OSSIPEE — Coming soon to a billboard near you — a free screening of the scary 2015 New England folk tale “The Witch.”
The New York-based entertainment company A24, the film’s distributor, is known for its unusual movie promotions, one of which will take place at 954 NH Route 16 in Ossipee on Tuesday, Aug. 6. A24 kicked off a six-week screening series of its biggest titles on July 20, with a showing of Greta Gerwig’s breakout Oscar Winner “Lady Bird” projected onto a billboard in a parking lot in downtown Sacramento, Calif.
A24 describes the free screenings as “a celebration of the movies and places they came from, hosted across the country on the most classic form of American media.”
Jena Knight, who owns and operates Jena’s Lobster Quest at the corner of Route 16 and Elm Street in Ossipee, said she wasn’t quite sure of what to make of initial text messages she received from Ludlow Grey LLC., a Brooklyn. N.Y., event production company.
“I think I was a little short with them,” she said of the company’s idea of screening “The Witch” on a billboard next to Knight’s popular 60-seat seafood restaurant.
Ludlow Grey has since secured a town license for a temporary outdoor event, after submitting plans for security, fire safety, traffic control and a certificate of liability insurance of $1 million per claim, and a $2 million general aggregate with the town of Ossipee listed as additional insured. Hay-bale seating will be provided for the 8 p.m. screening. The fire department would need to inspect the site after set-up.
The script for “The Witch” was written and the film directed by New Hampshire native Robert Eggers, who said he was inspired by his childhood fascination with witches and frequent visits to the Plimouth Plantation, a living history museum in Plymouth, Mass., as a schoolboy. He wanted to film the picture on location in New England, but the lack of tax incentives meant he had to settle for Canada.
To find the old growth forest environment he was looking for, the film crew had to go “off the map,” eventually settling in Kiosk, Ontario, an area so remote that Eggers, who was born in Lee, said the nearest town “made New Hampshire look like a metropolis.”
“The Witch” is set in 1630s New England and follows English settler William and his family – wife Katherine, daughter Thomasin, son Caleb, fraternal twins Mercy and Jonas, and infant Samuel, who are banished from a Plymouth Puritan Colony over a religious dispute. They later encounter the forces of evil in the woods beyond their farm, engaging viewers in a deeply unsettling exercise in slow-building horror.
While watching “The Witch” outdoors is sure to add an extra creep factor, true horror fans may be disappointed that the screening is not in a more desolate place, preferably next to a farm with a few goats. A24 is no stranger to distributing movies that leave a lasting impression with viewers, including “Hereditary,” “The Lighthouse” and the newly released “Midsommar.”
To promote interest in their films, A24 has deployed some unique marketing tools. The company set up a text message auto-response bot for 2016’s “Swiss Army Man” that allowed fans to text Daniel Radcliffe’s disarmingly odd character Manny. The texts “Manny” received were then collected on a Tumblr blog. Most recently, A24 sold replicas of “A Bear in a Cage” toy in homage to a plot twist in the new drama/thrilled “Midsummor.”
Part of the goal is to make audiences aware of the brand, though in a subtle way, as well as to broaden the awareness of the brand to wider audiences.
Initial paperwork filed for the event listed an estimate of attendees at about 50 people. A24-branded swag will be offered for sale during the Aug. 6 event in Ossipee.
Lena’s Lobster Quest is normally closed on Tuesdays, but Knight said it will be open on the night of the screening. Seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.