THE MARKETING OF GHOSTS… OF THE CIVIL DEADTHE INFAMOUS STREET POSTER CAMPAIGN
In May 1988 Ghosts… of the Civil Dead was completed, having its first screening (cast/ crew/ friends) at the Capitol cinema (Swanston St, Melbourne) on Mothers Day (8 May, 1988)
The next day John and I took off to Cannes Film Festival to launch the film upon the international film community (or so we hoped).. Earlier that year, the scout for the Festival, Pierre Rissient, had seen a double head rough cut and been complimentary, but wanted it available for selection, a couple of months before we'd realistically be able to finish. So we weren't going to play the prestigious Festival but in the accompanying Market. I didn't know what that meant.
To sell a film on the international circuit, you need a Sales Agent who knows the buyers, the festivals, the hierarchies, has the money to promote. We didn't have one. There was a couple in Australia at that time, but they wouldn't touch it. Without anyone having seen the film, we'd already acquired the reputation of having created something so ugly and violent that not even the Devil'd pay to see it. It was a film slated to disappear without trace.
So we set off to Cannes with no Sales Agent, no budget, and no real idea what Cannes Festival was, or what the town actually looked like. But I had booked a couple of screenings, had a bunch of lists and we did have a suitcase full of trashy posters.
A couple of months before, I thought that given we didn't have any money, why didn't we put up our own posters on walls around town? And I had conceived of an idea inspired by newspaper 'scream sheets' (eg. "Honeymoon couple murdered in marital bed"), with the necessary info and banner lines that related to the film. They'd be in different sequences that would grow and multiply over time - like a cancer.
I WAS 16 WHEN THEY PUT ME IN PRISON EMOTIONALLY I'M STILL 16 PRISON IS THE ONLY WORLD I'VE EVER KNOWN ALL MY DREAMS ARE DREAMS OF VIOLENCE WELCOME TO CENTRAL INDUSTRIAL SAFE, SECURE, HUMANE THE LARGEST JAIL IN THE FREE WORLD
We arrived in Cannes absolutely devastated from about forty hours on the plane, but fortunately to a place where the poster thing could actually work. While the Croissette (the main boulevard that runs along the water) was highly policed and with billboards that would set you back the post-production budget of our film, the area of the town where the film business was conducted was quite small, involved a myriad of back streets that positively invited the fly-poster, and the good, the bad and the ugly, all got around on foot.
By day I would trawl through the 'trades' in search of clues of people and companies we should get to see the film, walk endlessly from office to hotel, to hotel, dropping off junk mail. And after midnight, Jonk would dodge the transvestites and fly poster the town.
I WAS FREE ONCE THEY BRED ME TO CREATE FEAR ONE MAN RELEASED TO IMPRISON THE REST OF THE WORLD
The things looked grungy, cheap (they were), their messages slightly creepy, and they kept on appearing. It was like some weird cult was at work. It wasn't too long before the things had a real presence in town.
To carve any impression of a film at Cannes is difficult - there is so much on the menu and it is difficult to get the 'right' people into the cinema,. And this is particularly so for an unknown film without professional backing, out in the wastelands of the market. But I think we did it. To the jaded film fraternity floating around the festival/ market circuit, our marketing was not only a little bit spooky and weird, it was also some holy combination of guerilla subversion and can-do capitalism! A David had appeared in the cracks of Goliath money film marketing and we won friends for it. We were able to establish the film a little in a crowded screaming market place, win good word-of-mouth and gain invitations to prestigious film festivals.
We were invited to the Venice Film Festival in September of that year where we had been selected to screen in 'Critics Week'. Still without a Sales Agent, we decided to do the poster thing again, so well had it worked in Cannes.
But the Lido in Venice (where the Festival is held) is a different animal to Cannes. It is expensive, bourgeois real estate and it wasn't long before the guerilla tactics landed us in trouble.
Early on the fifth morning (after four nights of fly posting on this sceptred isle), I had a phone cal from Jhon who'd been arrested. He'd spent the night in the lock-up for defacing beautiful 15th century walls with filthy GOTCD posters! Could I get him out? What the fuck was I going to do? I didn't speak Italian.
I had a brainwave. I called the only person I knew in Venice who spoke Italian, a guy I'd met briefly. Nico was a journalist from one of the big Rome dailies in town to cover the Festival! He liked the idea and went down to the Police Station and extracted John from the cooler, then wrote up the story in his national newspaper! Cue much hilarity. The Police were made to look like absolute morons and we (I guess) like honest amateurs.. I guess it was one of them man bites dog stories, but the Italians loved it! And now all the other newspapers ran it, and we had good will all over town.
Apparently, the crime was not so much defacing stone walls with perverse statements, but failing to have the official stamp from the Mayor's office on the poster. A compromise was reached. We'd get the stamp and restrict its placement to sites we had permission for. But because of the poster's notoriety, shopkeepers were only too willing to oblige. You then had the bizarre phenomena of "Fuck Authority" GOTCD posters appearing in the front windows of very up-market, designer boutiques!
And that wasn't the end of it. There were a lot of Police in Venice that year due to the screening of "Last Temptation of Christ", for which they expected acts of fundamentalist Christian terror. They even, ridiculously, erected a sandbag barrier outside the cinema, as if they expected the invasion to come out of the Adriatic. Nothing occurred I hasten to add. .
But on the afternoon of the official screening of GOTCD, I put up a bunch of our posters around the cinema foyer. I had just finished and the crowds were filing in, when the Police stormed the building and started removing the posters!
Before you knew it, all hell had broken loose. Fifteen festival people were screaming viciously at 15 screaming, enraged Italian policemen It was a frantic melee In classic Italian style..And then, in one of the enduring images of my life, an Australian man stepped into the middle of the fracas and started calling out loudly in English: "Hello, my name is ….". (name removed for legal reasons). "I am the head of the Australian Film Commission in Europe. Can I be of any assistance?" I kid you not! Absolutely ansurdly brilliant! He was ignored by everyone, so he started again..
So that's the infamous poster story And it has a short epilogue. For years and years afterwards, film people would return from Cannes and report that they were walking down some back street in the middle of the night, and what did they see in front of them? A "Ghosts … of the Civil Dead" poster.
Evan English, from the British Library, London 2002.
appeared at top of poster
GHOSTS… OF THE CIVIL DEADSTREET POSTER TEXTSGHOSTS"
- on bottom of poster
… OF THE CIVIL DEAD"
and with each line being a different poster::
I WAS FREE ONCETHEY BRED ME TO CREATE FEARONE MAN RELEASEDTO IMPRISON THE REST OF THE WORLD I WAS 16 WHEN THEY PUT ME IN PRISONEMOTIONALLY I'M STILL 16PRISON IS THE ONLY WORLD I'VE EVER KNOWNALL MY DREAMS ARE DREAMS OF VIOLENCE
WELCOME TO CENTRAL INDUSTRIALSAFE, SECURE, HUMANEWE ARE THE FUTURE OF CONTAINMENTTHE LARGEST JAIL IN THE FREE WORLD POLICE DEMAND MORE POWERPOLICE TO GET MORE POWERTHIS IS THE LARGEST JAIL IN THE FREE WORLD
And in the following year, I added:
TIME OUT, UK
FILM COMMENT, USA
"EXPLOSIVE REVELATION OF VENICE"
CORREORE DELLA SER ITALY
"SUPERB ACTING, TOTALLY CREDIBLE"
GLOBE AND MAIL, CANADA
"A REAL DISCOVERY"