NEW YORK Your Webisodes are a hit and you want to know what to do next. One suggestion: Edit them together and take the resulting film on the festival circuit.
That's what the Pennsylvania tourism office did as part of its "Groundhog" campaign, a three-year, approximately $40,000 branding effort that both pokes fun of and celebrates the state's infamous day.
The 70-minute film, Groundhog Crossing, stars a "groundhog" (an actor in a furry brown costume) who goes cross-country in search of his shadow (a man in a darker-color costume). Directed and produced by Philadelphia-based independent Red Tettemer, it was filmed over three weeks last year via RV and a crew of four. The film has all the hallmarks of an indie film: long shots of mostly empty landscapes, offbeat "protagonists" on a journey and a loosely scripted plot.
Along with the Webisodes and a redesigned Web site from Ripple Effects Interactive—which includes blogs and user-posted videos shot by tourists—the film was created to target a younger, hipper visitor. Most tourism spots, including the traditional TV and print spots in a concurrently running Pennsylvania campaign, try to reach as many people as possible, and often, as a result, can be pretty bland.
The campaign has helped build buzz for a state not traditionally on the top of most people's to-do lists. (Visit the Amish? Done. The Liberty Bell? Bought the commemorative T-shirt. Next state, please.) And according to Ripple Effects, traffic to the visitpa.com Web site (which used to be called experiencepa.com) has gone from 5 million in 2003 to 7.7 million in 2006, with spikes each February.
In a gambit to garner as much attention as possible for the film and to the state—based on the theory that people get a kick out of seeing their hometowns in a feature film—Groundhog Crossing is being shown in states where it was shot, including Cleveland (the Indie Gathering at the Cleveland Film Festival), Boise (the Trust West Film Festival) and, next week, Kansas City (the Kansas International Film Festival).
According to Mickey Rowley, deputy secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, when Gov. Ed Rendell was sworn in in 2003, he was given the mandate to "celebrate something only Pennsylvania has." Agency Red Tettemer was brought in (replacing Mullen Advertising) and in 2005 produced eight 15-30-second Webisodes called "Groundhog Chase," featurng the two costumed actors. They were released, like those in the two series to come, between January and Groundhog Day.
In 2006, a darker series, "Groundhog 202," was produced. The nine Webisodes were a riff on The Shining—filmed at a spooky Poconos resort—and they received so much buzz that Variety's Army Archerd wrote about them in his show business column. This year, the footage for the eventual film was made into 28 Webisodes. All three series are on microsites that can be accessed through visitpa.com and are not branded, the better for them to go viral.
Plans for next year's effort are already under discussion. One idea being bandied about is an online video game, where users would seek out the groundhog's shadow themselves. But for now the focus is on getting the film into more festivals.
"We're having people sit down, and in some cases pay, to watch this film as entertainment," said Steve Red, president of Red Tettemer. "To have our piece of marketing material for Pennsylvania representing the spirit of a film festival is a major accomplishment."