“We know you gave Vampire Academy a bad review, but we thought you might find this interesting.”
An entirely unfortunate part of writing about films in a critical manner involves steeling yourself against often surprisingly vitriolic attacks from perfect strangers who don’t agree with your opinion (and, yes, this is all opinion) on a production and think that entitles them to belittle you, threaten you, and swamp you with messages (public and private) of the purely revolting variety. Yet, it’s not often that a fan reaches out directly over email to hem and haw about some critical disagreements, so (God help me) I tend to read those emails with a heightened interest (after all, they took the time to find my email address and not just post anonymously on a piece) and an actual eye to responding (barring, you know, threats against my person or whatever).
Last night’s email, intriguingly titled “Thought this might interest you.” and leading off with the admission that my non-fandom of Vampire Academy had been outed in last week’s review of the film, piqued my interest. Did I really give Vampire Academy a “bad” review? And how likely was it that this email would contain a Photoshopped picture of my head on a stake?
Not likely, because the Vampire Academy fan who sat down to email me (and, to be perfectly honest, probably sent the exact same email to every other critic who gave the film less than a sterling review) was nothing but cordial and informative. Her mission? To bring my attention to a grassroots campaign by VA fans to bring (positive) attention to the feature. As she put it, “the fans themselves are doing a worldwide marketing campaign, without help from the marketing team or any professionally affiliated organizations. We’re trying to spread the word about this, and see if perhaps even our negative reviewers might find this information to be compelling. It is quite the phenomenon.” But is it?
The Vampire Academy fan pointed me to a post over at MoviePilot that ostensibly reveals the fan campaign for the film without saying much about what those plans actually are, so we did some digging. The post shared, “the dedicated VA fandom has a number of plans up their sleeve to show the world just how amazing the movie and mythology within the story is, and with support from the producers themselves, this is one fight they’re definitely not going to back down from.” But what are those actual plans? Turns out, the VA fans are taking a wholly expected route – they’ve been issuing rallying cries across the social media world, and they don’t seem to be abating any time soon.
Sure, you might not like Vampire Academy (and while I was sort of middling on the film, I still think Zoey Deutch gives a wonderful performance and, if a potential sequel means more of her work as Rose Hathaway, I’m all in), but every fan can relate to loving a property that somehow got short shrift when it came time to bust into the big time. Not every book series can be Harry Potter.
The thrust of their campaign appears to be twofold – first, to spread positive word-of-mouth about the feature in hopes of pulling in an audience and two, to ensure that fans are aware of when the film is actually opening in their country (scrambled and staggering release dates appear to be a big issue).
The fans have taken to social media for their grassroots campaign, and the “Official Vampire Academy Movie” Facebook page (a peek at its About page reveals that its really the “Vampire Academy Movie Producer’s Page,” not an officially sanctioned marketing arm from TWC) currently has over 333,000 “likes.” The page is kitted out with marketing-centric memes, links to positive (and only positive) reviews for the film, and encouraging words from the page’s moderator.
A post on February 9, two days after the film’s U.S. release date, implored fans:
“Leave it to our fans to not backdown! This comes from three of our super fans. Please join and help the cause! #VAMovie
#VAfamily, we need your help to spread the word..
Whoever wants to see VA movie as a success, & get frostbite, help us..
We will allot different categories or Pages to you.. and all you need to do is post VA music video and other positive reviews there.. “
Over on Twitter, the film’s (again) “official” page has about 57,000 followers, and appears to be dedicated to overwhemlingly positive information and affirmations (it’s actually kind of refreshing). Just yesterday, whoever is moderating the page tweeted out, “We’ve made it past opening weekend, #VAFamily! But there’s still work to be done! Tell your friends to see #VAMovie.” On February 9, they posted, “Marketing aside, there is nothing more powerful when it comes to selling a new movie than word of mouth! Be powerful #VAFamily! #VAMovie”
A dive inside both the #VAFamily and #VAMovie hashtags reveals an engaged, positive fanbase. The fans love this movie, and they want you to love it, too.
But will you? The film made less than $4M at the U.S. box office this weekend, putting it in seventh place, just barely topping The Nut Job and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, which both opened four weeks ago. This week’s crowded, Valentine’s Day themed release calendar likely won’t give it much of a break, and its slow and steady release roll-out will probably never give it a major boost (take a look at the film’s release calendar over at IMDb to get an idea of what they’re working with). Vampire Academy won’t complete its release date run across Europe until June, when it hits Sweden. A low Rotten Tomatoes rating (currently sitting at 12%) also won’t recommend the film to non-fans, and it seems unlikely that newbies will suddenly stumble into the rich Vampire Academy social media world without knowingly looking for it.
How exactly will hashtags save a film if the only people who know about them are dedicated fans who already love the material? (It probably won’t.)