Posted on Tuesday, April 21st, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
Last month we posted a 9-minute first-person short film which appeared on YouTube titled “What’s In The Box?” The special effects-infused short gained traction online, with many of the impressed viewers trying to unlock the mystery. Could this be a viral marketing campaign for a movie? a television show? a video game? a cell phone? Many speculated that the film might to promote the video game Half-Life, as it featured some imagery from the series.
The use of Michael Giacchino‘s Lost score lead others to believe that the short might be connected to the JJ Abrams-produced television show. Websites connected with the video (or possibly fan created add-ons to the experience) also featured Lost-related Easter eggs like a pass code using the famous numbers 4 8 15 16 23 42 and a link to The Hanso Foundation website, the company which finances the Dharma Initiative.
Lost producer Damon Lindelof has finally gone on record to confirm the the video is NOT connected in any official capacity to the popular sci-fi television series.
“The quality of “What’s in the Box?” is secondary only to its mystery,” Lindelof commented to Entertainment Weekly. “And the fact that a first-person run through an urban center set to the occasional piece of Giacchino music and a few Hanso logos thrown into the corollary site makes people even ask whether or not this is officially attached to the Lost mythology is pretty damn spectacular.”
And much like any magic trick, the mystery is much more exciting than the reality. The short is not the start of any alternative reality game, or viral campaign for a movie, television show or product. A dutch filmmaker named Tim Smit appeared on the De Wereld Draait door television show claiming credit for creating the video. You can watch the interview subtitled on Youtube. Tim says that 20th Century Fox even contacted him after the film went viral, so I’m not sure we’ve heard that last of Smit.
And the idea that the film was not connected to anything makes me wonder how long it will be before filmmakers begin creating virals on spec. It is a common practice for aspiring directors to create commercials on spec to add to their reel or entice tadvertising agencies. I’ve heard that some spec commercials have even ended up on television, although I’m not sure if that is true or just an urban myth. But with the internet, the filmmaker has direct access to a worldwide audience. After a video goes viral, a filmmaker could auction off the rest of the viral campaign (at that point open ended to fit the need of whatever advertised product/movie/videogame/television show) to the most interested party.