EXCLUSIVE: The whirlwind life of Expelled, a teen comedy feature starring Cameron Dallas and other online notables and produced by AwesomenessTV, continues to whirl as it heads to a Feb. 1 debut on Netflix, its fourth distribution platform since being greenlit just five months ago.
Besides Dallas, the film also features online stars Andrea Russett, Marcus Johns, Lia Marie Johnson, Michelle Glavan and Teala Dunn. Among the show’s principal cast members, only Matt Shively had significant previous acting experience. But each brought a big base of followers on at least one social-media platform. Dallas, for instance, has 3.1 million subscribers to his YouTube channel.
Alex Goyette wrote and directed the film, which was greenlit in September, filmed in October and released theatrically by Awesomeness on Dec. 12, said the company’s Chief Marketing Officer T.J. Marchetti.
Fox Home Entertainment handled the release Dec. 16 on DHD (iTunes, Google Play VUDU and similar online retailers). Digital platform VHX handled direct-to-consumer through ExpelledMovie.com. By Dec. 30, the film was on VOD. Now it’s headed to Netflix for a global debut this Sunday.
The project is an example of efforts by AwesomenessTV (and other big multichannel networks on YouTube) to evolve into more fully featured digital media companies. AwesomenessTV started as an MCN but now it also a talent-management unit (Big Frame), licensing and merchandise initiatives, and production of more traditional projects such as Expelled.
“It’s why I came here, to evolve the MCN to what a media organization can be today,” said Marchetti, formerly at Disney.
The tightly compressed schedule for Expelled was designed to leverage the stars’ big online audiences, and give their fans the widest possible opportunity to see the film once it hit, on whatever platform they wanted to buy it from.
“People say that’s a really compressed (distribution) schedule, but it’s not,” Marchetti said. “It was really a matter of giving the teens the choice” about how they wanted to watch the movie.
Though Marchetti said he wasn’t ready to disclose revenues, the theatrical run in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas “really helped a lot” in promoting the film on other platforms. It was hanging in the high 40s or low 50s in iTunes preorder charts, but boosted by the theatrical release, debuted No. 1 on the iTunes Store and stayed there for more than three weeks, despite competition from seasonal Christmas movies and plenty of other market distractions through the holidays.
The company continues to promote the film on various platforms daily, in an approach Marchetti said is similar to continuous marketing to a gamer audience, where a title can be acquired through several distribution channels simultaneously and may have follow-on downloadable content for sale months after the initial launch.
But that brought its own challenges for marketing, because “every day, you have to be thinking about how, when and where to engage” the target audience.
That meant having having appropriate content for each of the social-media sites that a given star could tap, and being ready to push the film on each new distribution platform as it became available, Marchetti said. No surprise, the film outstripped even online giant The Fault In Our Stars in Rentrak’s rankings of the year’s most social movie, earning 3.88 million mentions online, Marchetti said.
Success “depends on the talent, and can they activate their audience for these purposes?” Marchetti said. “They don’t have traditional media training. They haven’t had to go on The Today Show to talk about the movie. They don’t have that DNA. That’s something where we have to really coach them and walk them through it.”
The one thing that might have further helped would have been offering more subtitled versions for international markets such as Brazil.
AwesomenessTV plans to roll out two to three additional low-budget films this year that will appeal to the core audience following the stable of AwesomenessTV online stars, Marchetti said.
“We have a nice blueprint,” Marchetti said. “It’s just our DNA.”
Expelled executive producers are Brett Bouttier (The Smosh Movie), Joe Davola (One Tree Hill, Smallville), Scott Levine, Steven Spiegel and Alan Spiegel. AwesomenessTV CEO Brian Robbins (Wild Hogs, Varsity Blues) and Shauna Phelan (The Smosh Movie) are producers. Awesomeness is now a unit of DreamWorks Animation, which recently sold a quarter of the company to Hearst.