It is 21 years since Peter Jackson’s debut feature, Bad Taste, was unleashed on the world at the 41st Cannes festival, during a series of market screenings hosted at the Olympia Cinema.
There’s a fascinating account of events in Lindsay Shelton’s book The Selling of New Zealand Movies, a cracking read for anyone interested in the international film sales scene (Shelton was head of the New Zealand Film Commission's marketing team at the time). The book’s front cover even sports a photograph of one of Jackson’s friends wearing an alien mask from the film and carrying off a woman on the Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes.
As Shelton explains, there was very little money to promote the market screenings, so the film’s low budget ingenuity and mischief making were carried through into the marketing campaign. While I was writing my own book on the subject, Tony Hiles, the film’s Consultant Producer, who accompanied Jackson to Cannes, described to me the approach taken: ‘We were inventive with our one hundred and twelve dollars fifty cent marketing budget, which paid for 500 day-glo stickers with permanent adhesive. We stuck them on other people’s posters, which pissed off a few. Complaints were made to Lindsay Shelton. We were naughty boys’.
Their efforts paid off: Shelton told me deals were struck at Cannes for France, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, Taiwan, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Mexico, Australia and the UK. To date the film has sold to 57 countries worldwide.
Grace Carley, who went on to become the international sales agent for Jackson’s next two features Meet the Feebles (1989) and Braindead (1992), and is now Managing Director of All Industry Marketing in the UK, attended one of the market screenings and later recalled, ‘the loudest laughter came from Peter himself. I just loved [Bad Taste] to bits - it was so original and funny, and the exploding sheep just blew me away’.
Now here’s the thing: there’s evidence of Bad Taste’s legacy at this year’s Marché du Film, where Kiwi filmmaker Jonathan King’s Under the Mountain will have its market première at private screenings.
The movie features creature effects from Weta Workshop, part of the Weta group of companies co-owned by Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Tania Rodgers and Jamie Selkirk (Selkirk first teamed up with Jackson on Bad Taste).
I have no idea whether Under the Mountain is any good, but I wish it every success. And if you’d like to read more about the making and marketing of Bad Taste, you can nab a copy of my book in the US here, in Australia and New Zealand here and in the UK and the rest of the world here (as a taster, there's an exclusive extract here).