In a sign of how social media is further upending traditional Hollywood marketing and distribution techniques, Universal Pictures is promoting a forthcoming film casted almost exclusively with social media content creators — not professional actors — who have millions of followers on various online platforms.
The raunchy feature-length comedy Laid in America stars Youtube sensations KSI, a comedian-actor-rapper with more than 14.3 million YouTube subscribers, and Caspar Lee, who has nearly 7 million YouTube subscribers.
The film, about two foreign exchange high-school students on a quest to have sex on their last night in America, is aimed at the same millennial audience that headed to cinemas this summer for movies like Sausage Party and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.
But Laid in America won’t get a theatrical release, with Universal opting instead for a video-on-demand release on September 26. The idea is to leverage the cast’s robust social media following to push viewers to download or stream the film.
A cast list sent to journalists features the actors’ respective social media followers and subscriber counts, which collectively number more than 30 million.
Demi Olatunji – 5,458,218 YouTube subscribers
Josh Leyva – 1,617,125 YouTube subscribers
Madison Iseman – 184k Instagram followers
Timothy DeLaGhetto – 3,075,797 YouTube followers
Alexa Losey – 731k Instagram followers
Bart Baker – 6,966,347 YouTube followers
Angela Kinsey – 267k Twitter followers
Bobby Lee – 148,254 YouTube followers
Alexis G. Zall – 776,564 YouTube followers
Gabbie Hanna – 3.8m Vine followers
The film also stars some traditional actors in supporting roles, including Bobby Lee (MAD TV), Angela Kinsey (The Office) and Gerry Bednob (The 40-Year-Old Virgin).
Despite Hollywood’s apparent eagerness to experiment with social media-focused casting, some veteran actors — including two-time Academy Award winners Emma Thompson and Michael Caine — warned earlier this year that the art of classical acting could be a relic of the past if the trend continues.
“We’re casting actors who have big [social media] followings so the studios can use their followings to sell their movie,” Thompson told the Telegraph in May. “The actors are becoming attached in the sort of business way to their social media profiles, and I think that’s a disaster.”
Echoing Thomas, Caine told the outlet:”These days, they just say, ‘I’m going to be an actor because I want to be rich and famous.’ And then they do a little part on television and everyone knows who they are.”
The trend is likely to continue, at least for the foreseeable future. According to a report from Variety, a growing number of casting directors and talent agencies have abandoned traditional open casting calls and are instead sifting through Twitter, Vine and YouTube accounts in search of Hollywood’s next big-screen star.