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How to Build an Online Empire: The Curious Case of Death Walks the Streets

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer


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In a CC2K exclusive, Phoebe Raven takes a look at an online grassroots campaign for a new horror movie, complete with a first look at concept art for the film.

There are films out there which have huge cult followings. In some cases these films only got big or well-known because such a cult developed, mostly after the DVD release and mostly online. Some examples would be Equilibrium, The Boondock Saints or Donnie Darko. While none of these movies were huge hits at the box office, they are now extremely successful among movie buffs, and vital entry points into the world of the true film lover. But who ever heard of a movie being cult before a single frame was shot? In the new age of Web 2.0 anything is possible, and a project called Death Walks The Streets just might be the harbinger of things to come.

Death Walks The Streets (called DWTS from now on) started out as an independent horror movie about “the mob”, zombies, werewolves, vampires and demons all in one. By now it includes a planned movie trilogy, a six part comic book series (serving as prequels to the movies), endless merchandise on the official homepage (deathwalksthestreets.com ) and one huge internet fan community.

The list of people involved promises excitement for fans of horror, action and crime all alike: Producer is Matthew S. Harrison (Pain is Love, Cake, Witches Night), Co-Producer is Daniel J. Heffner (SAW I, II, III, & IV), Production Designer is Gregory Hill (Law & Order, Devil Wears Prada), Composer is John Roome (Masters of Horror, The Orb) and Visual Effects will be done by Robert Kurtzman's Precinct 13 Entertainment (Devil's Rejects, Hostel, The Rage).

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But the brain behind it all is James Zahn, who will direct for the first time and is heavily involved in every single aspect of the DWTS endeavor. Think of him as the Joss Whedon of The Splat Pack.

The online buzz around this project is also impressive. Death Walks The Streets was one of only three indie movies nominated for SpikeTV’s Scream Awards in the category “Most Anticipated Film”, won this award from F.C.P. Podcast and also won “Most Anticipated Werewolf Movie” at Werewolf-Movies.com. On MySpace the movie’s site currently has almost 19,000 friends.

So how did this all come about? What the crew of DWTS has done is truly amazing, and could quite possibly be the future of filmmaking. They have used all the media at their disposal to spread the word about their project. There are podcasts by different members of the crew and cast, frequent blogs and news updates online, and articles in all the relevant magazines. With the whirlwind they have created on the net they have guaranteed themselves not only the interest of thousands of theater-goers worldwide, but also the attention of some major film studios. No contracts have been signed though, and to this day DWTS remains slated as an “indie film” with Baby Galigo Studios.

The most amazing thing about this is that they have done it all without giving away anything major about the story. Recognizing that, after months of Snakes on a Plane publicity that essentially gave away everything beforehand, the DWTS team cleverly avoids this pitfall. The basic outline of the story, as posted on their MySpace page, is this:


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"In the City of New Marshall, Michael Labou (Angel's Christian Kane) is reunited with his old friends after being released from prison and dreams of starting over with a clean slate & a simple life. His ties to an International Crime Syndicate known only as "The Organization" quickly come back to haunt him as he comes into possession of an ancient relic so coveted that the forces of good and evil – alive and dead – will stop at nothing to claim it as their own."

This tidbit, plus the information that there will be vampires, demons, werewolves, zombies AND the mob, was enough to get everyone excited about this project (I will out myself here as a proud Death Walker for over a year). On the DWTS MySpace blog, sneak peeks of production designs have been posted, but nothing more has been released in terms of storyline. Or has it?

In what could possibly be the most brilliant move of the campaign, these guys not only created a MySpace site for each of the three parts of the movie itself, they also created MySpace pages for each character too! Because of this, I have been subscribed to the protagonist Michael’s blog for quite some time, where he checks in when he can and writes to us from prison! That’s right. As of now he is still in prison, but as soon as the movie will be released, so will he! Genius, no?

The movie’s villain, Abaddon, has also made his presence felt by posting this cryptic message as bulletins or even as a comment:

"They had tails and stings like scorpions, and in their tails they had power to torment people for five months. They had as king over them an angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon…"–Revelation 7-11

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In addition to making all these multi-media moves, one more thing has characterized the DWTS franchise so far: they are extremely fan-friendly. It has been hinted that a considerable amount of tickets to the movie’s premiere will be released to the most loyal of fans, and the cast and crew have made it a point to try to check in with all their friends every now and then, Everyone is extremely thankful for everything the Death Walkers do to help, be it wearing the shirts, adding a DWTS button to their own sites, mentioning DWTS in their podcasts or writing articles about it on websites such as this.

For an independent movie, what these guys have done is the smartest way to go. After all, the music industry has shown that such campaigns can work, with the Arctic Monkeys, Linkin Park and other bands getting signed because they built up a huge internet fan base first. Why shouldn’t the same work for movies? By getting the word out there as successfully as DWTS has managed, the movie is almost a guaranteed success.

I am sure as soon as the first issue of the prequel-comics is released, it will be flying off the shelves and word of mouth will travel even further and faster about a franchise that not only combines the genres of horror, action and crime, but also the media of film, comics and internet. And I for one am giggling with excitement.

UPDATE (October 2007): The Death Walks The Streets "Making of Podcasts" have recently been given a MyEmmy presented by MySpace and the National Television Academy in the category "Arts, Lifestyle, & Culture Programming for Broadband." Shows you just how great these guys really are. Even when they merely document the work they are doing, they deliver quality. This fosters more expectations of greatness from the final product.

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Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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