Everyone knows Once is (a) one of the most affecting audience “heart” movies of the year and yet (b) it can’t push its way past $6.5 million so far, which means it hasn’t even been seen by a third of the hip urban indie audience, much less a sizable percentage of the schmoes who only go to broad-ass, heavily marketed, big-name movies from the major distribs. So how can Fox Searchlight cajole the reluctant masses into seeing John Carney‘s little musical?

(l. to r.) Kidman, Damon, Linney, Clooney, Hanks, et. al.

A good idea hit me over lunch yesterday, and it came from Steven Spielberg‘s willingness to give a Once-plugging quote to USA Today‘s Anthony Breznican in a piece than ran three days ago. In a phrase, Once can get moving with mainstream viewers through celebrity endorsements. Print ads and perhaps even internet video spots that would basically say, “Hey, some people you know fairly well are really into this film.”
If the great Spielberg is willing to give it up by telling Breznican that “a little movie called Once gave me enough inspiration to last the rest of the year,” why can’t other big names be approached and asked for a friendly little quote as well? And then Fox Searchlight could make a little ad campaign out of all the celebs who are willing to stand up. Pure alpha, no money involved, and no agents pulling their usual selfish crap. The celebrity roster wouldn’t even necessarily be limited to actors and directors who are in business with Fox Searchlight. If you’re a recogni- zable name and you love the film, you’d simply say this (over the phone or email, or on camera), and that would be that.
Films like Once are obviously good for everyone’s spiritual health, and I’m given to understand that a lot of industry above-the-liners are heavily into it (as indicated by that Spielberg quote). So why not say this out loud? If folks like, say, Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts or Ron Howard or Tom Hanks were to offer testimonials it would be almost analogous to signing their names on a stop-global-warming petition.
What would a typical big name actor say if 20th Century Fox came to them and said, “Hey, how about giving us a personal endorsement of Live Free or Die Hard? We need to boost business.” Any self-respecting pro would either laugh in their face or be so disgusted by the low-rent cravenness of such a proposal that he/she probably wouldn’t even respond. But Once is different. Once is a vibe, a song…a poor little church. Once is something you see and get or you don’t. Once exists in its own realm.
If any agent says to his or her client, “You absolutely can’t do this because if you do it’ll open a floodgate and the indie marketing crowd will never leave you alone,” tell them this is a Once-off, one-time thing and that’s all. No debate, no ifs or buts …just stand up and say it and put a bloom on your day.
And as long as we’re kicking this around, the best way to do this would be to shoot a series of video spots in which the celeb would riff about the film for a couple of minutes the way others have done for spots about movies and politics for the great Errol Morris, and then cut together a series and run them on the internet. TV would presumably be too expensive for Searchlight’s Once budget but they could always go that way down the road.
Note: Apologies to Breznican for confusing his name with Scott Bowles‘ when this thing first went up.