Harvey Weinstein is being very noisy in his message to be very quiet.
On Wednesday afternoon, reporters were emailed a press release announcing the "Uncover the Mystery But Don’t Spoil the Secrets" campaign for the Weinstein Company’s upcoming documentary Salinger, about literary icon—and famous recluse—J.D. Salinger, which hits theaters on September 6. On Wednesday night, TWC blitzed out another email, this one with a teaser poster for the movie, featuring a cartoonish rendering of a young Salinger with his finger to his lips, as though to say: "Shhh." Press members seeing early screenings are being forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.
The idea is to encourage awareness of the film without spoiling any of the "unprecedented amount of unseen footage, photographs, and biographical information" that TWC boasts are in the film. It’s a titillating promise, given Salinger’s puzzling life, which saw him publish the instant bestseller The Catcher in the Rye in 1951 and then become a Howard Hughesian hermit in the New England woods, where he carried on a series of relationships with much younger women while refusing any contact with the outside world. He is believed to have written as many as nine novels that have never seen the light of day.
According to the melodramatic trailer for Salinger, the film—which is directed by "Armageddon" screenwriter Shane Salerno and has been nine years in the making—will disclose "the biggest secret" of the author’s lifetime, along with the "demons" that drove him. The trailer also ominously hints at a nervous breakdown Salinger suffered and the "concrete bunker where he worked."
"Mystery—we all like mystery," Danny DeVito, one of the many big names interviewed for the doc (others include John Guare, Tom Wolfe, and Philip Seymour Hoffman) says coyly into the camera.
Indeed, the Weinsteins are cleverly positioning the film as a must-see mystery about a mysterious man as opposed to a sleepy documentary—a strategy that should help the film not just with moviegoers, but with Oscar voters. And, in true Weinstein impresario style, they are not being in any way subtle about it. Besides naming the film’s marketing campaign, the release of Salinger coincides with the release of a Salinger biography by Salerno and David Shields, making it a multiplatform event. (The "Uncover the Mystery" campaign is a partnership with Simon & Schuster).
Brothers Weinstein unrolled a similar see-but-don’t-tell campaign to sell The Crying Game (which the press release naturally references), but that was before the age of Twitter and Facebook and the moviegoing public’s tendency to digitally convey thoughts on a film before leaving the theater.
According to Ira Kalb, professor of marketing at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, "It’s less realistic nowadays" to think that spoilers can be kept from leaking online, but in the case of "Salinger," it doesn’t really matter.
"The fact that they’re using these bits and pieces, but not to reveal too much, is still going to get a tremendous groundswell of interest in the film," says Kalb.
"Not everyone follows everything on Twitter, and not everybody is tapped into social media. So all these ideas—this guy being a recluse, having demons, being mysterious—are only going to fuel word of mouth. They’re using social media in a very clever way to market the film."
In keeping with its campaign theme, TWC had no comment for this article.