Damon Lindelof, executive producer and co-creator of ABC’s Lost, had a recent conversation with his personal trainer about Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of the much-beloved (and complicated!) 1986 original comic-book series that will be released in theaters tomorrow. “Have you heard of this Watchmen thing? What is it?” his trainer asked. “Little does he know, I’ve read it like nine times and am obsessed with it,” Mr. Lindelof told The Observer in a phone interview from his California office.
He was discussing the difficulty of marketing Watchmen, which he has loved since he first read it at the comic geek’s coming-of-age sweet spot: age 13. “You try to explain Watchmen to people and you say, ‘O.K., it’s 1985 and Nixon is still president’ and that’s when they just shut off—their eyes glaze over,” he said.
Mr. Lindelof also said that studios haven’t completely “cracked” the balance between catering to the fanboys and the “uninitiated.” Warner Bros. seemed to struggle with that for their Watchmen campaign, considering the centerpiece site: TheNewFrontiersman.net.
“The people who are most into the movie or going to be playing these games, are already buying tickets,” he explained.
Mr. Lindelof said he hasn’t played with too many of Watchmen’s online marketing materials. He saw a couple videos, including the news report on Dr. Manhattan and a government public service announcement about the Keene Act. “Also, a kind of 6-bit old school Nintendo game where you get to be Silk Spectre or Nite Owl and go around punching people,” he said. “If there was something to unlock I was unsuccessful in unlocking it.”
“If you’re gonna ask people to take the time and energy to seek it out, there needs to be a reward,” he said.
He is struggling with this himself as he helps plan the online marketing work for the new Star Trek movie he is producing (to be released May 8 this year). “You start to ask yourself, what is it? What is it for? Is it actually marketing or is it liner notes? Is it something that you’re doing to give love to the fans, to the core and the base, in the hopes that they will send this to the uninitiated or the fact of the matter is, I’m not winning over people who are like, ‘What is Watchmen?'”
And will the fanboys even want to spread that marketing material around to educate the masses about their Watchmen world?
“There’s a little bit about that feeling of Watchmen, in terms of the fans, it’s like, I don’t really know if I want it to go mainstream,” Mr. Lindelof explained. “It’s like if you discover a band in college and you can go and see them and you can be right up against the stage and you kind of know the members of the band on a first-name basis and you can have beers with them after the show and then they break. And now they have a single on the radio and everybody is listening to them and now you have to buy a ticket to go see them in a coliseum…I want to keep it sort of insular. It’s okay with me if people don’t understand it because they don’t deserve to understand it.”
Certainly, whether they’re motivated to or not, fanboys have trouble translating Watchmen for the non-comics-obsessed because it is so multi-layered and challenging. But so is Lost. Lost’s online campaign is successful because viewers who aren’t as familiar with the characters and plotline have plenty of content to explore and to learn more from, with detailed episode recaps, character biographies, and an interactive “Connections” map and supplemental videos, like the Missing Pieces feature.
Meanwhile, hardcore obsessives can get, well, lost in the online Lost world. There’s the Oceanic Air site, which looks just like any regular airline site—only all flights are canceled because of the Flight 815 tragedy. The Dharma Initiative, the Hanso Foundation and the Maxwell Group also have their own online portals and secret pages. Recently, there’s Find815.com, which includes a virtual desk (check your own voicemail messages! And emails, too!) and a Lost diary. Fun stuff!
But Mr. Lindelof explained why even the most interesting online marketing material might never get seen by the mainstream: “Let’s face it, what is the subset of your audience that is going online to seek this out? So suddenly like Joe from Poughkeepsie who doesn’t give a crap about the Internet at all has heard that you need to basically have this online experience to understand Lost, then he gets turned off of the mothership. He’s basically like, ‘I just want to watch the show, man. If you tell me I have to go online for an hour and unlock all these puzzles to understand the show, it’s hard enough as it is, don’t make it any harder.’”
So guys like Joe from Poughkeepsie might not understand every scene of director Zack Snyder’s version of the comic book, even if Warner Bros.’ online campaign was brilliant. But maybe that is the way it should have been if he was going to stay true to the material. “The nobility of the action of making the movie and trying to be as literally married to the original text as he was is so admirable to me that I think it insulates [Mr. Snyder] from any criticism from anyone who really loves Watchmen,” he said. “It’s the most married-to-the-original-text version of Watchmen that could’ve been made.”