TheGrill: How Top Hollywood Executives Use Social Media for Casting Movies (Video)

Industry leaders examine merits of giving roles to actors with big online fan bases at TheWrap’s fifth annual Media Leadership Conference

Last Updated: October 8, 2014 @ 9:44 AM

Can a robust social media audience land an actor his next film?

Some of Hollywood’s top executives discussed the topic while gathered at TheGrill, TheWrap‘s fifth annual Media Leadership Conference on Tuesday at the Montage in Beverly Hills.

The panel featuring seven of the film industry’s biggest power players — titled “Presidents Roundtable: The Future of Moviemaking, Marketing and Distribution” –got lively when the execs were pressed on the issue of casting actors whose social media numbers could help boost awareness of a movie.

Also read: TheGrill: 7 of Hollywood’s Most Powerful Studio Executives on the Struggle to Find Theater-Worthy Films

“We don’t,” said Sean Bailey, president, Walt Disney Studios motion picture production, on casting based on the number of actor’s online followers. “That’s part of the conversation, that’s a data point. … We cast the best people.”

“It certainly doesn’t drive anything,” agreed Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and international distribution at Warner Bros. Pictures. While noting that social engagement is important to the marketing process, Kroll noted that “people have to want to see the film.”

See photosThe Scene at TheGrill 2014: TheWrap’s Media Leadership Conference (Photos)

“I think it depends on the movie,” said Doug Belgrad, president of Sony Pictures motion picture group and president of Columbia Pictures. Belgrad noted that while the leads for Kevin Hart‘s upcoming Screen Gems film “The Wedding Ringer” were traditionally cast, there were secondary parts cast with the social reach of the actors in mind.

Also read: TheGrill: MySpace’s Chris DeWolfe, YouTube’s Chad Hurley On What Happens When Hollywood and Gaming Play Nice

Josh Goldstine, president worldwide marketing at Universal Pictures, noted that it helped the “Fast and the Furious” franchise that Vin Diesel had a great relationship with his online followers.

“It does create and foster this real kind of intimacy,” said Goldstine, but added that in terms of casting, “I completely agree with Sue that having someone with a lot of followers doesn’t mean anything.”

Bailey also noted that social media can be somewhat uncontrollable when it comes to sensitive materials the studio wants to control, like content from the upcoming “Star Wars” film directed by J.J. Abrams. “There’s also an offensive aspect to it and a defensive aspect,” he said.

One thing the panelists could agree on was that any actor-driven social media associated with a project had to come across as authentic.

“If it doesn’t feel real, people dismiss them,” said Kroll. “It feels too promotional.”

See TheWrap’s complete coverage of TheGrill 2014 — News, Photos, Videos

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