's a big moment if you were attending the show, but the team behind Arrow quickly released a high-resolution picture of the new costume for everyone. The official Arrow Twitter account and Amell tweeted the picture before and after the panel. The Arrow account version was retweeted 3,308 times, while Amell's similar tweet was retweeted 12,499 times. When forums, fansites, and the rest of the internet talk about the new Green Arrow costume, they don't have to rely on a fuzzy image of it, because the Arrow production team stepped up. They essentially said, "If you want to talk about the costume, please use this image," and people will. That's good marketing.

There are other trailers in the same boat as the Suicide Squad. Fans have been discussing fuzzy bootleg footage for Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse for two days because that's all they have to work with. The question I ask is this: Why would you want your product represented by anything less than your best? Don't fight Hall H, because you won't win, the fans will. Embrace it. Realize that content will get out if you show it to the public and plan accordingly. Have your official release ready to go.

Acknowledge the reality you live in, instead of uselessly trying to beat back a tornado of coverage.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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