Celeb tweets help push Anvil to success

Screen shot from 'Anvil! The Story of Anvil'

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: I'm going to go way out on a limb here and guess that not too many of you have heard of a 30-year-old Canadian thrash metal band called Anvil. Lots of heavy metal groups you probably do know really respect 'em, though. They inspired bands like Guns-N-Roses and Metallica. Malcolm Dome writes for a magazine called Metal Hammer.

MALCOLM DOME: If you actually had to choose one band and one album that really started the whole ball rolling, it would be "Metal on Metal" and it would be Anvil.

Catchy tune, I know, but Anvil somehow never really got off the ground. Now, though, on the strength of a new documentary -- we pulled that Malcolm Dome cut from it -- the band is enjoying the success their fans say is long overdue. It's a turnaround they can credit to a struggling cable channel, a couple of popular recording artists, and everybody's favorite new social-media site. Claude Brodesser Akner is the L.A. bureau chief for Advertising Age magazine. And when we sat down to talk about this I asked him how a documentary about thrash metal could possibly stand a chance.

CLAUDE BRODESSER AKNER: This movie has two bullets in the head right from the start. It's a documentary and thrash medal. I mean, so right there it's got its hurdles. On top of that, it has no studio support, for probably the reasons we just articulated.

Ryssdal: All right, well then how is this film succeeding, to the degree it is, without any major studio support?

AKNER: Well, what happened was this: VH1 purchased the broadcast television and DVD rights to "Anvil! The Story of Anvil," which is this documentary. And so while they are not in any way sort of responsible for the theatrical release, they are heavily incentivized to make sure it's a successful one.

Ryssdal: Incentivized in what way?

AKNER: Because the better it does in theaters, the better it does on DVD.

Ryssdal: All right, so how do they make it work, then?

AKNER: They started handing it out on a DVD to various VHI stars. John Mayer, people like Joel and Benji Madden from Good Charlotte. And these are people who have tremendous followings on Twitter, which is the free social-networking...

Ryssdal: One-hundred-forty characters or less...

AKNER: Exactly. And had you purchased the kind of exposure that they have through Twitter, you would have spent many, many, many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Ryssdal: Let me get make sure I have this right. What VH1 did was distribute these free copies to these music stars who have Twitter accounts. The hope being that they would then Twitter, their followers would re-tweet, and go see the movie, and everything would sort of happen. Total cash out of pocket to VH1 is probably, like, 20 bucks for making the DVDs, right?

AKNER: If that much. There's no real way to quantify the value of Twitter media. That is, when you buy a banner ad on RollingStone.com, you know you're going to get X-many impressions. But it's just not the same thing as someone who you follow and maybe are deeply, deeply interested in. When they tweet something, that's like a tap on the shoulder.

Ryssdal: Is there anything in this for the tweeters. I mean, are John Mayer and those guys getting a little extra air play time from VH1 for doing this?

AKNER: No, and in fact, VH1 has been very, very, very, very -- I underline that five times -- assiduous about emphasizing that this can blow up in your face. That you cannot do this sort of thing for "I Love New York" or some sort of Flavor Flav show. Nor can it seem as though these people have been given blandishments to tweet. This has been a sort of spontaneous, earned-media experience rather than a media buy.

Ryssdal: So are people at the major studios sitting there going, Hmmm....VH1 did this, I wonder if it could work for us?

AKNER: Well, if Twitter winds up becoming the sort of cream-skimming device for smaller cultural happenings, that's a very interesting model. Because Hollywood has pretty much all but abandoned the serious documentary film, or the serious art film.

Ryssdal: What about the traditional documentary
audience, though? Which I would imagine skews older, isn't necessarily online, doesn't necessarily tweet.

AKNER: You don't have to worry about making sure people over 50 go see a documentary. In a sense that's the low-hanging fruit. I was talking to Bingham Ray who was really the first executive to market successfully a major documentary -- and that was "Bowling for Columbine," which made $20 million. He said, you know we could have made millions more had we spent millions more. But there's a point of diminishing returns on documentaries. And for this film, I'm kind of actually hoping that they don't wind up spending any television money because this would be the case study to find out what's a tweet really worth?

Ryssdal: Claude Brodesser Akner is the L.A. bureau chief for Advertising Age magazine. Claude, thanks a lot.

AKNER: Kai, it's a pleasure.

Ryssdal: Fittingly, we go out with Anvil playing "Metal on Metal."

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