In a story for Spout about Summit Entertainment's attempt to diversify in the midst of rushing through production on the Twilight franchise, I spoke with former New Line marketing executive Russell Schwartz about some of the ways in which Summit's current situation mirrors that of New Line during its successful run with The Lord of the Rings. Schwartz worked at New Line beginning in the early part of this decade and left in 2007, allowing him to learn a lot about the rapid influence of online fan culture on movie product. During a tangent in our conversation, Schwartz recalled Peter Jackson's constant engagement with his devout Lord of the Rings fans while he suffered through legal battles with New Line about compensation for his work. There was no middle man in this exchange. Jackson was able to establish a direct line with his fans in order to disassociate himself from the studio and generate the sense that he worked for his audience, not for the industry.
This one-on-one approach has become the central thrust of new media influence on the entertainment industry. The New York Times reports on twittering celebrities taking their followers backstage at the Oscars last night, and concludes by setting the stage for "what happens when celebrities sidestep their publicists and begin communicating directly with fans." Many famous entertainers have started to explore this route, but what they're doing is really no different from the strategy of independent artists seeking to maintain a grip on the people who love their work. "The actual online engagement of the fans, I think, was the biggest quantum shift," Schwartz recalled in our conversation. "That's probably the biggest thing is when you give back to your supporters. It seems so obvious now, but it was such a game changer three or four years ago."