Back in Scriptnotes episode 125, I wondered if a filmmaker could pull a beyoncé and release a film without any advance notice. I speculated that someone like JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon probably could pull it off.

Then a few weeks ago, Whedon seemed to do just that with In Your Eyes.

But was that really a beyoncé, or just the new version of direct-to-video? Was it more or less of a beyoncé than Much Ado About Nothing, which predated Beyoncé’s beyoncé. (Preyoncé’d?)

Popjustice wants to make sure we don’t forget what it really means to pull a beyoncé:

We all think we know what a beyoncé is, but it’s vital that we do not assign beyoncé status to every album release that breaks with established release patterns. If we do misuse the term, we risk devaluing the purity of Beyoncé’s original ‘BEYONCÉ’ beyoncé.

Popjustice is looking at albums, but many of the criteria apply equally well to films:

A Full Beyoncé must contain ALL these elements.

This must be a full album, ideally but not necessarily containing a larger than average number of tracks.

In Your Eyes is a feature. That counts.

The artist must be a global superstar, a multi-platinum act in at least one major territory, or an artist with a huge/deranged online fanbase.

Fanbase, check.

Trickily, it must be common knowledge that the artist has been working on new material – but the release must still also, somehow, be a surprise.

There must have been no legitimate leaked information about the nature of the release in advance of the release. A beyoncéd album that has been trailed by an interview regarding its release could potentially be regarded as little more than a conventional album release with a shorter promotional window.

Everyone knows Whedon is doing the Avengers sequel. But this, a script he wrote and produced but didn’t direct, was nowhere on the radar.

There must be no conventionally promoted single leading into the album’s release.

There wasn’t a trailer. In fact, the online trailer is the first few minutes of the film.1

It must be a standalone album release – it can’t just be an addition to a previous album campaign, a deluxe edition or any sort of repackage.

Check.

By its nature this album will almost certainly be released digitally first – it’s impossible to send CDs into production then get them to retail without news leaking. (If an album does indeed make it to stores with literally no warning before, say, shops open at 9am, it will be permitted as a full beyoncé.)

In the podcast, I speculated that a filmmaker like James Cameron could conceivably create a release date for a fake film and use that to book theaters. But realistically, digital is how this would work, and that’s what happened with In Your Eyes.

The nature of the release must be convincingly presented as an artistic statement or creative choice, rather than being a transparent attempt to drum up interest in an album campaign that hasn’t been working out properly.

It’s fair to ask whether the surprise-here’s-a-movie tactic was mostly because it didn’t make financial sense to do a more conventional release. The movie has no marketable stars other than Whedon.

Total beyoncégeddon must be achieved across all social networks for at least 24 hours.

While I got a lot of tweets about it, I didn’t sense the universe going apeshit over this movie. Part of the problem is that movies require significant time to watch. You can watch a music video in three minutes and tweet while you’re doing it. With a feature, you’re asking people to stop doing everything else for 90 minutes or more.

In the end, I don’t think In Your Eyes pulled a beyoncé. But I think it’s rightly classified as a Whedon anyway. As a release strategy, it fits much more in the tradition of Dr. Horrible and Much Ado. He’s been doing this for years, and doing it well.

But I hold out hope that we will get our surprise film one day. It will have stars you recognize, and production values that leave you wondering how the hell they kept this under wraps.

  1. The trailerless-ness may ultimately work against In Your Eyes. The promo only shows kids; the film is mostly about adults.