The creepily realistic-looking dummy used in the movie for stunts is just one of the bizarre props A24 brought along for the ride with two dozen journalists, all of whom received gift bags with small, portable bongs made of rubber, plus free beer for the ride. “I don’t know if it’s legal, but we’re going with it,” said A24’s Nicolette Aizenberg, adding that the bus did not have a bathroom.
The feature film debut of music video directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan -— collectively known as “Daniels” —“Swiss Army Man” centers on Hank (Paul Dano), a man stranded on a deserted island who makes a friend when a corpse named Manny (Radcliffe) washes up on shore. In short order, the dead guy’s unseemly bodily functions figure heavily in the plot.
It’s not an easy sell, but then, A24 has a pretty good recent track record for tricky commercial propositions: Earlier this year, the company released the slow-burn horror film “The Witch” to a healthy $25 million domestic box office, and the idiosyncratic dystopian drama “The Lobster” raked in $7.5 million in limited release.
Needless to say, if anyone can come up with a clever strategy for selling the story of a farting corpse, it’s these guys. So there we were, riding around with Manny in Manhattan.
After barreling south on Broadway and then 11th Avenue, the bus made a stop on Little West 12th Street to pick up the real Radcliffe, who immediately grabbed a microphone and began telling stories about sharing an acting role with a life-sized replica of himself. “You inevitably get very stupid with the dummies and just start doing very stupid stuff with them on set,” he said. Asked if it felt weird to be sitting next to what looked like a deceased version of himself, Radcliffe explained that he’d been through similar experiences during production of the “Harry Potter” films. “I’ve seen myself look weird and disembodied before,” he said.
Monday’s bus tour was the first of several similar tours A24 is launching for “Swiss Army Man,” which will bring Radcliffe and his slightly paler doppelgänger to Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Miami and Washington D.C.
The distributor is quickly building a reputation for outside-the-box marketing. During South by Southwest Film Festival, the company created an automated Tinder profile for the “Ex Machina” character Ava and tricked a number of men into thinking they were trading messages with a real person. There is also a Twitter account for the demonic goat from “The Witch” and an online quiz you can take to determine which animal you should become, taken from the premise of “The Lobster.”
The “Swiss Army Man” promotional bus tour offering free beer and selfie opportunities with Radcliffe and his twin dummy is one of A24’s most outside-the-box ideas yet. “It’s rare that you have a client that’s like, ‘Let’s get as weird as possible,'” said Evan Starkman, president of marketing firm The Bait Shoppe, which is coordinating the bus tours with A24. The “boutique experiental agency ” works with companies to create immersive marketing campaigns in ways that ideally have never been done before. We’re going to buy a bunch of pot in Denver,” Starkman said. Maybe that explains the bongs in the gift bag.
Still, pulling off strange promotional stunts like this isn’t something large companies are necessarily willing do, according to Starkman. “We work with a lot of traditional companies, so it’s very cool for us to see a company like A24 pushing the boundaries, getting cool movies, and doing cool things for the movies,” he said. “You’ve got to find the right people when you’re going to drag a dummy around several cities and through airports.”
Nearly everyone on the bus tour remarked that the dummy looked pretty good for having been through an entire movie shoot. At the end of the tour, Radcliffe made the dubious claim that there were multiple dummies on set, one of which even suffered a raccoon attack. “The raccoon just instinctively went for the dummy’s eyes and tried to rip them out,” he said. “Somehow we managed to get through the production with enough of them intact.”
“Swiss Army Man” opens theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on June 24 and nationwide on July 1.