Two weeks ago, 20th Century Fox and AwesomenessTV unleashed a beast that topped iTunes charts and made many execs in Hollywood take notice: a film named Expelled starring social media superstar Cameron Dallas. This is, as many have been writing, one of the first movies capitalizing on the power of the internet and fandoms. AwesomenessTV understood that many teenagers want to watch movies on their own terms and instead of fighting against the system (“But how will we promote this feature with no ‘name’??”), they released it online. Many movie studios see releasing a film online as a last option. A death note, if you will. But AwesomenessTV saw it as a smart business move.
And many in the film industry are recognizing their bold decision. Look no further than Variety for a glowing write-up on the success of the film, which they largely attribute to Cameron:
What helped was that Dallas launched multiple Twitter hashtag campaigns, including #ExpelledMovieToNumberOne — which wound up trending worldwide on Twitter on its release date. The movie is the first from AwesomenessTV Films, which considered it a test to see whether the company could turn its online talent into bonafide film stars through longer, more scripted productions, rather than the shortform videos in which they currently appear.
AwesomenessTV also clearly sees features as another way to generate revenue through partnerships (Coca-Cola sponsored the film) and merchandise (T-shirts and other products are sold on the film’s website).
The successful digital release of “Expelled” is a “reflection of the ever-changing marketplace, with fans who want to own their favorite movies and enjoy them on their terms,” said Brian Robbins, founder of AwesomenessTV.
Sure, Expelled could (and probably will) become lost in the jumble of many teen films that are released this decade. But there is a chance that it might not–AwesomenessTV understands the need for films that appeal to teen viewers who are increasingly becoming more fickle and attention deficit to 90 minutes of entertainment. How do you get teenagers to see a movie when they could easily watch a YouTube video or a Vine? You put one of the leading celebrities from that platform into the film.
It says a lot about Cameron’s fan base and his strong hold on pop culture–that is largely passed by mainstream media–that his film was propelled from number 52 to number 1 in a few hours. It says even more that these teenagers bought the film with no idea how good or bad the final product would be.
Expelled, to it’s credit, is a movie that knows it’s audience extremely well. It was not made to be high-brow entertainment. But Cameron proves to be a charming lead. He says his line cunningly and with charm. Translating the same charisma that has made him so popular already into a movie seemed like the natural next step for him. At times the movie does seem a bit bogged down by it’s outrageous and largely unrealistic plot — but that will go largely unnoticed by it’s teen viewers. Cameron has help from a talented gang of equally boisterous co-stars including Lia Marie Johnson, who contributes a song to the soundtrack. Lia Marie proves to be a winning and relatable love interest to thousands of girls watching the film. Many of the first Tweets were, of course, about the kiss the two share near the end of the film.
At times the movie does seem to exist solely for the thousands of gifs, memes and six second Vines that are being created as I am typing this. But what do you expect from a movie aimed directly at a generation who’s existence relies on these things? If my predictions turn out to be correct, I would say this is the first of a slew of movies AwesomenessTV will produce featuring social media stars. Cameron has already tweeted that he’s filming something new and I’m willing to bet it’s either another movie for AwesomenessTV or a TV show. If anything else, Expelled features a traditional road to stardom for the cast, specifically Cameron. For magazine editors confused by the popularity of Cameron this could serve as a gateway to mainstream success.
Either way, I see Expelled’s success as one of the smartest business moves any production company has made this year. The only way the next move will be smarter is if they somehow find a way to feature half of the Magcon tourmates in a new film. (Hint, Awesomenss, this a great idea.)
For those of you who saw the movie, what were your thoughts? Leave em below in the comments!