Zack and Miri: Sex is Dirty

There has been quite a bit of chatter lately around Kevin Smith’s upcoming film Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but it hasn’t all been about the film itself — in fact, we’ve heard very little about the strong performances from the supporting cast, including Craig Robinson; we’ve heard very little about the fact that the film’s funniest moment is nothing more than the combination of an awkward silence and a Julia Roberts reference (you’ll have to see the film to figure that one out); and we certainly haven’t heard anyone talking about how this is Kevin Smith’s raunchiest film since Mallrats and his smartest film since Chasing Amy. What we have been hearing about is the fact that this film has been a real bitch for the Weinstein Company to market.

From the outset, it was clear that any movie with the word ‘porno’ in the title was going to attract some attention. And in making such a film, there is no doubt that Kevin Smith knew of the hurdles over which he would have to leap in order to make it a financial success — because that is, in case you were wondering, what it is really all about in Hollywood — to make movies that make money. Smith’s dedication to his own work and his fans would be the driving force though, in the attempt to sacrifice very little of the film’s edge in order to be allowed to bring it to the people. Then of course, they ran into the MPAA, the immovable object of objectiveness that so often determines the financial fate of a film with its shady regulatory process. After a small battle, one that included a very highly publicized appeal, Smith’s Porno earned an R rating, solidifying its place in Cinemarks and AMCs across the country.

But that certainly wasn’t the end of the line — there was marketing to do, and that has proven to be a tricky affair. The MPAA denied the film’s teaser poster, which featured live-action versions of Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks (fully clothed, mind you). And seemingly out of frustration — or a stroke of brilliance — Smith and The Weinstein Co. turned to humor to keep their film’s marketing going. They made a poster with stick figures, a tactic that was risky, but has paid off well.

Of course, it hasn’t all be sunshine and rainbows since then — there was the issue of the word ‘porno’ in the title, which caused exhibitors in a bunch of markets to refuse to advertise the film. This of course, caused a small upheaval on the internet, where message boards and comment sections of fansites lit up with outcries of ‘censorship’ and ‘this is dumb.’ While the outcries were indeed passionate, they were sadly misguided. What we fail to recognize is the right for companies to regulate what sort of ads they do or do not run. If I thought the readership around here would be offended by something that we were scheduled to advertise I would certainly have the power to block said ads, and that’s not censorship — it’s business. Of course, so many choose not to understand that — but one person who does get it is Kevin Smith. And with that knowledge, he and the folks at The Weinstein Co. have unleashed an impressive two-pronged marketing campaign — one that has been toned down a bit for the more conservative markets and one that speaks to those who are looking for a little raunch with their morning coffee. For example, in some TV spots (like the one seen below), the film’s title has been shortened from Zack and Miri Make a Porno to Zack and Miri.

And personally, I don’t see anything wrong with this. Either way, word is getting out on Zack and Miri — and what matters is that people of all shapes and sensibilities are drawn to it. From there it doesn’t matter, because what counts is getting people to the theater. After that, the movie itself will do the rest. Of course, there is the other side of things — the side that shows off a little bit more of the film’s edge. For this, the studio had to find the right forum. For example, Seth Rogen and Kevin Smith did the following photo shoot for Complex Magazine:

As well, it appears that the stick figures aren’t going away. For all intents and purposes, the denial of the first teaser poster could have been the spark needed to take the entire campaign to the next level, because now we’ve seen some of the funniest marketing of the year, courtesy of a campaign that states simply “This movie is so dirty that ‘they’ don’t want you to know about it.” Those of us who’ve seen the film know that its really not that dirty — but that is what makes it funny. That is what makes the stick figure gag work. That is the reason why we now have stuff like the Halloween costumes below, which were sent over to us by Matt at Atomic Popcorn this afternoon (click to enlarge):

Zack and Miri Halloween Costumes

This stuff is funny, people. And it all comes from the fact that this movie has met some resistance in the world of advertising. And this is what is important for folks to keep in perspective, because I think we too often lash out against the MPAA or the ambiguous mushroom cloud of censorship when we hear of changes being made to a film’s marketing campaign. It has become clear to me that sometimes people just want to be angry for the sake of being angry. Instead of talking endlessly about how Kevin Smith is getting the shaft from the MPAA or the Philadelphia Transit Authority, we should be enjoying the clever nature of the campaign, and getting excited about the downright hysterical film that is coming out on October 31st. As The Weinstein Co’s head of marketing Gary Faber told CNN, “It’s a comedy. It’s a joke. We’re not advertising a porno. It’s not a porno. The word `porno,’ it’s not supposed to turn you on. It’s supposed to make you laugh.” I couldn’t agree more. And I have a feeling that if Kevin Smith were sitting here, he’d agree too.


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